Oleg Maskaev's TKOof Hasim Rahman means that four boxers from the former USSR have heavyweighthegemony
Now that a formerRussian Army officer has won a heavyweight belt-giving the old Soviet bloc anentire division unto itself-it's fair to wonder if boxing won't disappearbehind an Iron Curtain of disinterest. Oleg Maskaev, having clocked the Rock towin the WBC version last Saturday night in Las Vegas, joins three otherfighters born in former Soviet territory holding belts in an alphabet soup thathas a distinctly Cyrillic flavor these days. While this could be intriguingfrom a geopolitical angle, it might not bode well for the fight game in theUnited States, where fans like their boxing heroes draped in the red, white andblue, even as they are (more often than not lately) made black and blue.
To recap: WithMaskaev's 12th-round TKO of Hasim Rahman, there are now four fighters from theold USSR holding heavyweight titles, including Wladimir Klitschko (IBF,Ukraine), Nikolay Valuev (WBA, Russia) and Sergei Liakhovich (WBO, Belarus). Tobe fair, Maskaev represents Staten Island more than he does Kazakhstan, havinggotten U.S. citizenship two years ago and taken up residence in New York Cityyears before that. Still, with Eastern-bloc fighters dominating the heavyweightdivision, and Hispanic fighters having all the fun at the lighter weights,boxing may finally be too diverse for its own good.
Then again, hasthere ever been a better melting pot than boxing? It's the Ellis Island ofsports. Over the years, boxing has often been made to serve variousagendas-racial and political-that other games have been too polite to openlyexploit, but it has usually transcended the ugliness, elevating effort aboveall. It will likely be the same here. Though the fight was billed as"America's Last Stand," nobody but the promoter could possibly framethe action in any context but human survival.
Maskaev, for allhis idiosyncrasies ("I hit him in the stomach-the organs are inthere"), will be remembered for his weathering of Rahman's non-stop assaultlong after his national heritage is forgotten. Slow afoot and loath to slip apunch, Maskaev (33-5) may never be one of the greats, but he did show heroicdurability and impressive power, taking control of the fight in the final threerounds and then decking Rahman (41-6-2) twice and sending him to the hospitalfor observation.
For his part,Rahman hardly let his country down. During his up-and-down career, whichincluded a KO of Lennox Lewis back in 2001 (quickly avenged by Lewis), he'dalready lost once to Maskaev, having been knocked clean through the ropes in1999. An exciting fighter, Rahman could hardly be counted on for homelandsecurity. And if he wasn't going to bother using his jab-"I guess Iabandoned that for bigger shots," he said sadly afterward-he wasn't goingto keep Maskaev off him for an entire 12 rounds.
There may now comethe ritual reexamination of this country's amateur boxing program, with theobservation that youngsters of size and talent choose the glamour of footballor basketball over a discipline that calls for getting hit in the face. Theremay even be an inspection of the national psyche. Rahman himself suggestedafterward that maybe "we're spoiled" in this country. Or we couldsimply decide there was a pretty good fight on Saturday in Vegas, twoheavyweights whaling away for all they were worth, wherever they came from.
• Read more boxingnews and analysis at SI.com/more.
Separated at ringside: Old foes Mike Tyson and LennoxLewis were in opposite corners again, Tyson providing commentary for theinternational broadcast feed for last Saturday night's Oleg Maskaev-HasimRahman bout and Lewis doing color for HBO. Unlike during the build-up to their2002 bout, Tyson (Iron Mic?) directed no biting comments toward Lewis....Announced beforehand: The third and presumably final fight between legendsManny Pacquaio and Erik Morales will be on Nov. 18 in Las Vegas.... Speculationafterward: Could Maskaev be rushed into the Nov. 11 date HBO is holding forWladimir Klitschko, which would spare boxing fans the tedium of a matchup withShannon Briggs?
Maskaev toppled Rahman, then stood proudly with his wife,Svetlana.
ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES
[See Caption Above]