Maskaev vs. Rahman: The great “American” debate!

10.08.06 - By Izyaslav “Slava” Koza: With only days to go before the Hasim Rahman Oleg Maskaev heavyweight title fight, an interesting subplot has emerged to compliment the actual contest. Apparently, the promotional team of the champion Rahman had unknowingly billed the PPV show as “America’s last line of Defense,”suggesting Rahman was the only American in the ring, unaware that Maskaev had received his U.S. citizenship almost two years ago. For their part, the Maskaev team has tried to milk the attention by making it clear that they feel insulted by this supposed ignorance about their fighter’s nationality.

Although there should really be no argument regarding whether Oleg Maskaev is an American citizen, since the government can confirm this, there is another tricky cultural element to the discussion.

Throughout American history, the debate regarding the term “hyphenated-American,” has often dominated D.C. politics. Hardline Americans, like President Theodore Roosevelt, believed that there was no room for “hyphenated-Americans,” in this country, and that people could not retain elements of a previous culture if they truly wanted acceptance in United States society. Maskaev, for his part, claims to be a “Russian American,” and if Rahman or his team truly wanted to heat things up, to sell tickets, they could use the argument that “Maskaev is not really a true American because he does not want to give up the previous Russian elements of his culture.”

This sort of logic is, of course, very flawed, since America was built on the backs of so-called, “hyphenated Americans,” and their “hyphenated values,” but for the sake of marketability, it could have still been quite profitable to argue against dual cultural identity on the part of Rahman’s team. James Toney and fighters of that nature, have constantly gone on seemingly insane, obscure and ignorant rants, not because they believe in what they are saying, but instead, believe in doing what is necessary to try and benefit both fighters and the public by adding none boxing interest to the fight. At the same time, it is quite honorable for Rahman or his team not to get uber-patriotic regarding “hyphens and his natural American birth,” even though the marketing does not end until way after the fight.

Whatever way you want to approach this discussion, I believe there is a legitimate and simple justification to the promotional aspects of this fight. If we approach it from a purely boxing standpoint, we have to admit that while Rahman’s style is 100% American, Maskaev’s truly is a hybrid, and therefore “America’s last line of Defense, (at least at Heavy) means it’s a question of a clash between a hybrid and a truly homogenous American style. One of the reasons guys like Lyakhovich and Klitschko have been able to gain titles at heavy, is because they added and modified their style to be more adaptable to the professional fight game. Maskaev has done the same and even though he won’t dance on his toes like Apollo Creed, after his American boxing education, he also won’t be plodding around like Ivan Drago.

Furthermore, from a more practical standpoint, traditionally, starting with the great Jack Johnson, the heavyweight title was not only an American but an African-American (curiously another “hyphen”) championship. Traditionally, it passed hands from one African American fighter to another, and no other championship belt (even “belts”) has as much prestige and history as this title. It seems symbolic that Rahman the last black titleholder at heavy is defending against yet another none African American. The feel of the bout is such that it does seem the promoting element is quite fair.

As far as the actual bout is concerned, although I will obviously be cheering for Oleg, seeing as we technically share the same “hyphen,” I have my doubts about whether he can pull it out. It's not that I believe Maskaev is a worse fighter but rather a combination of Rahman knowing how to win on points, and having the promoter backing and popularity to get a close decision, and that Maskaev was outboxed in the first fight when his reflexes were much faster. Though the satisfying “out of the ring” way he finished Rahman off has forever made me a fan of the big “O,” it is unfair to discount the first 6 rounds. Yes, Rahman, for his part, is not as fast as he once was, and from the training videos, I have seen, he definately seems to have lost a step or two, but he still retains the somewhat stronger natural abilities (i.e., longer arms, overall better speed, better jab, and probably better fluidity).

I also strongly suspect Oleg Maskaev may suffer from training burn out, and improper preparation, because he might have started getting ready for this fight too early. Maskaev trained longer for this bout then did Rahman, and from what has been released about his camp, it seems he did so much work that its possible he may have left his best rounds in the gym. Of course, this is only based on what I have seen from other fighters who trained in this way. It could definitely be that this will benefit Maskaev , where it failed other fighters, but I would be suspicious about this issue. Joshua Clottey had supposedly done daily 12-mile road work for his latest fight, and even though that sounds impressive, in the ring he seemed exhausted by the sixth round. Training too hard is a dangerous way to approach a bout and it's possible Maskaev may come out as a victim of his own desire to win.

At the same time, I still believe Maskaev will not go out as easily as most critics believe and that while an underdog, and possibly slower then Rahman, he is still more sound technically for this fight than the first bout, and we know what happened then. I don’t think both guys will go bombs out because of a fear of getting over anxious, and will slow it down and try to outwork each other with half steam punches and combos. The opportunity for a KO will be there if a mistake will be made, similar to Calvin Brock vs. Zuri Lawrence, where one of those bombs comes out of nowhere to end it, and if it does, it will probably come from Rahman, but I would not bet on it, considering the magnitude of the bout.

Even though I am unsure exactly who to pick (what else is new?), for once, I will go with my heart, over my head prediction of Rahman on points, and pick Oleg to find the stuff necessary to overcome Rahman one more time taking a somewhat difficult but definite decision to bring the title back to the Metropolitan area.

Article posted on 10.08.2006

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