Saturday, February 10, 2007


Mix 1 1/2 oz. of vodka, 3/4 oz. of Kahlua and 3/4 oz. of light cream and you've got yourself a good White Russian - or another heavyweight champion.

White Russians were the drink of choice for actor Jeff Bridges in the cult-classic movie "The Big Lebowski" and he drank them for any occasion. Had Lebowski, a laid-back pacifist, been in Las Vegas on Saturday night he would surely have raised a glass of the good stuff in honor of Oleg Maskaev and the violence he inflicted upon Hasim Rahman.

There's an old Russian proverb that says, "A drop hollows out a stone" and Maskaev dropped enough left hooks and right hands on "The Rock" to bore some holes and stop him with 43 seconds left in the twelfth and final round. In reducing Rahman to rubble, Maskaev became the fourth Russian-born fighter to hold a current version of the heavyweight championship. Maskaev joins Wladimir Klitschko (IBF), Serguei Lyakhovich (WBO) and Nikolay Valuev (WBA) as heavyweight belt-holders.

Rahman, a two-time winner of heavyweight titles had to be seeing in quadruple and must have felt like he was being pummeled with a hammer and sickle by all four of the Russian heavyweight champions before busybody referee Jay Nady stepped in again - this time to save him.

Only a few years ago, Maskaev had been exiled to boxing's version of Siberia before resurrecting his career under promoter Dennis Rappaport, manager Fred Kesch and trainer Victor Valle, Jr. "The Big O" is the type of guy that you like to see succeed. Maskaev is a humble, soft-spoken, unpretentious, family man and his mantra is a simple one, "Finish what you start" and he very well may have finished Rahman - for good.

After Rappaport claimed Oleg from the heavyweight hinterland a few years ago he went to work on rehabilitating him to ten straight wins and a shot at the WBC title. The masterpiece that Rappaport crafted in guiding Maskaev to a title shot and a victory is akin to a covert operation that would make the KGB proud. Rappaport took Maskaev from an oft knocked out, mismanaged fighter that was discouraged from fighting by his former trainer, all the way to a heavyweight title.

They thought Oleg should retire," Rappaport said on Saturday night in his New York accent. "But this shows you what can happen when you believe in yourself. When you work hard enough anything can happen and he proved that tonight. Oleg is boxing's new Cinderella story."

"I'm Not Rappaport"

I'm Not Rappaport" was a 1986 Tony award winning play that revolved around the unlikely friendship of two eighty-year old men who, despite infirm bodies and failing eyesight, aren't ready to give up on life. Together, they sit around on benches in New York's Central Park, argue with each other, discuss life, reminisce, argue and try to do their small part in righting the world's wrongs. And, while most of their efforts are ultimately ineffective, it isn't until the very end that we, like them, recognize that even apparent failures can be successes. So it is with Dennis Rappaport and Oleg Maskaev. Neither of them are failures and they've both had near misses and apparent failures over the years but they turned those failures into successes.

Before last week many newcomers to the sport may have never even heard of Dennis Rappaport. However, he was once one half of a well-known managerial tandem dubbed "The Whacko Twins" by Top Rank matchmaker Bruce Tramper. Rappaport was partnered with his fellow real estate broker and friend Mike Jones and around 1975 they got together and got into the business of managing fighters. They were looked down upon by the boxing establishment and press corps of the day for their sometimes amateurish, unusual and flamboyant managerial style.

Whatever their nickname and for all of the respect they never received, they did well together. Their claim to fame was getting Gerry Cooney $10 million and purse parity to fight Larry Holmes for the WBC heavyweight title in 1982. The pair also managed lightweight Howard Davis, Jr. and got CBS to cough up $2 million in an agreement that was the largest ever network contract negotiated with any fighter up until that time. In 1980 they moved Davis into a WBC lightweight title fight with Jim Watt. Rappaport and Jones also built 160-pound Ronnie Harris to a record of 28-0 and got him into a 1978-middleweight championship fight with Argentina's Hugo Corro.

While none of those fighters ever won a title they were all financially successful and Rappaport deserves at least half of the credit. While Mike Jones has passed on, Rappaport has soldiered on, and now he has re-emerged into the big-time with Maskaev. Even one quarter of the heavyweight championship is a valuable commodity and Rappaport must be salivating like Pavlov's dog with the realization that he has a piece of boxing's holy grail - a heavyweight title.

Say what you will about Dennis Rappaport, but the man can sell a boxing match and he has a way of getting things to go the way he wants them to go. While Shelly Finkel, manager of Wladimir Klitschko, is trying to goad Maskaev into a November unification bout with Klitschko, it will be Rappaport that makes the decisions from here on in. Rappaport is wily, coy and can two-step his way around the business side of boxing with the grace of a Russian dancing bear. Rappaport's addition back into the top echelon of the game will be interesting for sure. Perhaps another Russian proverb is in order as it relates to Rappaport finally landing an elusive boxing championship: "Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn sometimes".

Paul "The Punisher" Williams

Paul Williams will face Sharmba Mitchell in Reno, Nevada on HBO's Boxing After Dark card on Saturday night. Former titlist Mitchell is certainly well past his best days and at age 35 and he'll have a severe uphill battle against the 6'1" Mitchell who possesses a glistening record of 30-0 (22) KO. Williams has been in the pro game for six years and was once promoted by Sugar Ray Leonard. His career is now being guided by Al ("I'm not employed by HBO") Haymon who was named the BWAA 2005 Manager of the Year.

Williams has a tremendous upside, he is hungry and he can fight. This will likely be the night that convinces Sharmba Mitchell to hang 'em up. I think Williams is going to punish "The Little Big Man".

August 2006

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