Rahman Just Wants to Keep His Share
The story lines for tonight’s heavyweight title fight are wide-ranging, from jingoism, to what a sad-sack division it has become, to Jim Lampley’s lap.
When Baltimore’s Hasim Rahman fights Staten Island’s Oleg Maskaev at the Thomas & Mack Center, the world will have an answer to the burning question of who the best heavyweight is. OK, make that one-fourth of an answer.
Rahman, 33, with a 41-5-2 record and 33 knockouts, and Maskaev, 37, with a 32-5 record and 25 knockouts, will fight for the World Boxing Council title, currently held by Rahman. But in the splintered world of boxing, there are three other belts to get belted over.
That’s where the jingoism comes in.
The fight has been promoted as “America’s Last Line of Defense,” as if Rahman is some sort of cruise missile. That is a reference to the fact that the three other current champions are from Eastern European countries, and is spiced by the fact that Maskaev was born in Kazakhstan and served in the Russian army.
The tone of the promotional slogan is supposed to make us take the women and children to the bomb shelters if Rahman doesn’t win. Problem is, Maskaev is a United States citizen, has been for the last two years, and the most recent of his four children was born here. A more accurate slogan might be “America’s Last Line of Defense Against Staten Island.”
In essence, nobody cares about ill-conceived slogans. It is boxing. It is supposed to be hyped and foolish. Without that, it would be fencing or polo.
In the case of this fight, fencing and polo might get almost as much buzz. It is a $49.95 HBO pay-per-view event, taking place in the unusual time frame of the dog days of August. It could sell out, and it could do 300,000 pay-per-view buys. It could also be 10 below zero in Las Vegas at fight time.
In the division that carried the sport for so long and was the showcase for the likes of Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier, the last heavyweight to create a buzz was Mike Tyson, who is scheduled to be ringside tonight as a broadcaster. Promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank, who once promoted Ali and agrees with the assessment that the current heavyweight division lacks attention-grabbing boxers, said that his fighter, Rahman, has a chance to get things stirring again.
Arum’s plan is to have Rahman send Maskaev back to Staten Island bruised and battered, then keep Rahman busy with a fight in November that will position him to face the most attractive of the remaining title-holders from a former Soviet state. Because Rahman’s nickname is “The Rock,” the silly slogan for the fight will be easy: “The Rock Against the Bloc.”
The fighter from the former Soviet bloc would be current International Boxing Federation champion Wladimir Klitschko, who was born in Kazakhstan, raised in Ukraine and who has some additional name identification. He is the brother of retired Vitali Klitschko, also a heavyweight star, who fought Lennox Lewis in the memorable 2003 battle in Staples Center while sporting one of the ugliest cuts ever seen. People remember that, and to the public, one Klitschko is like another. Translation: Big box office.
All this, of course, is moot if Rahman ends up in Lampley’s lap again. In their previous meeting, in 1999 in Atlantic City, Maskaev caught Rahman near the ropes. As Rahman headed toward unconsciousness, he also headed through the ropes and out of the ring, crashing momentarily onto the veteran boxing announcer on his way to the cement floor. Rahman has said that it will be Maskaev in Lampley’s lap this time.
Rumors that Lampley is being fitted with a bulletproof vest have been denied, but not by promoters, who hope that image might sell a few more tickets.
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Tale of the tape
Hasim Rahman will face Oleg Maskaev tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas for the WBC heavyweight title. The fight card begins at 6 p.m. on HBO pay-per-view.
*--* RAHMAN MASKAEV Baltimore Hometown Staten Island 33 AGE 37 41-5-2 RECORD 32-5 33 KNOCKOUTS 25 236 WEIGHT 236 1/2 6-2 1/2 HEIGHT 6-3 82 REACH 79
Los Angeles Times