Maskaev stuns Rahman, completes eastern European heavyweight shift
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.