Even at -200, buy a
piece of ‘The Rock’

Aug 8, 2006 6:58 AM

It’s either Ow! or Macao for better trained Rahman at T &M

You can think so hard that your brain hurts, but sometimes it is better to ignore the so-called "smart" money and go with what you know. Thus Hasim Rahman, the most constant of inconsistencies in boxing, should easily win his rematch with Oleg Maskaev.

Don’t let the early odds fool you!

Rahman was only -200 against Maskaev’s +160, which some wiseguys might think is an overlay. Back in 1999 at Atlantic City, Maskaev launched the current WBCrapola heavyweight champion with a perfectly placed right hand. Rahman landed virtually on Jim Lampley’s lap. The knockout started a mini-riot when the Rock’s family and friends rushed to their fallen hero, only to be met by over-zealous security personnel.

We all survived, except maybe Maskaev. Rahman eventually got up to win a world title twice. The real one was when he knocked out an under-trained Lennox Lewis. As for Maskaev, he became a dangerous journeyman who several years ago was advised to quit by his loving trainer New Yorker Bob Jackson.

Instead, Maskaev reeled off a bunch of victories against lamp-posts, fire hydrants and other inanimate objects. The streak culminated with a 12-round decision over that European terror, Sinan Simail Sam. That win somehow qualified him for a mandatory shot at his old rival.

Oleg is now trained by Victor Valle Jr. and managed, in effect, by his promoter, Dennis Rappaport. If Gerry Cooney rings a bell, you might identify this cast of characters.

Valle’s late father was one of the most decent guys ever in boxing. The senior Valle trained Cooney, who was co-managed by Rappaport and the late Mike Jones. The Whacko Kids started out zany, but as Cooney got built into a white hope and not a legit puncher which he was, Jones began walking around saying, "I’m not Rappaport," like the title of the play.

Valle Sr., lovely as he was, couldn’t train much. He had Cooney punching not the heavy bag, but the "Valle bag" nailed to a wall. Problem was Gerry had chronic back and shoulder problems and punching a wall did him little good.

Anyway, Rappaport is back and now we have the Maskaev camp asking the Nevada commission suggesting that the floor outside ring at the Thomas & Mack be padded so that Rahman can land on a soft spot. The Rock shrugs, "You can’t play mind games with me."

Rappaport says Rahman wakes up in cold sweats dreaming about Maskaev’s 1999 right hand. This must come as a surprise to Mrs. Rahman, who probably didn’t recognize the whacko next to her in bed.

In any case, there probably is no need to bring your baseball glove to catch Rahman on Aug. 12. He was well-grounded against Maskaev, in complete control, until he started to tire understandably.

Understandably, because he left camp three weeks before the fight when he learned that Maskaev was the substitute HBO had finally come up when Kirk Johnson, (for whom he was training seriously) was injured. At first, Rahman thought the replacement was going to be Zeljko Mavrovic, whom he had just seen go 12 rounds with Lennox Lewis, taking everything the champion threw and landing some good shots himself.

Mavrovic passed, never fighting again after losing to Lewis. Told Maskaev was his new opponent, Rahman thought he had an HBO "freebie." He knew Maskaev had been knocked out in the opening round by Oliver McCall (so what if the Kazakhstan’s fifth pro fight was against a former world champion) and figured he didn’t have to train.

Boom, one right hand jolted him into reality. The next right hand knocked him out of the ring.

But this time, we are told Rahman has trained well. A trip to Macao and Steve Wynn’s glitzy new casino at the Chinese enclave rests on the outcome. Since 1999, Maskaev has been knocked out by the likes of Kirk Johnson, Lance Whitaker and Corey Sanders (no, not the South African slugger who once stopped Wladimir Klitschko, but the American journeyman).

Rahman has been stopped by Lewis in their rematch and David Tua (who earlier had stopped Maskaev). However, Hasim has gone the distance with tough guys like Tua (in their drawn rematch which many believe he won) and James Toney (ditto). He has a huge edge in class, boxing ability and punching power.

Don’t buy the hype that Rahman is the last line of American defense for heavyweight title of the four biggest sanctioning bodies. True, the other three alphabelts (cq) are owned by former Soviet fighters and Maskaev is also one of "them" who in the amateurs once knocked out Vitali Klitschko. But he is now a bona fide American citizen — how American can you get, living in Staten Island?

Yes, Maskaev is dangerous and has a puncher’s chance. But, at only -200, I can only recommend buying a piece of the Rock.