Thursday, August 31, 2006

Clinton Woods – Glen Johnson: Completing the Trilogy

By JE Grant

The first time we saw Clinton Woods on the world stage he was pummeled and embarrassed by the then-king of the pound-for-pound lists Roy Jones. Since that time, however, the British tough guy has proven himself one of the top ten light-heavyweights in the world.

This Saturday, in a fight not televised in the United States, Woods and former champion Glen Johnson will meet in England for Woods’ title belt.

Don’t fret about his title, which is one of the fake alphabet so-called championships infesting the sport today. In fact the last belt-wearer before Woods of the alphabet belt organization he is representing was none other than Glen Johnson. The Jamaican gained the vacant belt by decisioning Woods.

Confused? You ought to be.

You see after Johnson gained the belt, he took it upon himself to face only the best light-heavyweights in the world. This is apparently a novelty in the game. So, after a sanctioned defense against Roy Jones (which ended in a spectacular ninth-round knockout) Johnson opted to take on the true champion Antonio Tarver. By doing so he gave up his claim to the alphabet belt, paving the way for Woods to fight for and win the vacated belt.

So now you know why Woods lays claim to the dubious title. In losing his rematch against Tarver, Johnson also lost claim the real championship.

Since that time he has won solidly twice (KO10 George Jones, and W12 Richard Hall).

Of course Tarver has gone on to lose his claim to the world championship to Bernard Hopkins.

With Hopkins announced retirement; four (pretty high quality) belt-holders are vying for general recognition as the champion. Unfortunately for all of them, Glen Johnson may hold the key to all of their claims. The former champ is as rugged as anyone in the sport. Despite having ten losses on his slate he has been stopped only once, by Hopkins in a middleweight title match.

In his two fights with Woods, the first go-round ended in a draw (though most observers had Johnson winning handily), and the second was unanimously in his favor.

Woods has victories over the likes of previously undefeated Rico Hoye and former titlist Julio Gonzalez, making the 34 year-old a legitimate world-class light-heavy despite the dubious nature of his title belt. He is resilient and has gained confidence not only from his wins, but because of his ability to fight to close decisions against Johnson. Considering what Johnson did following their two meetings (beating Tarver and Jones) he feels he is in an elite class.

Both fighters will enter the ring with confidence. The home crowd will undoubtedly back Woods but the veteran Johnson will not likely be deterred.

Expect Johnson to pickup where he left off with Woods. As Woods presses, he will be met with even greater pressure. Despite not being a huge puncher, Johnson is the bigger hitter of the two and sports a better chin.

Woods’ is no pushover and he will fight hard as long as he is in the ring. His great effort, however, will not yield enough winning rounds to turn the tide on the ever charging Johnson.

The fighters will engage early and often, but as Woods fades, Johnson will pickup the pace. Look for Johnson to come on strong down the stretch and gain a very clear, albeit hard-fought decision.

Johnson by 12 round decision.

Peter-Toney Prediction

By JE Grant

Samuel Peter will step forward as the world’s top heavyweight without a “world” title on Saturday night. He will also turn the “Lights Out” on the illusion of heavyweight greatness that the skilled multi-weight James Toney has created. No one can deny Toney’s place as a top all-time fighter – and sure bet hall of fame career – but his weight class and time have passed. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that he holds no victories in the division against legitimate top 10 fighters. His draw against Hasim Rahman was a gift – to Toney. Young Sam won’t be denied and his power will reign supreme as Toney yields space in order to attempt to fight off the ropes. As Toney fades, the big man will continue to pound and inasmuch as Peter is nowhere near as skilled as Toney he won’t even pretend to try to outbox or outfox the veteran. Nor should he. Youth will be served. Peter by KO in 7.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Top 25 Heavyweights (As of September, 2006)

By JE Grant

Perhaps the month of August will go down in boxing history as one of most pivotal in heavyweight history. With Oleg Maskaev’s demolition of Hasim Rahman no American is on the precipice of dominating the division. Of course some have already forgotten the Lennox Lewis – decidedly non-American – did dominate the division. He was likely the actual precursor to today’s situation.

But, is this new eastern European takeover for real? Will it last? Undefeated Calvin Brock will get a crack at the man most consider the best of the lot, Wladimir Klitschko. Shannon Briggs will likely meet Serguei Liakhovich. Oleg himself, apparently having passed on a lucrative November match with Klitschko, will now probably have to face the winner of the Samuel Peter – James Toney showdown. Finally Nicolay Valuev will take on Monte Barrett, a fighter who based on his record does not rate a shot but who nevertheless has a chance at victory.

In each case, potential American victories are real possibilities.

Of course in September is the much-awaited Samuel Peter – James Toney showdown. The Nigerian Peter has a chance to break away from the pack of contenders while James Toney gets a chance to score his first victory over a legitimately ranked top 10 heavyweight. Almost certainly the winner will get some kind of title shot.

Naturally the monthly compilation had important insights provided by my heavyweight wunderkinds Brian Bizzack and Troy Ondrizek. Both heavyweight watchers continue to get the inside track on heavyweights across the globe.

* * *

1. Wladimir Klitschko, Ukraine – IBF Champion (Last month #1) A real life showdown with undefeated Calvin Brock will replace the previously scheduled November date with Shannon Briggs. Brock is perhaps the top active American fighter (with Brewster sidelined with an eye injury). It is apparent that Klitschko is not taking the easy road --- and congratulations to him for it.

2. Serguei Liakhovich, Belarus – WBO Champion (Last month #3) Okay his planned date with Kevin McBride didn’t happen. We should all breathe a sigh of relief. It looks like he will pick up the tossed out Shannon Briggs in a November defense. This is no cake-walk. It’s good to see that the “White Wolf” is not going to be sucked into the journeyman circuit that is ruining Nicolay Valuev’s claim to the belt.

3. Lamon Brewster, USA (Last month #4) There is a possibility that with his eye injury he will be left behind by a fast-moving heavyweight train. He would prove stiff competition to any of the belt-wearers and has to be considered America’s best heavyweight. Everything hinges on his ability to recover from the injury.

4. Calvin Brock, USA (Last month #5) A title bout with Klitschko in November will prove to be a giant leap for Brock and a chance for as much glory as one man can handle. With a win in this fight Brock would become a household name.

5. Samuel Peter, Nigeria (Last month #7) All indications are that his training is going well as he prepares for James Toney. The winner of that fight has tremendous possibilities. The loser goes to the back of a long line. Look for Peter to make the most of this opportunity.

6. Oleg Maskaev, Uzbekistan / USA – WBC Champion (Last month #13) The “Big O’s” knockout victory over Hasim Rahman has to put him in a class with James Braddock. Many of us figured years – yes years – ago that he was finished. In recent years we’ve noted how much slower and easier to hit he has become. And, just when you think you know something as a hard fact, the beauty of boxing shines through and we’re met with a big surprise. Not only did he capture the brass ring he did it in stunning fashion in the last round of a close fight. A 37 year-old man who could put together a 12th round like that after a tough struggle against a strong and able foe must be admired. Oh, and by the way, the “Big O” is indeed an American citizen and as such it is he who becomes the sole USA title-holder.

7. Hasim Rahman, USA – (Last Month #2) We’ve likely seen the last of Rahman at the pinnacle of the sport. Yes, last month and for many months before that we touted the “Rock” as one of the top two heavyweights in the world. Clearly his rematch loss to Oleg Maskaev puts him behind the “Big O” for good. We certainly can’t imagine that he would fare any better against Klitschko or Liakhovich. He can still pick up some paychecks but he won’t wear a belt again. At least that is the conventional wisdom.

8. James Toney, USA (Last month #8) He was very fortunate to get a gift draw against Rahman and now that he’s seen the “Rock” blown out by the crudely skilled Maskaev perhaps even he is wondering about the illusion of heavyweight greatness he has fostered. Look for big Sam Peter to take care of business.

9. Nicolay Valuev, Russia – WBA Champion (Last month #9) Now that the entire division title-holding contingent originates from the former Soviet Union you would think big Nick would want to clean house and win over the home crowd. Instead he’s defending in the U.S. against Monte Barrett who simply does not rate a title shot now. Chalk this up to a lost opportunity.

10. Sultan Ibragimov, Russia (Last month #10) Perhaps his narrow escape against the clever Ray Austin will open his eyes. Maybe he’ll realize that he has to be at his best every night to be the best. He must shoot for some redemption – a rematch with Austin would do it – before challenging for a belt.

11. Ray Austin, USA (Last month #11) The “Rainman” needs to sign for a fight soon. Action should become his middle name. Considering his age and relative ability, he simply can’t wait around and live off the good performance against Ibragimov.

12. John Ruiz, USA (Last month #12) According to the August 17th WBA ratings he remains the organization’s number 1 contender. As mentioned last month, Ruiz has not won a fight since November 2004. The WBA’s sanctioning of Nicolay Valuev’s defense against Owen Beck and presumably against Monte Barrett, coupled with its continued number 1 ranking of Ruiz, may lead the organization to surpass the IBF as the biggest joke in boxing. A giant feat. Ruiz may face Ruslan Chagaev in a title eliminator.

13. Shannon Briggs, USA (Last month #14) Out with one title shot in with another. At least “The Cannon” can say that he is one person who has benefitted from the gaggle of alphabet soup organizations. He won’t have an easy time with Liakhovich. The titlist is not one of the many club-circuit guys that Briggs has been chasing down of late. Briggs better not arrive at 273 pounds. If he does, he will not see the last round.

14. Ruslan Chagaev, Uzbekistan (Last month #15) Rumors are swirling that Chagaev may face John Ruiz. Should he win, the undefeated 27 year-old would supposedly move to the head of the line for a shot at Valuev. Believe it when you see. Nonetheless, the fight will provide a solid opportunity for Chagaev to prove he belongs near the top 10.

15. DaVarryl Williamson, USA (Last month #16) Not a whisper from “Touch of Sleep” since solid win in May over Mike Mollo. What are you waiting for “D?”

16. Fres Oquendo, USA (Last month #18) Look, we thought when Lou DiBella took over his promotional reins that Oquendo would flourish but so far we’ve not seen much. He has a couple of unimpressive wins in his latest comeback but hasn’t shown much else of late.

17. Matt Skelton, England (Last month #18) A win over Danny Williams has not produced a top 10 rating in any of the alphabets. At age 39 it is important for Matt to engage only in meaningful contests. He likely does not have the talent to excel at the top of the division but he rates a chance.

18. Jameel McCline, USA (Last month #19) A possible date with emerging Argentina’s Gonzalo Omar Basile may be in the works. “Big Time” is the epitome of an athlete that won’t give up and will sacrifice to live up to his potential. It remains to be seen how much he has left in the tank, but we can all agree that the big guy is giving it his all.

19. Danny Williams, England (Last month #20) Danny was given a chance at the British title against champion Scott Gammer but turned it down. He is in a holding pattern that will erode quickly if he is not able to do something big very soon.

20. Luan Krasniqi, Germany (Last month #21) Krasniqi apparently pulled out of negotiations for a September match with surging Tony Thompson. The “Lion” has only a win over journeyman David Bostice since being blasted out by Lamon Brewster. For reasons we can only guess about, Krasniqi is still ranked number 1 by the WBO. So, instead of proving his ability against Thompson, it looks as though he can sit back, relax and wait for a title match to be handed to him on a silver platter. If you wonder how the so-called sanctioning bodies adversely impact on the sport, here is a perfect example.

21. Tony Thompson, USA (Last month #22) Krasniqi avoided him but we have high hopes the “Tiger” will be back in action soon.

22. David Tua, New Zealand (Last month #23) – Nothing scheduled since the tough guy returned with a win in July. He can still be a force if he remains active.

23. Vladimir Virchis, Ukraine (Last month #24) The “Hunter” is gaining a reputation as a tough guy. Recently crowned the European champ (not always a very meaningful accolade), he will get his chance soon enough at some well-placed opponents.

24. Monte Barrett, USA (Last month #25) He can upset the all-eastern European cartel if he can get past the long arms of Nicolay Valuev. It’s a tall order for the relatively inactive campaigner.

25. Eddie Chambers, USA (Last month unranked) “Fast” Eddie, moved to 27-0, with a fifth-round stoppage of Domonic Jenkins in August. This guy needs to be on TV. American talent is out there.

Prospects, fringe contenders, and others who need mentioning listed in no particular order. Don’t read the fact that they are listed here as an indication a ranking is imminent. Regular readers should also note that I’ve taken off some names that were here in months past who still rate attention. We're highlighting activity and when potentially top fighters have bouts scheduled you’ll likely see them reappear.

Chris Byrd, USA (Last month #6) Clearly Chris could remain somewhere in the top 25, but he is (wisely) going to campaign in the cruiserweight division. Fight fans will likely gain a newfound respect for the long-time belt holder as he competes against men his size.

Joe Mesi, USA – Another embarrassing venture in August resulted in a victory over an opponent who now sports a record of 9-28. Mesi is now 32-0 and it is high time that he started fighting opponents who can punch back. The one bright spot in the effort was that he dropped seven pounds since his last outing.

Chazz Witherspoon, USA – The undefeated, but puzzling, Chazz will be in action in Philly in October. We’ll all see what he learned from his television debut. Taking the mantle of top American heavyweight is up for grabs.

Alexander Povetkin, Russia – No opponent has been named but he has a bout scheduled for September. This man deserves your close attention.

Gonzalo Omar Basile, Argentina – He won his 11th bout of the year to carry his record to 25-1. This man is very busy. Rumors are buzzing of a bout with Jameel McCline. If this pans out, we’ll know very soon if he can really mix it up.

J.D. Chapman, USA – The 24-0 (21 KOs) youngster is scheduled for a September date making him one of the most active heavyweights on the scene. He still has a lot to learn and it appears he’s willing to do it the old-fashioned way – by fighting.

Denis Boytsov, Russia – The 16-0 (15 KOs) star in the making will campaign in September against Ondrej Pala in Germany. At 20, he’s still maturing.

Roman Greenberg, England (via Israel) – The tough youngster reportedly signed with Warriors Boxing in Florida. Hopefully the 22-0 phenom begins to face some competition tougher than the European chopped liver he’s met to date. He shows some promise.

Damian Wills, USA – This young Californian decisioned Cisse Salif in August to move to 21-0-1. The only blemish on his record is a draw with the oft-beaten Sedreck Fields, though he avenged the loss earlier this year. We’ll need to see more to evaluate him. Now is certainly the time to be an American who can actually fight.

Scott Gammer, England – The undefeated Welshman came very close to a British title defense against Danny Williams. Of course that bout has fallen through but he’s still set to defend his belt against once-beaten Michael Steeds. Steeds’ lone loss in his 8-1 career is to none other than Gammer.

Travis Walker, USA – The Floridian, now 20-0-1 (16 KOs), Tallahassee, Fla., decisioned Andrew Greeley in August. He next faces former Olympian Jason Estrada later this fall.

Jason Estrada, USA – He faces fellow unbeaten Travis Walker in an unusual circumstance – two top prospects facing off early in their respective careers. Wish we saw more of this.

Malachy Farrell, USA – Now 15-0 (12 KOs), the Chicago native , knocked out Shannon Miller, 14-2 (8 KOs) in the fifth round of a scheduled eight in August. To date, Farrell’s record is filled with wins against opponents with losing records. This bout obviously represented a step up for the 26 year-old.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Toney vs. Peter: Something old and something new

By JE Grant

When the grizzled veteran James “Lights Out” Toney comes face-to-face with the brutal punching Samuel “The Nigerian Nightmare” Peter September 2nd, he will, for the first time, meet a heavyweight fighter who always delivers blows with a gruesome intent.

Sure, Toney stopped an ancient Evander Holyfield. He also decisioned a light-hitting Rydell Booker. No one will forget his near-win over John Ruiz in which he out-boxed the then-titleholder only to be stripped of the win for cheating by way of steroids. He also won a point victory over hot-and-cold (mostly cold lately) Dominick Guinn. More recently of course he was the recipient of a gift draw after obviously falling behind then-titlist Hasim Rahman.

The one thing all of the heavyweight opponents that he actually defeated have in common is that none of them were legitimately ranked top 10 fighters. That’s correct, the illusion Toney created with his victory over the depleted Holyfield has for whatever reason stuck.

Even though a state commission verified the fact that he illegally used steroids before his fight with Ruiz, many still believe he would’ve won anyway. (This is a dubious claim in light of his abysmal performance against Rahman).

What allows the myth of Toney’s greatness at heavyweight to persist? His mouth primarily. Toney’s endless stream of invective --- while often meaningless drivel --- has some enamored with the entertainment quality of Toney’s presentation.

Couple that with his prior – and true – greatness in various weight classes and you have a highly ranked “contender.”

Toney’s record is littered with victories over talented foes: Vassily Jirov, Charles Williams, Doug DeWitt, Michael Nunn, Mike McCallum (twice), Iran Barkley etc…

Even in his losses to Montell Griffin (twice) and Drake Thadzi he wasn’t dominated.

Only his loss to Roy Jones Jr. could be described as lopsided.

Not bad for a 77 fight career.

The only problem with the list above, however, is that none of those top-level fighters were heavyweights (okay we know that Jones went on to experience one win in the division).

The key for Toney against Peter is to make that stream of talk and the vestiges of boxing ability that remain in his 38 year-old body work for him one more time. His 69-4-3, 1 NC (43 KOs) record indicates deep experience. It could also be indicative of a fighter on the end of the flickering flame.

Peter will almost surely test that body in a way that Toney has yet to endure.

The thickly muscled Nigerian is clearly intent on doing harm with every punch. Certainly it is the case that he does not possess the richly practiced artistry that Toney has achieved at key points of his career.

At 26-1 (22 KOs), the 25 year-old also does not have years of pounding on his 250 pound body.

Indeed it is normally Peter who does all the pounding. Except in his loss to Wladimir Klitschko, even in his decision wins Peter chased and chopped at opponents who were often afraid to engage his power.

One would think his clear loss to Klitschko would be devastating. Instead, it reinforced the fact that Peter could rap the top-level heavyweights and have effects. Klitschko tumbled to the canvas three times (it is true that a review of the tapes puts into question a couple of those knockdowns). Whatever the case, his heavy hands can do damage to the best in the division.

It also provided an opportunity to show what would happen when Peter was hurt. In the final round of the Klitschko match he was tired and stung but refused to go down. He also kept trying to win.

Until the Klitschko fight, Peter’s wins over the likes of Charles Shufford, Jeremy Williams, and Taurus Sykes led only to the conclusion that he was a top prospect, not a proven world-title contender.

His two wins since the Klitschko bout, over tough journeyman Robert Hawkins and the 7’1” Julius Long, did not add substantially to his resume, but showed an ability to come back from a tough loss.

The one primary difference in Peter’s ledger versus that of Toney’s is that all of his fights have been in the heavyweight class --- the very heavyweight class. Peter has obvious power and overall strength. He can also go the distance and bang hard in the later rounds.

On September 2nd it will likely be Peter’s combination of youth and power that will be served. Toney has proven clever against heavyweights to date that have not attacked with abandon and for whatever reason have chosen to attempt to out-slick the slickest of wily veterans.

Peter will not make that mistake – in fact he likely is not possessed with enough slick moves to attempt it. He will forge ahead and punch hard and often through the leaning, weaving and covering Toney. At times Peter will look silly as he misses wildly or is countered with three punch combinations. At other times, Peter will look as though he is crunching an ant as Toney slumps against the ropes in a shell.

James Toney will never go easily and he will have his moments in this fight. Look for him to gain position early and out-speed the lumbering Peter at ring center. As the fight progresses, however, his legs will falter and the strength of Peter will begin to take over.

Look for Toney attempt a rope-a-dope methodology only to see himself trapped by his own cleverness. As Peter wails away, Toney will melt in the middle rounds.

Toney, for the first time in his illustrious career, will be stopped by the young powerhouse as the referee steps in to save him.

PREDICTION: Samuel Peter by 7th round stoppage.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

American heavyweights in weekend action

By JE Grant

Despite a landscape seemingly barren of top American heavyweights, plenty of big men were in action this past weekend.

Of course the best known of the crop was Evander Holyfield who is on his latest comeback attempt. This time instead of facing a top fighter he squared off against the little known and less accomplished Jeremy Bates and unsurprisingly stopped the journeyman. Despite the local coverage and some of the blog reporting about how this might be the first step in a comeback bid, most people can see through the illusion. Although Evander may still sport a body that looks like that of a top battler, it is only skin deep. Read nothing into the win.

The fighters highlighted below are either up-and-coming or nearly so. Several undefeated fighters are in the group and some will undoubtedly fall into the journeyman category before long.

August 18, 2006

DALLAS ---Former multiple time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, 39-8-2 (26 KOs), Atlanta, knocked out Jeremy Bates, 21-12-1 (18 KOs) in two rounds of a scheduled 10. Before anyone gets giddy about a Holyfield “comeback” it is worth recognizing that Bates has now lost three in a row.

TAMPA --- Travis Walker, 20-0-1 (16 KOs), Tallahassee, Fla., decisioned Andrew Greeley 11-14-2 (7 KOs) over 10 round. He is seeking a bout with former Olympian Jason Estrada for later this fall.

TEMECULA, CALIF. --- Damian Wills, 21-0 (15 KOs), Los Angeles, won an eight-round decision over tough journeyman Cisse Salif, 18-7-2 (17 KOs). Wills is co-managed by actor Denzel Washington and is seemingly on the rise.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY. --- Vinnie Maddalone, 27-3 (19 KOs), Flushing, NY., eked out a ten-round majority decision over Jermell Barnes, 17-13-1 (4 KOs) (and 0-7-1 in his last eight bouts). Needless to say this win didn’t generate a whole lot of buzz for the club favorite.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY. --- Malachy Farrell, 15-0 (12 KOs), Chicago, knocked out Shannon Miller, 14-2 (8 KOs) in the fifth round of a scheduled eight. To date, Farrell’s record is filled with wins against opponents with losing records. This bout obviously represented a step up for the 26 year-old.

August 19, 2006

RENO -- Eddie Chambers, 27-0 (15 KOs), Homewood, Pa., halted Dominic Jenkins, 9-6-1 (3), in the fifth round of a scheduled eight. Chambers is known for good skills but at about 214 pounds he is smallish in today’s terms. Nonetheless, he’s worth watching closely.

RENO --- Chris Arreola, 17-0 (15 KOs), Riverside, Calif., stopped Damian Norris, 8-2 (6 KOs) in 4 rounds of a scheduled eight. The 241 pounder clubbed Norris to the canvas in a solid demonstration of power.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Williams stops Mitchell, wants Margarito

By JE Grant

RENO --- Budding superstar Paul Williams dominated former champion Sharmba Mitchell stopping him in four rounds in a welterweight showdown.

The southpaw Williams, 31-0 (23 KOs), Aiken, South Carolina, 146 ½, used an enormous height and reach advantage to keep Mitchell out of position to throw combinations.

The 35 year-old Mitchell, 57-6 (31 KOs), Washington, D.C., 146 ½, and also a southpaw, was able to leap in with occasional chopping punches but regularly paid a swift price for the effort.

Williams poured on a high-volume attack to sweep the first two rounds. In round three a straight left from Williams sent Mitchell to the canvas. Mitchell spent much of the round attempting to fight back and but proving unable to staunch the tide.

In round four, the “Punisher” Williams honed his attack landing sharp punches right from the bell. Williams dropped Mitchell for the second time early in the round and effectively owned the fight from that point.

Williams’ relentless attack with both hands led to two more trips to the canvas before the former titlist Mitchell was counted out at 2:57.

Clearly Williams has earned a place among the top fighters of the division. He is currently rated number one by the WBO and is pushing for a date with its titlist Antonio Margarito.

With pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather set to face the true champion Carlos Baldomir, the Margarito match makes economic sense and presents the potential for a major showdown with Mayweather-Baldomir winner.


In an undercard match, unbeaten heavyweight "Fast" Eddie Chambers moved to 27-0 (15 KOs) with a fifth round stoppage of unheralded Domonic Jenkins. The 24 year-old Chambers is one of a handful of American youngsters looking to retake the heavyweight title.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Maskaev stuns Rahman, completes eastern European heavyweight shift

By JE Grant

Perhaps Oleg Maskaev’s 12th round stoppage of defending titlist Hasim Rahman should not have come as such a surprise, given the results of their first meeting, but the collective boxing world’s jaw dropped as the heavyweight division completed an improbable power shift.

The 37 year-old Maskaev, 33-5 (26 KOs), 238, provided rich proof that despite being much slower than he appeared in his first meeting nearly seven years ago, power and a slight change in strategy can trump other deficiencies.

While the bout was billed as “America’s Last Line of Defense,” playing on the America versus the world theme, Maskaev, 37, is in fact an American citizen and has been for two years. It was his Uzbeki roots and his participation in the former Soviet Union’s athletic factory that provided the hook for the billing and remains central to the profound shift in boxing’s power structure in the heavyweight division.

The bout featured many of the same elements evident in their first match. Rahman’s jab kept Maskaev off-balance in many rounds and Maskaev fought back gamely ripping hard shots.

What was different in this rematch was Maskaev’s use of a left hook in lieu of an over-reliance on right hands.

In the opening round, Maskaev showed his plan by occasionally catching the aggressive Rahman with left hooks. While he didn’t win the early rounds, it was clear that his tactics were something he was determined to carryout come what may.

Rahman, 41-6-2 (33 KOs), Baltimore, 235, found a home for his powerful and controlling left jab. If Maskaev had his plan, Rahman, 33, at least early, had the answer.

Maskaev was repeatedly force back by Rahman’s jab. More importantly, it appeared difficult for him to put together the hard shots that were thought to be his only chance.

However, in the middle rounds a change developed. Maskaev landed more left hooks and more often his right hand landed with some steam. He didn’t completely abandon the wide rights that had been his hallmark but many more straight, short rights found Rahman’s chin particularly on the inside.

Perhaps the most useful part of Maskaev’s game was his commitment to the body. Though he suffered sharp counters when going to the body, the “Big O” continued to deliver leather to Rahman’s midsection.

After the eighth round both fighters appeared tired, but Rahman’s game suffered the most. As he breathed hard, it was the equally tired – not to mention much older – Maskaev who went to the well to pull up the reserves that took him down the stretch of the championship rounds. As Rahman faded, Maskaev’s heavier punches began to take a toll.

Round 12, a round that will live on highlight roles for years, began with two weary battlers meeting at ring center, each having risen slowly from his respective stool.

Rahman was no long able to keep the charging Maskaev on the end of his jab and was forced to labor on the inside. Maskaev powered home his right hand, seeming to reap the benefits of his fight-long use of the left hook.

A crashing right hand staggered Rahman and a series of shots forced him back and to the canvas hard. Rising, but clearly hurt, Rahman grabbed Maskaev as the two flung across the ring. Once able to get out of Rahman’s clutches, Maskaev raked the titlist with all he had left until referee Jay Nady stepped in to stop the contest at 2:17.

Rahman protested the stoppage even as he stumbled across the ring, obviously unable to continue. He later claimed to have been hit on the break, but in fact it appeared he simply ran out of fuel and became vulnerable to the same power that had once forced him out of the ring in their first meeting.

At the time of the stoppage, judges scoring after 11 rounds showed that Maskaev needed only to win the final stanza in order to capture a decision victory: 106-103 (Maskaev), 105-104 (Maskaev) and 106-103 (Rahman). Of course the knockout made scoring irrelevant.

With his win, Maskaev joins Nicolay Valuev (Russia), Serguei Liakhovich (Belarus), and Wladimir Klitschko (Ukraine), as a holder of a sanctioning body “world” title belt. He will likely be considered the lesser of the titlists given his history of knockout losses and his advanced age, but nonetheless is now in line for a major money showdown with one of the other belt holders.
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