May 20, 2000
The crossroads fight is one of the most intriguing in all of boxing. Facing a loss of livelihood with even one more defeat, the fighter at the crossroads simply must win. Back to the wall, the crossroads battle often provide the biggest fireworks. Certainly the pyrotechnics were fully loaded when Atlantic City hosted a pair of fights in which all four fighters were at the crossroads. For Oleg Maskaev, Derrick Jefferson, Hasim Rahman and Corrie Sanders, wins were mandatory if their championship dreams were to remain alive. A loss, particularly a convincing one, would certainly send itís recipient to the back of a very long line of heavyweight contenders and pretenders. Itís no surprise, then, that all four men fought as though they had everything to lose.
In the undercard bout, Hasim Rahman and Corrie Sanders squared off in a battle for legitimacy. A loss for Rahman would label him as an all-muscle hype job while a defeat for Sanders would send him back to South Africa with zero hope of top-ten rating again. In the first round, both men came out swinging.
Rahman wasted little time launching his big right hand, the only real weapon in his arsenal. Unable to land such a telegraphed punch, Sanders used his speed to land a number of short chopping left hands from the southpaw stance. These blow were effective, and not only because they were catching Rahman off guard. Sanders did a wonderful job of leading a few one-twoís and then switching to counter punching mode and back again. Rahman only really landed one major punch, a jolting right hand just before the bell. The punch certainly gave Sanders something to think about in between frames.
Rahman got busier in the second round and soon landed his big right hand again, this time off the top of Sandersí forehead. The punch stunned Corrie, and sent him back into the ropes. Rahman pounded Sandersí sides, got in a few more punches upstairs and looked for a moment to have Sanders in trouble. But before you knew it, Sanders quickly spun around Rahman, and now Hasim was on the ropes near a neutral corner. Sanders pounded back with a flurry of his own, and Hasim the Dream looked like he might be taking a nap shortly. Sanders eventually needed a breather, and backed the fight out to center ring, where he landed two absolutely beautiful counter left hands that hurt Rahman badly. A right hook made a trifecta of clean punches and had Rahman looking ready to go before the bell sounded to end the second round.
Rahman was getting desperate, but didnít have the variety of punches to alter Sandersí gameplan. The jab Rahman used to control David Tua for half a fight was nonexistent. It was replaced by a pawing jab that set up his obvious right hand. Left hooks were merely a rumor. Coming at Sanders to begin round three, Rahman walked into another counter, this one a left uppercut, and he collapsed into Sanders. Sanders stepped to the side and Rahman was perched in an A-frame over the top rope. He hovered there for several seconds before waking up and protesting that he was never out in the first place. The ref simply counted out the mandatory eight while Rahman argued.
Sanders felt he had Hasim hurt and ready to go, and so he rushed at him. Within 10 seconds, a big Hasim right landed on Sanders, who now fell onto his back. Sanders jumped to his feet immediately, and had the presence of mind to head to a neutral corner and return to a knee until the count of eight. Although Sanders actions suggested he was all right, in truth he was on stiff legs when the fight resumed. The round was nearly over, and Rahman could not finish the job. A perfect 10-10 round with two knockdowns. They headed to the fourth.
Rahman picked up where he left off, charging Sanders with little more than a powerful right hand. Again, Sanders timed the assault and landed a flush left uppercut that widened Rahmanís eyes. Now it was time to let it all hang out, and both men obliged. As both threw furious punches at each other, they both landed with frequency. The crowd was rabid with excitement. As the toe to toe action came to a slow down, Rahman threw a big right just as Sanders threw a big left. Both punches landed at the same time, and both menís knees buckled. Sanders fell back into center ring, and Rahman would have gone down also had he not grabbed onto the ropes and escaped with only a dangerously low squat. It was inches from a double knockdown.
Since Sanders didnít have the ropes to grab onto, he took the eight count and then took more incoming. Rahman charged with the right, Sanders returned with the left, and the two one-dimensional fighters (for this night at least) fired only the single punches that had earned them success. Sanders seemed obsessed with the left uppercut, having twice stunned Rahman with it in the fight. Instead of the downward straight left that he had boasted in the first, his throwing underneath became obvious, and Rahman avoided it.
The fifth round was also a 10-10 round, although a polar opposite one from the third round 10-10. Both men took a much needed breather for the entire round. Neither threw many punches, partially because of the break, but also because both men were trying to time their one single bomb. Rahman only had the right, and Sandersí only chance was to counter the right with his left. It led to a lot of feinting.
The sixth was not much more interesting, and neither was the seventh. That is, until Rahman ended it.
Midway through a boring seventh round, with each man desperately looking for a second wind, Rahman landed a big right hand that crunched Sanders. Corrie simply covered up his face with his forearms and gloves. Rahman used the opportunity to tee off on him. Most of the flurry was blocked, but a few jolting blows got through the South Africanís guard and sent him back to the ropes. Sanders never tried to tie Rahman up, and never threw a punch back. It served as an invitation to stop the fight, and sure enough...after Rahman had unloaded close to 30 unanswered attempts...referee Eddie Cotton stepped in and halted the action. Rahman TKO7.
Hasim Rahman got the victory he so very much needed, but it was far from his best outing. Rahman looked vulnerable to good counterpunching, and repeated the exact same one-two over and over and over and over. Any fighter with a modicum of counterpunching ability is going to destroy Rahman, because his routine is so incredibly repetitive. Still, a win is a win, and maybe Rahman will get a chance to rematch with Oleg Maskaev, the man who knocked him out of the ring and out of the heavyweight top ten.
Maskaev was fighting in the main event in a crossroads match of his own. Despite the come-from-behind victory over Rahman a few months back, Maskaev needed a win this night, having lost to David Tua and Oliver McCall in his short 21 fight career. His opponent was Derrick Jefferson, the man who exploded on the scene last year with a highlight reel kayo of Maurice Harris only to then snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when his conditioning betrayed him against David Izon. Eager for a victory of his own, Jefferson entered the ring leaner than usual and preaching the gospel of ring patience. But it didnít work that way.
Shortly into the first round, Maskaev threw a super-short right hand counter that sent Jefferson to the canvas in a heap. The punch only traveled about a foot, but Maskaev caught Jefferson off balance and used excellent upper body movement to get big leverage on the blow. Jefferson rose hurt, although his head was clear. Turns out that on the fall, he sprained his ankle. As the fight resumed, Jefferson grimaced in extreme pain every time he put weight on his left leg. He survived the round and had to pretend to be fine when an obviously concerned doctor seemed ready to stop the fight between stanzas.
Unable to diagnose a Jefferson who was claiming he was unhurt, the doctor allowed the bout to continue. Again, Jefferson couldnít put any weight on his left foot. Bad news for a man whose biggest punch is the left hook. Jefferson fought on, however, lifting his leg off the canvas in clinches and hobbling backwards when the fight lulled at distance. Jefferson was desperate now, and his wild swings left him open for yet another short right hand. Maskaev again dropped Jefferson, who looked to twist his right ankle on the fall, but did not injure it. Jefferson rose from this knockdown clearheaded and visibly frustrated with the turn of events. He bravely fought on, and even landed a wicked right hand right before the bell sounded to end the second round. Down 20-16 after two rounds, and in constant pain, Jefferson knew as well as anyone that he needed a miracle kayo to turn things around.
It almost happened. In the third, Jefferson launched a wild right hand from his waist that landed on the side of Maskaevís head. Oleg was stunned and Jefferson continued the assault with left hooks thrown off the wrong foot and a few more big rights that almost did the job. But Maskaev is a durable and consistent heavyweight, so it was no surprise that he took his time and replanted himself when Derrick eventually let up. Jefferson was rallying, but it was clear that his leg injury was major. Unable to move around the ring, Jefferson was reduced to shuffling forward with his weight constantly on the back leg, even when Maskaev was temporarily reeling. But once the flurry stopped, Maskaev returned to the short right hand and again wobbled Jefferson. Derrick hung on tight and bought enough time to make it out of yet another disastrous round. One way or another, the fight looked ready to end.
Jefferson bravely continued into the fourth, but the pain was mounting. Twice he turned half way around and feebly limped away from Maskaev. Once he even landed a good left hook from the front foot, but then had to lift his leg up and hop backwards on his right to ease the pain. The favoring of the left leg had morphed into all out not using it, and after Maskaev landed a few shots that Jefferson could have avoided had he not been focused on standing up...referee Michael Ortega wisely stepped in and ruled Jefferson unable to continue. Maskaev TKO4.
At first glance, Jefferson loses very little stature, since his loss came from an ankle injury. But if you realize that the injury came from a brutal knockdown on a well timed Maskaev counter, then credit must be given to Oleg for the win. This win was not handed to him, he earned it by hurting Jefferson, although not in the way one would usually expect. Still, Jefferson will be back. The courage displayed in this fight was extraordinary, and someone should send a VHS copy of this fight directly to Vitali Klitschko. If Jefferson can continue for four rounds with one leg, then Vitali could have gone two more rounds with one arm against the pitty pat champion Chris Byrd. Jefferson showed true guts.
Maskaev is quickly becoming one of the terrors of the division. His conditioning is superb, and while heís not a flashy fighter, he picks his spots, throws hard, straight, short shots with big power, and has shown a great chin. He may not excel in any one category, but he does a million things well. That alone makes him a risky opponent for anyone. A rematch with Hasim Rahman seems a natural, although BoxingChronicle predicts the same outcome should the two square off again.
What does the future hold for these four men? Not a lot. All of the fighters, even the winners, are a long way off from fighting for a piece of the newly fractured heavyweight title. There remain some interesting fights up the top ten ladder, if the fights can be made. Risk taking is rarely seen in the money division, but letís hope that at least a few of the mid-level heavyweight pickíem fights take place.