All that was heavyweight was the geopolitical theater

The Kickoff

August 14, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

If Hasim Rahman was "America's Last Line of Defense," the North Koreans could be here any minute.

I heard that dictator Kim Jong Il watched Saturday night's fight between Rahman and new heavyweight champion Oleg Maskaev on pay per view and immediately suspended his country's nuclear missile program.

"No need to waste the superior technological might of the North Korean people," Kim announced, while munching on a delicious piece of cardboard. "America is helpless."

OK, maybe I just thought I heard that, but it isn't any more absurd than your local cable provider's charging you $49.95 to watch two so-so fighters push each other around the ring for 11 1/2 rounds.

The heavyweight division has become so lackluster that the best fighter in Las Vegas on Saturday night was boxing commentator Lennox Lewis, who has gained a few pounds in retirement but could have ripped off his jacket at any point in the evening and schooled both of these guys at the same time.

(If this were the WWE, by the way, that's exactly what would have happened, which is why professional wrestling replaced boxing as America's most popular guilty pleasure a couple of decades ago.)

Rahman was supposed to be the better-conditioned fighter because he had trained at altitude, but that just meant he had farther to fall when Maskaev finally knocked him down in the 12th round. He got back up and tried to hold on for the final bell, only to run so completely out of gas that he could not defend himself (or America) any longer.

In Rock's defense, he was the aggressor throughout the fight, which means that he had to expend a lot more energy than Maskaev. He also landed about twice as many punches, but a review of the scorecards showed that the judges probably would have given the decision to Maskaev if the fight had gone the distance.

Apparently, you get points for standing in one place and blocking a hundred jabs with your face, but there's no sense whining about that now. Rahman trained only for a 35-minute fight, and boxing rules, unfortunately, stipulate that it takes 36 minutes to get through 12 rounds.

Give Maskaev a little credit. He took everything Rahman had to offer and still was able to catch his breath at the end ... which is about all that's really necessary to get you a heavyweight belt in this day and age.

Rahman's xenophobic riff about keeping the supposed linear title in American hands was as phony as his overhand right, since Maskaev is a naturalized American citizen. So I guess the native Kazakhstani now becomes "America's Last Line of Defense," which - if nothing else - should show you how much the world has changed since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

We probably haven't seen the last of Rock, who still needs to make a living and, considering the dismal state of the heavyweight division, could remain a top contender into his late 50s. I don't think we'll be seeing a rematch with Maskaev, however, since he has knocked Rahman out twice and nobody would show up to watch, anyway.

I watched the fight at a local sports bar Saturday night, so I was spared half a C-note, but I still felt a little cheated since I had to drive there, and, with the cost of gas what it is, the trip probably cost me six bucks.

The place had several screens, one of them showing the fight, another showing an Ultimate Fighting bout and a few others tuned to NFL preseason games. Rahman is the first, second and only heavyweight champion from Baltimore, but only about 10 of us were paying any attention to the pay per view.

Though the fight was lackluster, I enjoyed listening to Lewis, who is the greatest heavyweight boxer ever to have an English accent. He made a huge fortune, pretty much avoided Don King for the bulk of his career, and now is enjoying the life of a well-respected former champion. Perhaps the last real champion.

Still, I can't help but wonder what was going through his head as Rahman wilted in the final seconds of Round 12 and the title Lewis once held with such class was handed over to a ham-and-egger like Oleg Maskaev.

Lewis and Kim were probably thinking the same thing: America is finished as a boxing superpower.

"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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