Boxing: Rahman hopes to stem tide

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In America they are calling tonight's heavyweight title fight between Hasim Rahman and Oleg Maskaev the "Last Line of Defence." The reason for this is simple: Rahman is the only American to hold one of the four recognised world heavyweight championship belts and Maskaev (who was born in Kazakhstan but is now an American citizen), like the three other champions, is from a former Soviet republic.

When the pair met in 1999 Rahman was in control before being stopped in eight rounds. According to the hype, the future of American heavyweight boxing is now at stake as well as Rahman's World Boxing Council title at the Thomas and Mack Centre on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

Maskaev is aiming to emulate Ukraine's Wladimir Klitschko, the International Boxing Federation champion, Sergei Lyakhovich of Belarus, the World Boxing Organisation incumbent, and Russia's Nikolai Valuev, who holds the World Boxing Association title.

All three won their titles by beating Americans. However, none of the four champions is considered a genuine draw at the box office. Even Don King, the greatest promoter of heavyweight fights in the sport's history, is struggling to generate interest for his man Valuev, who happens to weigh 25st and stand 7ft 2in. King has matched Valuev against Monte Barrett in New York in October.

Rahman is attempting to take some revenge and to maintain America's centuries-old dominance of heavyweight boxing. But it is perhaps stretching credibility to consider him some kind of heavyweight hero.

In the last five or six years Rahman and Maskaev have not competed at the top level. Still, there are clear signs that Rahman will be able to delay for a short time the dominance of heavyweight boxing by fighters from the former Soviet republics.