Maskaev stuns and stops Rahman in the 12th! In Russian, it’s “Zolushka!”

maskaev-rahman13.08.06 - By Izyaslav “Slava” Koza: The fight between challenger, Oleg Maskaev, and champion, Hasim Rahman, had come down to the twelfth and final round. Oleg Maskaev seemed barely able to stand on his feet, and while also visibly tired Rahman seemed to have more left in the tank. In the corner of Maskaev, over the indiscernible instructions of his trainer Victor Valle, I could hear the distinct voice of a chief second, yelling in Russian to Oleg, “Do it for your parents,” Do it for your daughters,” “Do it for your family,” and, finally, “Do it for your homeland.” Its funny to think about now seeing as the whole debate about where Oleg is from and what country he represents dominated the pre fight hype.

Personally, as a fan, I am more proud of Oleg Maskaev’s victory over that of all the other champions in the heavyweight division. I am more proud because like my family, Oleg and his came to this country looking for a chance at a better life. I am more proud because I, like most fans, remember the vicious knock outs at the hands of Corey Sanders, Kirk Johnson, and Lance Whitaker, and the heartless conclusion from most writers claiming that Oleg should give it up.

I am proud because even though Oleg is compared to the real Cinderella Man, James Braddock, his story is that much sweeter because Hasim Rahman was not looking to make it “last a few rounds,” and wanted to punish Maskaev in retribution for the first memorable bout. . I am more proud of Oleg Maskaev because like me he loves and represents this country for all the wonderful opportunities it provides. People say, “in America you will get your chance,” well to this I add, “if you want it bad enough, America will give you many more than that. Hey, just look at Oleg Maskaev.”

There were three minutes to go and I was pleading with the TV for Oleg to at the very least stand up until the final bell. On my card, I had Maskaev up 7 to 4, and all he needed to do was stand on his feet for three minutes. This by no means seemed definite, since as I mentioned, Maskaev was so spent and so tired. At the same time, throughout the length of the fight, Oleg never lost a somewhat faint, and confident smirk on his face. He knew he was not going anywhere this time.

The round began but stopped twenty seconds in, as Jay Nady noticed problems with the tape on Rahman’s glove. As they worked on it in the corner, I breathed a short sign of relief, knowing Maskaev was getting his few seconds of rest and might have enough to finish the bout. Little did I know what awaited Rahman and fans all over the world. Thinking about it now, perhaps that is what the little grin of Maskaev’s was all about?

As the action resumed, both men went back to work and suddenly Rahman found himself on the end of a punch that hurled him back towards the ropes and had him visibly hurt. I could not say what punch caused the damage because by that time I was yelling my head off, and jumping up and down as Oleg put Rahman down for the count. On my card, Oleg had punctuated the fight with a clear 10-8 and even though Rahman looked somewhat fine, he was going down either on points or punches. Maskaev sensing he did not need the judges anymore, went in for the kill. Rahman reeling fell one more time, this time ruled a slip, and clutched Oleg’s leg trying to hold out as long as possible, trying to survive. It was at this point that the impossible seemed to be unfolding right before our eyes. Jay Nady was giving Rahman every opportunity to survive until the bell, like he did with Vargas - Trinidad, but it was obvious, as Rahman sprawled and slid down to the canvas on the ropes that there was nothing left for Nady to do but step in to stop the fight.

Oleg Maskaev seemed so exhausted that as he turned around to walk into the arms of his cornermen he had no strength to raise his arms. All that was missing was the melody from the end of the Rocky films. I like to believe fans of Oleg Maskaev, myself included, did enough cheering to compensate for Oleg’s inability to show much emotion seconds after the faithful and historic Cinderella like victory.

Now that the emotional high has passed, I would like to offer up a somewhat brief summation of the tactical aspects of the fight. Maskaev’s victory could not have been possible had Rahman not been serious about trying to win this fight in impressive fashion. This was precisely the reason why Oleg Maskaev has now given us two memorable endings and two memorable victories. As I suggested, this was not Max Baer looking to give Braddock a few rounds, just for the hell of it. Instead, Rahman was trying to get inside enough to put some leverage Maskaev’s chin and put him down for the count, as a form of revenge for the devastating KO of 99. THIS was precisely what Maskaev, the shorter arm length fighter wanted, seeing as he was eating the Rahman jab all night. Had Rahman looked to win a boring UD, via Spinks run and gun, jab and hold, or jab and move, Maskaev would have most likely landed a few good shots but lost a decision. Instead, Rahman walked in and gave Maskaev the chances needed to take it.

Oleg started slow and Rahman was able to control the early third of the fight, even though, to be honest, the second round was Oleg’s due to the cleaner and more effective punches. The same could be argued about the fourth and after that Oleg was taking round after round due to the better inside fighting.

As the fight dragged on, both men were getting tired, but as in the first fight Maskaev was the one working downstairs and to the body and that also gave him the edge late. Late in the fight, when both men did not have enough strength to punch high, Oleg smiled and dug combinations to Rahman’s body, winning the judges attention.

An important issue in the fight was, as with most recent fights, that of holding and clinching. While Oleg did hold a bit early, enough so to warrant a single warning (though Nady gave two), as the fight dragged on, it was obvious that in part this was due to Rahman’s bullrush tactic. As I alluded to, Rahman moved in close often and at times did so much like a bull charging in not looking to keep his balance. This was exactly how Rahman was able to headbutt Maskaev early and cause the cut above his eye in the second, seeing as he bulled in and landed head first ala Holyfield. Were it not for Maskaev grabbing Rahman’s arm, he might have very well been pushed through the ropes, and in fact almost was on a few occasions. I suspect that Rahman, did this on purpose, sensing he could get a point, and also get Maskaev off balance kept rushing in and leaning on Maskaev who had to hold to maintain his balance. Don’t get me wrong Oleg did hold, but it was impossible not to in some of those instances.

This is also why I respect Jay Nady as a referee since, even though he got on Oleg’s case, he was aware enough to see what Rahman was doing. Furthermore, as the bout dragged on, Rahman did his fair share of holding as well. Nady did his job well and really compared to the other two referees in tonight’s fights, Joe Cortez, and Richard Steele, he was the ref of the show.

Anyway, returning to the fight, besides going to the body, Maskaev also employed a killer left hook, which worked wonders when Rahman was gunshy. Also, even though Oleg was standing in the corner and on the ropes too much, he was also bending to his waist in a very crafty way in order to duck under Rahman’s right. Although this was a bit “unfair,” since the opponent has no chance to hit, Maskaev knowing he lacked head movement compensated as best he could and in part why he won. Rahman bent the rules as well and that is why besides this drama this fight was worth it for all the tactical nuances the fighters threw into the fray.

As far as the future is concerned, yes, it is now official, and now all the champions at heavyweight come from my former homeland. Even though Oleg Maskaev is older, slower, shorter, and possibly more chinny than the other three champions, they just cannot match him in the heart department. Even if all the other guys had huge hearts in overcoming their setbacks, their knockouts, and their obscurity, it was Oleg’s full circle journey that we were able to witness live. Sure, he will be the underdog against Sergui Lyakhovich, Wladimir Klitschko and Nikolay Valuev, but as Jim Lamply said, “if it’s an uphill climb, then Oleg Maskaev has you exactly where he wants you.”

In 1993, Oleg Maskaev fought Alexander Miroshnichenko, in Zhambul, Kazakhstan, in what was effectively the first all ex-Soviet Super fight. It is abundantly clear now, that we will be seeing more of these ex-Soviet Super fights in the future. Maskaev won that bout via third round knockout, and started on the long and faithful road to the top as an underdog against one top contender after another. All of it leading him to this one night, and this one moment in time. Congratulations to the Russian “Zolushka,” the Russian Cinderella Man, and the first Russian American heavyweight champion of the world Oleg Maskaev.

Article posted on 14.08.2006

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