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Maskaev halts Rahman to take title

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Maskaev's right-left combination signals the end for Rahman.

LOS ANGELES, California -- Oleg Maskaev scored a 12th-round victory over Hasim Rahman to claim the WBC heavyweight championship in Las Vegas, leaving the United States without a champion in the top division..

Rahman, making his second defense, was the busier boxer throughout and looked to be heading for a narrow victory until the 37-year-old Maskaev came to life late in the contest.

An explosive finish forced referee Jay Nady to intervene with 43 seconds left.

In the final round Maskaev staggered Rahman with a right-left combination then pinned the American in the corner landing a series of hard rights.

"This was like I said it was going to be, a war," Maskaev told ringside television after the fight. "But I believed until the last minute that I was going to win.

"I believed the fight was even and I had to push it up if I was going to win this fight.

"I knew I had two more rounds, three more rounds left, if I want to win this title I had to fight."

Maskaev's victory means all four major heavyweight belts are now held by fighters born in the former Soviet Union.

Maskaev was born in Kazakhstan and an army officer in the former Soviet Union but became a U.S. citizen two years ago and lives in Staten Island.

The IBF champion Wladimir Klitscho is a native of Ukraine, WBA champion Nikolay Valuev hails from Russia and WBO champion Sergei Liakhovich comes from Belarus.

"I'm a proud Russian American," said Maskaev, who also knocked out Rahman in an earlier meeting in 1999. "There is a message to everybody that European fighters, they're tough and strong as athletes.

"They have a chance to go somewhere."

Rahman, using his jab to great effect, dominated the early rounds while Maskaev seemed content to try and land the same thundering right that knocked the American out of the ring in the eighth round of the first meeting.

But Rahman tired in the later rounds and in the 12th was caught by a vicious combination from Maskaev, who had won his last 10 fights, eight by knockout.

"I thought I was winning the fight, the ref said break and that was it," said Rahman. "The ref said break, don't throw a punch and I was hit with a shot.

"I'm disappointed. I'm extremely disappointed.

"I think (American heavyweights) are a little spoiled, make too much money too quick and lose sight of the grand prize which is to win the title and keep it."

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