Kazakhstan-born fighter Oleg Maskaev could complete a sweep of heavyweight titles by former Soviet bloc boxers when he faces World Boxing Council champion Hasim Rahman today.
The 37-year-old former Russian Army lieutenant became a US citizen two years ago and hopes to repeat a 1999 knockout of Rahman, a feat that would leave no American atop the division among the major sanctioning bodies.
"We're going to march over Oleg Maskaev," Rahman said. "I don't really care where he's from. This American will take the title."
Russian giant Nikolai Valuev is the World Boxing Association champion while Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko owns the International Boxing Federation crown and Belarus' Sergei Lyakhovich is the World Boxing Organization heavyweight king.
"I need to hold it down for my country. Never before have I felt like I put my country on my back," Rahman said. "I can't allow this to happen. I can't allow them to have a clean sweep."
The last time no American was seen as a major heavyweight champion was when England's Lennox Lewis unified the titles. His retirement left a glamour void within the division that has largely gone unfulfilled.
Maskaev weighed in yesterday at 108kg, 1.4kg more than Rahman.
Maskaev, 32-5 with 25 knockouts, has won 10 fights in a row. One of his early stoppages was when he knocked Rahman out of the ring in the eighth round in 1999.
"I thought it would be a piece of cake," Rahman said. "I fought the fight like it was going to be an easy fight. I didn't know it was a legitimate contender and I paid the price for it. I went on to become a two-time champion since then. There has been no lingering effect on me since then."
Rahman, 41-5 with two drawn and 33 knockouts, recovered and stunned Lewis in 2001 with a fifth-round knockout in South Africa. Seven months later, Lewis knocked out Rahman to regain the crown.
"I'm definitely going to make a big statement in this fight," Rahman vowed.
Bob Arum, Rahman's promoter, is trying to set up a fight with Klitschko by next April, even though Rahman has to get past Maskaev first.
"Klitschko is on my mind. He's the guy everybody says is the only other guy. That's the guy I want to fight," Rahman said.
"That's what the division needs for clarity. I'm not interested in the other two belts. Nobody can defend all four anyway with all the mandatories," he said.