Like Firpo's Dempsey-dropping haymaker in 1923, Maskaev's overhand right in the eighth round propelled the favored Rahman, who entered the bout 31-1, clear out of the ring. The 27-year-old Rock crashed through the ropes, across the scorers' table and onto the floor, taking an HBO monitor with him. Alternate ref Steve Smoger had barely risen from his ringside seat to signal the start of the knockdown count when a flying chair hit him in the head, opening a gash that staggered him.
By the time Maskaev was declared the winner by knockout, a melee had broken out at ringside. It eventually spilled out onto the boardwalk, with cops and security guards tussling with fans. "There had to be 70 people involved," said Sergeant Guy Curcione of the Atlantic City police. "I saw a woman fainting and a lot of children running."
Maskaev, a native of Kazakhstan, didn't see the postfight fight His view was blocked by his entourage, and fresh off the win of his life, he was in his own world, just glad to be standing. He'd been losing the bout through seven rounds, but then his trainer, Bob Jackson, called for a miracle. Says Maskaev, "Bob woke me up. He said, 'Oleg, can you hear me? Knock him out this round. 'I said, 'I got it.' " Forty seconds into the round, the Rock got it.
At 30, Maskaev (18-2, 13 KOs) is old for a boxer but less punchy than most fighters his age. He was 24 and living in Moscow when he knocked out the highly regarded Alex Miroshnichenko to win his first pro fight. That bout mesmerized Steve Trunov, Miroshnichenko's co-manager at the time. "I lost half a million dollars," says Trunov, "but I found Oleg."
In 1995 Maskaev finished his seven-year stint as a lieutenant and boxer in the Russian army and came with Trunov to the U.S. He lives with his wife, Sveta, their three daughters and Buddy, the family Rottweiler, in the three-bedroom house the Maskaevs own in a quiet Staten Island, N.Y., neighborhood. Oleg can't get enough of America's Funniest Home Videos. "If you live in America, be an American," he says.
He has already mastered Lesson 1: Get noticed. Maskaev, who earned $110,000 last Saturday, can only hope the hurt he put on Rahman—coupled with his strong showing in a controversial '97 loss to top contender David Tua—lands him another marquee bout. Reflecting on his Rock-breaking punch, Maskaev says, "I'm starting to believe I can do something special in the heavyweight division."