The decline of Kassim “The Dream” Ouma’s career has been frustrating to watch. I saw Ouma’s last major win live at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden in August 2006, a decision over then-undefeated Brooklyn prospect Sechew “The Iron Horse” Powell on the undercard of the controversial Vernon Forrest-Ike Quartey bout. Frankly, I had thought going in that Powell would win the fight. Powell had impressed me with a dominating victory over Archak TerMeliksetian on ShoBox, and he looked to be peaking at the right time. Ouma, on the other hand, had always seemed like a small-framed junior middleweight who lacked punching power and needed to be on the inside to win.
Imagine my surprise, then, when Ouma taunted, bullied, and outhustled the younger Powell, winning all ten rounds on one judge’s card in what was indisputably a one-sided fight. Powell left the ring looking like a whipped schoolboy, and I donated $10 to my friend’s favorite charity (as we know, wagering on boxing is illegal in New York State). After the fight, Ouma changed in his dressing room and then came up to visit with his family, who were sitting just a few rows in front of us. His face was still unmarked then — the Jermain Taylor fight lay four months in the future — and Ouma glowed with youth, optimism, and good health, kissing babies and posing for pictures, an authentic African folk hero in New York. At that moment, Ouma looked for all the world like one of the top three or four junior middleweights in the world, a good bet to win back the belt he had lost to Roman Karmazin the year before.
Four months later, Ouma would take on the quixotic task of fighting then-middleweight champion Jermain Taylor in Taylor’s hometown of Little Rock. Badly outgunned but very game, Ouma absorbed an extraordinary amount of punishment from the heavy-handed Taylor in losing a 12-round decision. Since then, Ouma has not been the same fighter. He took a year off before losing a split decision to Saul Roman. Post-Roman, rumors of substance abuse and bad training habits have clouded the atmosphere around Ouma, and he has not looked good in losing to Cornelius Bundrage and Gabriel Rosado, fighters he should have been able to handle.
Ouma fought with renewed strength against Martirosyan. He robbed the taller Martirosyan of distance — Martirosyan punched past Ouma for most of the night — and did solid work with both hands inside. (Ouma also used his head effectively, something that has always been part of his game.) I do not know whether to think that Ouma has gotten serious about his work again or that Martirosyan is not what we thought he was — though I lean toward the former view — but Ouma definitely held his own against a bigger, younger, fresher guy who had a lot to fight for and Freddie Roach in his corner.
It would have been nice to see Ouma get the decision. He has been a fight fan’s fighter, he has a great backstory, and he is a charming personality. Redemption, as we know, is one of the classic memes of the fight game, and as in the case of Rocky Balboa, it sometimes comes even when victory proves elusive. Perhaps Kassim Ouma earned a measure of redemption on Saturday night, even in defeat.