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Boxing
Richard Hoffer
August 21, 2006
Russian Mob
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August 21, 2006

Boxing

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Russian Mob

Oleg Maskaev's TKO of Hasim Rahman means that four boxers from the former USSR have heavyweight hegemony

Now that a former Russian Army officer has won a heavyweight belt-giving the old Soviet bloc an entire division unto itself-it's fair to wonder if boxing won't disappear behind an Iron Curtain of disinterest. Oleg Maskaev, having clocked the Rock to win the WBC version last Saturday night in Las Vegas, joins three other fighters born in former Soviet territory holding belts in an alphabet soup that has a distinctly Cyrillic flavor these days. While this could be intriguing from a geopolitical angle, it might not bode well for the fight game in the United States, where fans like their boxing heroes draped in the red, white and blue, even as they are (more often than not lately) made black and blue.

To recap: With Maskaev's 12th-round TKO of Hasim Rahman, there are now four fighters from the old USSR holding heavyweight titles, including Wladimir Klitschko (IBF, Ukraine), Nikolay Valuev (WBA, Russia) and Sergei Liakhovich (WBO, Belarus). To be fair, Maskaev represents Staten Island more than he does Kazakhstan, having gotten U.S. citizenship two years ago and taken up residence in New York City years before that. Still, with Eastern-bloc fighters dominating the heavyweight division, and Hispanic fighters having all the fun at the lighter weights, boxing may finally be too diverse for its own good.

Then again, has there ever been a better melting pot than boxing? It's the Ellis Island of sports. Over the years, boxing has often been made to serve various agendas-racial and political-that other games have been too polite to openly exploit, but it has usually transcended the ugliness, elevating effort above all. It will likely be the same here. Though the fight was billed as " America's Last Stand," nobody but the promoter could possibly frame the action in any context but human survival.

Maskaev, for all his idiosyncrasies ("I hit him in the stomach-the organs are in there"), will be remembered for his weathering of Rahman's non-stop assault long after his national heritage is forgotten. Slow afoot and loath to slip a punch, Maskaev (33-5) may never be one of the greats, but he did show heroic durability and impressive power, taking control of the fight in the final three rounds and then decking Rahman (41-6-2) twice and sending him to the hospital for observation.

For his part, Rahman hardly let his country down. During his up-and-down career, which included a KO of Lennox Lewis back in 2001 (quickly avenged by Lewis), he'd already lost once to Maskaev, having been knocked clean through the ropes in 1999. An exciting fighter, Rahman could hardly be counted on for homeland security. And if he wasn't going to bother using his jab-"I guess I abandoned that for bigger shots," he said sadly afterward-he wasn't going to keep Maskaev off him for an entire 12 rounds.

There may now come the ritual reexamination of this country's amateur boxing program, with the observation that youngsters of size and talent choose the glamour of football or basketball over a discipline that calls for getting hit in the face. There may even be an inspection of the national psyche. Rahman himself suggested afterward that maybe "we're spoiled" in this country. Or we could simply decide there was a pretty good fight on Saturday in Vegas, two heavyweights whaling away for all they were worth, wherever they came from.

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