Rahman faces bash before his birthday; Baltimorean, Maskaev fight tonight in New Jersey


Tomorrow is Hasim Rahman's 27th birthday.

But before he celebrates, he'll fight in tonight's scheduled 10-round bout in Atlantic City, N.J., pitting the former United States Boxing Association champ against Moscow's Oleg Maskaev in the main event of an HBO-televised heavyweight card.

And Rahman (31-1, 26 knockouts) of Baltimore, who calls himself "the heir apparent" to the right to be called "the best young heavyweight out there," says he'll wake up tomorrow having realized his goal of vanquishing yet another obstacle in his path to glory.

Maskaev simply thinks Rahman will wake up the next day. Period.

Ranked No. 5 by the International Boxing Federation and No. 7 by the World Boxing Council, Rahman has begun lining up big-money fights and appears to be on his way, perhaps, toward being crowned the next undisputed heavyweight champion.

He has won his first 29 bouts, including three by consecutive knockouts, until being derailed last December by David Tua in a controversial 10th-round knockout after Rahman had dominated the first eight rounds of their IBF title bout.

After his managerial team of Bob Mittleman and Steve Nelson failed to get the IBF to order a rematch, Rahman -- who pulled out of scheduled bout in June with Jeremy Williams -- fired Mittleman.

"I wasn't satisfied with 50 percent of my team," said Rahman, who has prepared for tonight's fight by training in Phoenix under Chuck McGregor.

Since losing to Tua, Rahman has knocked out journeymen Michael Rush (in five rounds) and Arthur Weathers (in one), but has not fought since April.

"I fought Obed Sullivan when he was ranked No. 4, and David Tua when he was No. 4. Name another young heavyweight who has gone after guys like that," Rahman said. "I wanted to fight Kirk Johnson [27-0], but he subsequently pulled out of our fight because he's a little smarter than Maskaev."

But it is Rahman who withdrew from two scheduled fights on HBO within the past year. Said HBO boxing director Lou DiBella: this is "his last life with us."

Maskaev (17-2, 12 KOs) says he'll knock Rahman unconscious in front of fans at the Adrian Phillips Ballroom in the Boardwalk Convention Hall at Bally's Park Place.

Before he finishes Rahman, however, the Moscow native said he's going to give him a boxing lesson.

"I've got power. I'm a puncher. I can box," said Maskaev, who turned 30 in March. "I'm in good shape. I can do everything to him."

After amassing a 108-10 record as an amateur, Maskaev won his first six professional fights before being flattened in one round by Oliver McCall in 1996. He then won four straight before losing to Tua in the 11th round in May 1997.

Since then, however, the Russian, ranked No. 4 by the World Boxing Association, has reeled off seven consecutive victories. Six of them have come via the knockout, and Maskaev's past two wins, over Jeff Wooden (KO in the third) and Shane Sutcliffe (KO in the second), were defenses of his Pan-Asian Boxing Association heavyweight title.

Maskaev's streak includes stoppages of former contender Alex Stewart (in the seventh round), rising star Courage Tshabalala (ninth round) and Toakipa Tasefa (first round).

Fact box

What: 10-round heavyweight non-title bout between Hasim Rahman (31-1, 26 knockouts) and Oleg Maskaev (17-2, 12 KOs), Moscow. Part of four-bout card.

Where: Atlantic City's Boardwalk Convention Center, Bally's Park Place

When: Tonight; doors open 7: 30, first fight 8: 30

TV: 11 p.m. HBO, main event at about 11: 30.

Tickets: $100, $75, $50, $25.

Others bouts: Obed Sullivan (32-5-1, 22 KOs) vs. Matt Green (11-5, 9 KOs); Robert Davis (17-0, 10 KOs) vs. Everett Martin (20-33-1, 9 KOs); Kelvin Hale (6-1-1, 3 KOs) vs. Curtis Taylor (6-4, 5 KOs).

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