Courtesy Jim Jenkins, Sacramento Bee
Oleg Maskaev says he is happy that he can now see a clear path in his bid to regain the World Boxing Council heavyweight title. After considerable political manuevering, in Oleg’s view, the WBC, during his current convention, has decreed that the No. 2 ranked Maskaev (36-6, 27 KOs) will fight a title-eliminator by May 10 of 2010 against No. 1 ranked Ray Austin (28-4-4, 18 KOs), with the winner to face champion Vitali Klitschko (38-2, 37 KOs).
There are pitfalls before this can come off as scheduled. First, Maskaev must win a supposed tuneup Dec. 11 in Sacramento (Calif.), near the former Soviet fighter’s new adopted hometown. His opponent is 23-year-old Nagy Aguilera (14-2, 9 KOs), an upset-minded prospect from the Dominician Republic and fighting out of New York.
Also, Klitschko has to beat No. 6 contender Kevin Johnson in a Dec. 12 defense in Switzerland. Meanwhile, Austin, who last fought in October, is apparently standing pat until the eliminator.
At a press conference Thursday in Sacramento, Aguilera fancied himself as a spoiler for the trio of oldies in the title mix — Maskaev, 40; Austin, 39; and Klitschkov, 38.
Told Maskaev blamed back and elbow injuries on his TKO title loss to Samuel Peter last year, Aguilera said, “There’s always an excuse when someone loses. Maskaev can train as hard as he wants but he can’t hide his age. That’s one reason I took the fight. This is a big opportunity I couldn’t pass up … a chance to (replace Maskaev) in the ratings and fight for the title myself one day.”
Informed of Aguilera’s comment, Maskaev, who won two other tuneups with ease earlier this year, smiled and said, “I’m not hiding my age. Aguilera is just the kind of opponent i like. He comes right at you.”
“Oleg is a young 40,” said Chuck McGregor, Maskaev’s new trainer via Arizona. “I’ve trained fighters in their 30s who didn’t take care of themselves as well as Oleg and became shambles.”
Dennis Rappaport, Maskaev’s New York-based promoter, acknowledged there is obviously a risk connected with taking on Aguilera, a former top-flight amateur boxer.
“Because Austin doesn’t plan to fight again (until the elimination match), I’ve received calls from boxing people asking me why take the risk of Oleg losing (to Aguilera) and blowing his ranking and a chance at the title?” said Rappaport. “Yes, it’s a big gamble, a dream-maker or career-breaker. But Oleg felt it was important to take this fight in front of his (new hometown) fans.”
Rappaport is promoting the card in association with local promoters Nasser Niavaroni and Jeff Berger, who are providing area preliminary boxers.
Maskaev will do the bulk of his training in Reno where he believes the altitude will be a boost for his conditioning. Aguilera, promoted by former heavyweight Lou Savarese of New York, is training in Houston.
Said Savarese: “I give Aguilera a good chance of winning. It’s a big, big opportunity for him.”
Maskaev said there is no way he will be looking past his unheralded foe with thoughts of what lies beyond the schedued 10-rounder next month at the historic downtown Sacramento venue. It is a 4,000-seat arena with balconies that has been the site of many of the city’s historic fights but has been replaced for bigger cards by NBA-sized Arco Arena in suburbia.
Arco, in fact, could become a candidate to land the eliminator if all goes well with Maskaev’s fight at Memorial and the fan support is enthusiastic, Rappaport said.