Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A look at the comeback of Oleg Maskaev

One of the most common themes in the sport of Boxing are stories of fighters attempting to make a comeback after a period of hiatus. Many great fighters for one reason or another have left the ring only to attempt to make a comeback. Many will argue that two of the most memorable and successful comebacks in the history of Boxing were achieved by Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman. Both of whom were able to beat long odds to regain their status at the top of the sport.

In the case of Leonard, his achievement in coming back after a three-year retirement to defeat Marvelous Marvin Hagler for the WBC Middleweight world championship in 1987 was in many ways astonishing. There are many who consider Leonard’s accomplishment to be the greatest comeback in Boxing history. After all, Leonard came back to fight Hagler for the Middleweight championship of the world straight out of retirement without fighting anyone else in between. Along with defeating a dominant Middleweight champion in Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Leonard was able to defeat ring rust and father time. Leonard’s accomplishment however, is more of the exception than it is the rule.

In the case of former WBC Heavyweight world champion Oleg Maskaev, his comeback which began in 2012 after a three-year hiatus following a first round knockout loss to Heavyweight contender Nagy Aguilera in 2009, seems to be taking a more measured approach. Maskaev, who has fought many top fighters of the division during the 1990s and 2000s won the Heavyweight championship in 2006 by scoring his second knockout win over Hasim Rahman.

Maskaev may be best known for his first knockout of Rahman in November of 1999 in a fight where Maskaev knocked Rahman out with a solid right hand that sent him through the ropes and out of the ring to the floor. A knockout which has been featured in many highlight reels in the years since.

Maskaev would go on to lose the WBC title to Sam Peter in 2008. In that fight Peter’s power was too much for Maskaev and he was stopped in six rounds. Following the loss to Nagy Aguilera in 2009, some assumed that Maskaev was at the end of his career.  Maskaev returned to the ring in December of 2012 scoring a third round knockout of former world title challenger Owen Beck.

The second fight on the comeback trail came in May of this year scoring a ten round unanimous decision over veteran contender Jason Gavern. Although Maskaev did suffer a knockdown at the hands of Gavern in the ninth round of that fight, it was the first time that Maskaev had gone ten rounds since defeating Okello Peter by twelve round unanimous decision in defense of his Heavyweight title in 2006. Despite the opinions of some contending that Gavern should have won that fight, it was nevertheless an important step for the former champion in terms of working off ring rust.

The most recent outing for Maskaev came on November 4th in Russia against veteran Danny Williams. Williams, best known for scoring an upset knockout victory over former Heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in 2004 came in as a substitution for journeyman contender Corey Sanders who defeated Maskaev in 2002 by eighth round knockout.

The former British and Commonwealth Heavyweight champion Williams came into this fight having lost his last eight fights, losing four by knockout. Truth be told, I was not expecting to see two Heavyweights at their peak squaring off against one another in this fight. Instead, I was looking forward to seeing how the forty-four-year-old Maskaev would look in only his third fight since resuming his career. For the forty-year-old Williams this fight was a chance to revitalize his career against another former world champion.

Although the fight often resembled a sparring session rather than a contest, Maskaev did what he had to do and earned a workman like unanimous decision. Some may be tempted to criticize this fight, but one should view this fight in the sense of Maskaev continuing to build his comeback.

As I watched this fight some thoughts came to mind. Thoughts of hearing some criticism about this fight and the lack of excitement. It is important to remember however, that not all comebacks begin on a marquee stage. George Foreman after all came back after a ten-year retirement in 1987 and fought several fighters that most would not recognize. As Foreman continued to stay active however, those fights at the beginning stages of his comeback against lesser known opposition really served as the building blocks that eventually led to Foreman becoming a major player once again in the Heavyweight division culminating with his come from behind knockout victory over Michael Moorer in 1994 to regain the Heavyweight championship.

Maskaev’s victory over Danny Williams probably will not do much in the short-term for him. In the long-term however, if Maskaev continues to fight and continues to win the early fights in his comeback could very well lead to something down the line.

It is also worth remembering that the Heavyweight division does not have as much marquee value as it did when Foreman was at the beginning stages of his comeback. The division continues to be ruled by two brothers who this observer has often referred to as “The Two Headed Heavyweight Championship Monster” known as the Klitschko brothers. Although there appears to be no signs of either of the brothers diminishing in terms of their Boxing skills, the division always looks for fighters with name recognition value and the Heavyweight division could be heading toward a period of transition of sorts as Vitali Klitschko seems to be nearing retirement as he sets his sights on running for the Presidency of Ukraine.

Some will debate over just how much name recognition value Oleg Maskaev has in the current landscape of the Heavyweight division. Maskaev is however, a former world champion and one should never rule out the possibility of a potential title shot if Maskaev continues to stay active and more specifically continues to win. Will Oleg Maskaev reenter in the Heavyweight championship picture? Only time will tell.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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