- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2006

Hasim Rahman gets a kick out of saying, “I’m the great black hope.”

He’ll be fighting tonight in Las Vegas, one show, plenty of tickets available, $49.95 on your pay-per-view dial.

Rahman is appearing in a cold war drama — it may at times resemble a heavyweight title fight — produced by Bob Arum called “America’s Last Line of Defense.”

Appearing alongside Rahman, playing the Red Menace, is Oleg Maskaev, an American who resides in Staten Island.

“I need to hold it down for my country,” said Rahman, speaking of the World Boxing Council heavyweight title he currently owns.

In case you weren’t paying attention — and, because this involves the heavyweight division of boxing, you most likely were not — America’s manhood is on the line tonight.

Why? Because if Maskaev, who is from Kazakhstan, defeats Rahman, all four of the supposedly recognized heavyweight championship titles will be held by fighters from the former Soviet bloc.

Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko holds the International Boxing Federation title, and Sergei Lyakhovich is the World Boxing Organization champion. Don King’s King Kong, 7-foot Russian Nicolay Valuev, is the World Boxing Association title holder.

So this was how the Russians were going to take over the country — one punch at a time.

Arum sold this fight as a battle for the pride of America, even though Maskaev became an American citizen two years ago and is not thrilled about being painted as Dolph Lundgren in “Rocky IV.”

“It bothers me,” he said. “Whoever wins this fight is going to be an American.”

Arum said he wasn’t aware that Maskaev was an American citizen — not that it would have stopped him from promoting the cold war theme, anyway. Arum would claim the 37-year-old Maskaev is a direct descendent of Josef Stalin if it would sell tickets, particularly for a heavyweight title fight that few people outside of Rahman’s hometown of Baltimore and Kazakhstan care about.

This has all the earmarks of a bad fight — in other words, all the earmarks of a typical Rahman fight. He hasn’t put on a performance worth paying for since he shocked the world by knocking out Lennox Lewis in South Africa in April 2001.

Since then, Rahman was pummeled by Lewis in four rounds in November 2001. He lost to Evander Holyfield, fought a draw in a rematch with David Tua and followed that with an ugly loss to John Ruiz in December 2003.

Rahman then embarked on a grassroots comeback plan that nearly ended before it began. He was fortunate to get a decision over a washed-up former cruiserweight champion, Al Cole, at the Ballroom Boxing Show at Michael’s Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, Md., in March 2004.

Rahman (41-5-2, 33 knockouts) since beat Mario Cawley, Rob Calloway, Terrence Lewis, Kali Meehan and Monte Barrett — not exactly names that would strike fear in a female Russian shot putter, let alone a heavyweight fighter.

He became heavyweight champion by default by beating Barrett in a lackluster display in 2005 in an elimination bout that earned him a shot at champion Vitali Klitschko, suddenly retired just before the fight because of a knee injury and other physical problems. So Rahman was named WBC heavyweight champion.

That was his most exciting fight in years.

His first defense was an embarrassment, even by today’s heavyweight boxing standards. Rahman fought a pathetically out-of-shape James Toney to a draw in March. He kept the heavyweight title in the process, so he has yet to actually win a fight to either defend or become heavyweight champion, save for his brief reign five years ago when he knocked out Lewis.

Rahman, 33, has fallen far since then, considering where he was.

He was the heavyweight champion of the world, with no contract tying him to any promoter and no strings to either Home Box Office or Showtime. It was one of the few times that a fighter truly has such power, and, as a free agent with the title, he fielded offers from HBO and Showtime for long-term deals that went as high as $17 million.

He signed with King for a bag full of cash and has been paying the price ever since.

But now he is fighting for something bigger than money. Now, Rahman says, he is fighting for his country.

“It’s patriotic, that’s what it is,” Rahman said. “I mean, look around you, all the other belt holders are not American, and they’re trying to get a clean sweep. So, you know, they are going to send me out there to represent my country, and I will do that.”

Rahman fought Maskaev (32-5, 25 knockouts) before, when he wasn’t the Patriot and Maskaev was legitimately not an American citizen. That took place in 1999, when Maskaev hit Rahman so hard he knocked him out of the ring and onto the HBO announcers table.

It might be a good idea for all of us to start practicing speaking Russian.

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