Oleg Maskaev, a 37-year-old who saw his dreams of heavyweight glory evaporate after a series of knockout losses from 2000 to 2002, did the unthinkable at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas: he vanquished two big, stubborn men at the same time. WBC Champion Hasim “The Rock” Rahman and referee Jay Nady teamed up on the determined man, heavy-handed Russian-American.
Despite the fact that Maskaev is an American citizen and has made his home in Staten Island, New York for almost a decade, promoter Bob Arum dubbed this heavyweight main event “America’s Last Line of Defense.” This silly jingoism is due to three Russian-born fighters holding belts—Wladimir Klitschko (IBF), Sergei Liakhovich (WBO), and Nicolay Valuev (WBA)—with several other good ones waiting in the wings. Add a fourth Russian-owned belt now. Maskaev stopped Rahman at 2:17 of the 12th round.
While the knockout wasn’t as dramatic as the first time Rahman fought Maskaev in November 1999, when he plummeted through the ropes and lay unconscious on the cement floor, it was good stuff. Even the usually sedate ex-heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis was moved to screaming when the deed was done. Maybe he had flashbacks to when he rendered Rahman unconscious in their rematch? For no one should have been that surprised.
Rahman recently blew a fight that should have been his against James Toney. Before that he looked flat against Monte Barrett. He anaesthetized the public with a decision loss to John Ruiz in 2003. In a rematch with David Tua—he was TKO’d the first time—he came in 25 pounds overweight and had to settle for a draw. An ancient Evander Holyfield had his way with him. Rahman is a heavyweight recidivist. That’s why he was only a 2-1 betting favorite against Maskaev, who never deserved a title shot to begin with—since being knocked out in 2002 by Corey “T-Rex” Sanders (not to be confused with the better-known South African Sanders), he has built wins against suspect opposition.
But how did Maskaev manage to beat two men last Saturday, and what is Jay Nady ranked?
Rahman began the fight strong, working behind a ramrod jab. Maskaev looked wary, tentative, and typically slow. Rock landed some hard rights on Oleg’s stationary head.
Other than the effective lefts and rights from Rahman, another pattern started developing. Every time the two fighters came together, Nady immediately broke them up and reprimanded, “No holding.” No one likes holding, but the ref was calling it practically before it happened. When it occurred, he continually singled out Oleg, even though Rahman deserved equal blame. For the most part, the heavyweights were staying busy and clearly trying to hurt each other when they get off.
By the end of the third, Nady was interfering with the fighters compulsively and yelled “No holding” like he had Tourette’s. Maskaev took matters in his own hands, landing a stiff right, left hook, and left to the solar plexus. Nady responded by telling him, “You’re holding way too much.”
While the tag-teaming continued, Maskaev remained undaunted. He had a decent fourth and fifth. The boxers swapped rounds. When Rahman jabbed regularly, he controlled the fight; when he slowed down, the scales tipped in Oleg’s favor. The challenger didn’t just focus on his vaunted right but distracted Hasim with thudding left hooks.
Maskaev’s amateur career was superior to Rahman’s, who barely had any. Consequently, “The Big O” threw tighter, shorter punches that reached their target fast—in spite of their not traveling with great velocity.
After the seventh, HBO’s unofficial ringside judge Harold Lederman had Maskaev up by a point. Maskaev hit a wall in the eighth, dropping his hands from fatigue. He regained his composure in the ninth, connecting on numerous rights that briefly stopped Rahman in his tracks, and didn’t neglect the body. The titlist, however, threw enough jabs to earn the round. All the while, super-sized ref tugged at the boxers and griped about holding, directing most of his protests at Maskaev.
The tenth was the first round where Maskaev out-landed the other according to CompuBox. In the eleventh, he got off several heavy rights and hooks that had Rahman blatantly holding—while hitting. Nady made no comment, silently pulling the two apart. By the end of the round, Rahman was backpedaling and absorbing punishment to his slablike midsection. As he did throughout most of the rounds, Oleg had a burst of energy at the 10-second warning.
In keeping with the evening’s theme, Larry Merchant became unnecessarily maudlin and patriotic as the boxers gathered themselves for the twelfth. “Is this not just the twilight of American heavyweight gods but the nightfall…?” the HBO vet wondered aloud.
The ref must’ve heard Larry, and attempted to ensure it wasn’t the latter. He literally ripped open the soggy tape on Rahman’s gloves and had his corner re-tape it. It was precious time the flagging fighter required.
Alas, it wouldn’t be enough. A few seconds later Oleg threw a simple left-right-left to Rahman’s face. The right did all the damage, sending Hasim sprawled against the ropes. The delirious fighter argued it was a push. After he took the count, Oleg charged at him and landed clean blows. Rahman tumbled forward and tried to tackle the U.S. basher.
In what will be replayed in perpetuity, Rahman grasped at Maskaev’s ankles, as he was holding on for dear life on a listing ship. But he got up. Maskaev landed more solid blows. Nady separated them. This occurs again, except this last time Rahman was done. He rested his left arm on the ropes in an act of surrender or utter exhaustion. Maskaev finished him off with a flurry; a compact right had Nady come to the rescue.
Merchant’s voice cracked as he came up with this gem: “Where have you gone Joe Louis, a lonely boxing nation turns its eyes to you.” Hmmm? What do you think the humongous Jamaican-Canadian-Brit standing to his right—the one who reigned supreme from roughly 1992 to 2003—thought about this?
This time last year, I knew nothing about the Mexican featherweight Humberto Soto. All I knew was that I was disappointed to see him in with Rocky Juarez on HBO’s Boxing After Dark. A 2000 Olympic silver medallist for the U.S., Juarez was supposed to face his toughest test against ultra-tough Korean In Jin Chi. But Chi got injured in training and was replaced by this Soto guy—a five-time loser.
Soto was brilliant. And while the UD thankfully went to the unknown fighter from Los Mochis, the close scores don’t reflect the utter dismantlement of Juarez. Soto’s next TV fight was this February, on the Spanish Telefutura. He was impressive in dispatching Oscar Leon in nine.
Now campaigning at super featherweight, where terrors Manny Pacquiao, Marco Antonio Barrera, Jorge Barrios, and Edwin Valero compete, Soto is in position to become a Latin Cinderella Man. He moved that much closer to wearing the glass slipper by obliterating a game but outgunned Ivan Valle in a WBC Eliminator for the #1 ranking.
The bout was stopped at 48 seconds of round four. Soto is now 40-5-2 (24). Valle dropped to 25-5-1 (21).
We learned that the two 26-year-olds come from the same fighting town in Mexico and even attending the same grade school. However, while Soto grew up in a 144 square foot cardboard box with five others, Valle had a relatively privileged upbringing. His father was a truck driver, and put him through college and even law school. Guess which childhood makes for a better scrapper?
The first round was all-action. With a minute left on the clock, Valle, who could pass for a strong 140, rocked Soto with a left hook to the chin. Soto responded with his own left hook, followed by a right. Valle crumpled to the canvas.
In the next round, Soto put on one of the better punching exhibitions I’ve seen all year. All of his shots were hard, crisp, short, and almost absurdly accurate. He has a fine jab and has an instinct for finding openings. And his power punches always come in two’s and three’s. Valle’s not a bad puncher himself, but his are long and looping by comparison.
Soto had no trouble stepping inside shots and working inside the pocket. With the second wrapping up, a badly concussed Valle threw a blatant low blow. Referee Joe Cortez deducted two points. (A harsh penalty I’d never seen before, considering it was Valle’s first deduction for a foul.)
In the third, Soto demonstrated an excellent defense, but it’s subtle enough that he doesn’t get credit for it. Commentator Jim Lampley spoke of Valle working the body, when in fact everything landed on elbows, arms and gloves; shots to the head were seamlessly slipped or caught-and-countered.
A minute into the round, a double right hook—body then head—dropped Valle for the second time. Towards the end of the round, the third knockdown came—another right hook upstairs. The hook landed far enough behind the ear that it could’ve been ruled a foul. (Soto has a tendency to land hooks in this dangerous territory, and was deducted twice for this when he fought Juarez.) But Valle also had a habit of angling his head into the hook so that he was precariously exposed to it.
After three, Harold Lederman had it 30-22 for Soto; a 10-8 round in the first and then 10-7 twice.
Shortly into what would be the last round, Soto connected on a series of brutal shots, all the more because of their intelligent design: a straight right over a jab; a slipped right hook answered with the same; and, finally, the blow that closed the show, a right uppercut that came under an extended jab that was left out there for too long.
When Valle fell this time, he didn’t bother with a count.
Soto’s now won 17 of his last 18—the non-win wasn’t a loss but a NC. He’s definitely the best five-loss fighter around. He might prove to be the best fighter in his rich division. Larry Merchant, still the best in the business in turning a phrase, got it right: “Valle has a degree in law. Soto has a degree in boxing.”
Lightweight David Diaz shall suffer no longer. I was critical of the southpaw in the June 30 issue of Boxing News, citing not just his uninspired performance against journeyman Cristian Favela but his disappointing career—considering he was a U.S. Olympian in 1996, beating out Zab Judah for the spot. I wasn’t alone in my criticism, which is somewhat puzzling since he was 31-1-1 (17) going into Saturday night’s fight.
It looked to be another downer for Diaz against the tough, tall (5’10’’), and awkward Jose Armando Santa Cruz, now 23-2 (13). Diaz was losing nearly all the rounds until midway through the tenth. Each round, he’d come out strong for the first minute, attacking up and down, getting inside the octopus-like Mexican. But Santa Cruz never stopped punching back—throwing as many as 127 in the fourth. By the end of every round, Diaz looked overwhelmed and without an answer.
To his credit, Diaz never gave up. At 1:30 of the 10th, Santa Cruz threw a lazy jab from the southpaw stance (which he had switched to back in the third). Diaz countered with a right uppercut, which landed flush on the chin.
Stanta Cruz collapsed. He rose on unsteady legs seven seconds later. Diaz attacked with controlled fury, landing lefts with all his weight behind them and battering his man on the ropes. Santa Cruz went down once more, rose at five, but was in worse shape than before. Diaz landed everything in the book on the lost opponent, forcing referee Richard Steele to halt the bout. The famous fair-trigger ref made the right call this time. The time of the TKO stoppage was 2:26.
Opening the pay-per-view was Vanes “Nightmare” Martirosyan, an Armenian-American jnr. middleweight who represented the U.S. in the 2004 Olympics. Trained by Freddie Roach and managed by Shelly Finkel, Vanes, now 10-0 (6), lives in Glendale, California, which has the second-largest Armernian population in the world. It’s not simply ethnic pride that brought out droves of Armenians to Las Vegas. Vanes has what they call a “crowd-pleasing” style; i.e. he looks to destroy whomever he’s facing.
He’ll have to overcome this. You can’t get rid of them all, as he learned against Marcus Brooks, now 6-2 (3). Martirosyan won by UD with scores of 60-52 and 60-53 twice.
Vanes, who only recently turned 20, was overanxious and jumpy in the first. He thought he’d make short work of Brooks and be raised on the shoulders of his adoring fans. It could’ve happened. But the wiry 6-footer was so intent on blasting his man with right hands, he forgot to set up his power punches with a jab.
With five seconds left in the round he caught Brooks with consecutive long right hands. Brooks tumbled across the canvas, but wasn’t badly hurt. Between rounds, Roach implored his fighter to “set them up.”
The advice went ignored. I’ve seen plenty of footage of Vanes in sparring, and at this stage he lacks the patience, if not the skill, to do such tedious chores as box. If he refuses to listen to his trainer, he ought to consult with his stablemate James Toney, who teaches a daily master class at Roach’s Wild Card Gym in L.A. More than technique, Toney could teach the pupil the importance of keeping a cool head in the ring—even if it’s the only time where such discipline is exercised.
Brooks wasn’t a soft touch, so once he got used to Vanes’ hand-speed, he eluded most of the big rights. By not introducing the jab, Vanes couldn’t properly breakdown his opponent. In the third, he threw long lead uppercuts from too far out. The next round he dropped his hands, in an effort to invite Brooks to come inside. All of this might’ve worked for him had he adhered to the basics.
But his raw ability is undeniable. Analyst Larry Merchant commented that Martirosyan is typical of his Olympic teammates: heavy on desire and athleticism, light on technique.
A lead left hook to the body illustrated this with a few seconds left in the fourth. It was fast and hard, forcing Brooks to involuntarily drop his hands; he feigned he wanted more of the same on the other side. But nothing came after the shot as “Nightmare” wasn’t in position to follow up.
Frustrated in the fifth, Vanes pushed Brooks to the canvas when a lead left hook didn’t do the trick. Martirosyan eventually switched gears and made some good adjustments before the six-rounder ended. He began to counter-punch effectively and Brooks was wearing down. But Vanes never set his feet and couldn’t manage KO-type leverage on his shots.
Chalk it up to a learning experience. Martirosyan is a capable prospect but still has much to learn about the sweet science. (Note: Later in the broadcast, Larry Merchant reported that Martirosyan broke his right hand in the second round.)
New York super middleweights John Vargas and Aneudi Santos met in an eight-rounder. Vargas, who won by UD 8, is now 18-1 (10). Santos, after an auspicious 10-0 start to his career, has only won two of his last five.
Young American heavyweight Travis Kaufman upped his record to 6-0 (4) by stopping James McCloskey in one.
Middleweight Aaron Pryor Jnr., the son of the legendary jnr. welterweight, won a six-round SD over Daniel Stanisavljevic.