Oleg Maskaev stopped Hasim Rahman in the 12th round on Saturday with a dramatic last-minute rally to win the WBC heavyweight title.
Maskaev (33-5, 26 KOs) seemed headed for a narrow defeat in an entertaining fight until he sprang to life in the final round, knocking the champion into the ropes with a series of heavy blows.
Rahman (41-6-2), obviously hurt after setting the pace early on, desperately tried to hold on until the final bell, even grabbing Maskaev's leg as he stumbled to the mat. But referee Jay Nady stopped the fight with 43 seconds left after one last beating in front of a frenzied Thomas and Mack Center crowd.
"I believed up to the last minute I could win this fight," Maskaev said. "I got used to him as the fight wore on ... I knew with three rounds left, I had to win them all to win the fight."
The fight was impressively even. Maskaev led 106-103 on judge Jerry Roth's scorecard entering the 12th, while Anek Hongtongkam favored Rahman 106-103. Glenn Trowbridge had Maskaev ahead 105-104, leaving Rahman in need of a 12th-round victory to force a draw.
The Associated Press had Rahman winning 105-104 entering the 12th.
Rahman was the only US-born heavyweight champion left in a division long dominated by Americans; Maskaev, born in Kazakhstan, is a naturalized citizen who lives in Staten Island. Three Eastern European champions hold the other significant belts.
"I'm proud of where I come from, but I consider myself a Russian-American," Maskaev said. "This is a message to everyone: European fighters are tough."
Maskaev, a former Russian Army officer, entered this fight on a 10-bout winning streak, albeit mostly against unimpressive competition. But the 37-year-old father of four earned a mandatory title shot with a persistence that prompted his promoters to compare him to James Braddock, the famed "Cinderella Man."
Maskaev's first fight with Rahman in 1999 went down in highlight history, thanks to Maskaev's stunning eighth-round right hand to Rahman's head. The punch knocked Rahman out cold and sent him tumbling through the ropes, over the broadcast table and onto the apron around the ring.
The rematch was nearly as dramatic -- and again, Rahman dominated when he used his jab, but couldn't back it up with discipline or a knockout punch.
Rahman pushed the pace from the opening bell, patiently touching Maskaev with jabs and combinations. Maskaev matched Rahman's pace and landed his share of hard shots in a heavyweight fight that turned out to be much more entertaining than the division's dismal reputation would suggest.
Afterward, Rahman claimed the punch that staggered him occurred while Nady was telling the fighters to break -- but he still blamed himself for abandoning the jab.
"I put my hands down, and he caught me with a shot," Rahman said. "I'm really disappointed. I never thought that he would be taking the world title out of Las Vegas tonight. I'm going to have to watch the tape and see what I did wrong."
Promoters attempted to wrap this fight in a red-white-and-blue package, labeling Rahman as "America's Last Line of Defense." The Baltimore native embraced the storyline, but Maskaev was a bit miffed -- although he knew the facts never get in the way of a good boxing promotion.