LAS VEGAS -- Baltimore native Hasim Rahman didn't land in the lap of HBO's Jim Lampley as a result of Oleg Maskaev's right hand this time, but he nearly fell into a row of ringside cameramen.
Rahman rose to his feet after Maskaev dropped him midway through the 12th round with a left hook, followed by a right, but he couldn't recover from a barrage of punches in his own corner as referee Jay Nady waved an end to the fight - and Rahman's reign as World Boxing Council champion - as the Kazakhstan-born Staten Island resident stopped him at 2:17 of the final round.
Rahman actually went down a second time when Maskaev nearly flung him into a row of ringside media, but Nady did not rule it a knockdown.
Maskaev (33-5, 26 knockouts) won for the 11th straight time, with his ninth knockout in that time. It was Maskaev's second victory over Rahman, whom he KO'd in the eighth round and out of the ring in November 1999.
"I knew I was going to win, but he was a little better than I was on the outside," said Maskaev, 37, who nearly retired 3 1/2 years ago following a stretch during which he was 2-3 and was knocked out three times. "But I believed up to the last minute that I could win this fight. His jab was very effective, but I got used to him as the fight wore on."
For Rahman (41-6-2, 33 KOs), a seven-bout unbeaten streak (6-0-1) ended at the hands of Maskaev, whose victory leaves the United States without an American-born heavyweight champion for only the third time in the history of the sport.
Rahman said he stopped fighting in the middle of the ring because he thought Nady had told the fighters to break.
"I was aware of everything, but the referee yelled for us to break, and I stopped, and he let Maskaev continue to throw punches," said Rahman, 33, who must now scrap plans to face unbeaten Calvin Brock and International Boxing Federation champ Wladimir Klitschko. "I felt like I was winning the fight. I put my hands down and I got caught with a shot. I'm going to have to watch the tape and see what I did wrong. I'm very disappointed."
Nady said Rahman was referring to the time it took for him to get his hands retaped shortly before Maskaev hurt him with the left hook.
"I called time, yes, and I did call time. But that was for the tape," Nady said. "Rahman doesn't remember starting up again because he had gotten clocked from an earlier punch. I never say, `break,' I say, `time,' or, `stop.' "
Maskaev, who became a U.S. citizen two years ago, joins the Ukraine's Klitschko, Russia's Nikolay Valuev of the World Boxing Association and Belarus' Serguei Lyakhovich of the World Boxing Organization as a heavyweight titleholder.
"I'm proud of where I come from, but I'm a proud Russian-American," Maskaev said. "This is a message to everyone - European fighters are strong and tough."
Rahman trailed 105-104, and 106-103 on the cards of judges Glenn Trowbridge and Jerry Roth, respectively, and, was ahead, 106-103, on that of Anek Hongtonkam. That meant that Rahman needed to win the final round to pull out a draw, and a knockout to win.
Although Rahman landed 250 punches to 184 for Maskaev, he faded down the stretch. Rahman lost the last three rounds on one judge's card, and the last two on the others. In the last round, Maskaev out-drilled Rahman, 22-4, starting with the left hook that began Rahman's demise.
"I thought I was blocking the left hook," Rahman said. "I was encouraging it in order to stay away from his right hand. But I guess I got caught."
And with that went his WBC belt.
"I never thought the title would be leaving Las Vegas," said Rahman, now a resident there who came in at a chisled 235 pounds after having spent nearly six weeks training at more than 7,000 feet above sea level in Big Bear Lake, Calif.
But even at what appeared to be tiptop shape, the man who once knocked out Lennox Lewis to become the sport's undisputed heavyweight champion, couldn't make a successful second defense of his crown.
Some were calling this fight a must win for Rahman's boxing future. But nothing was certain after the loss.
"He's got decisions to make," said Rahman co-manager Steve Nelson. "Now is not the time to talk about it. I think he has something left, but he's pretty swollen and we'll be taking a couple days to talk about his future."
On the Rahman-Maskaev undercard, David Diaz won the WBC interim lightweight title with a stunning 10th-round knockout of Jose Armando Santa Cruz.
Diaz (32-1-1, 17 KOs), a 30-year-old former U.S. Olympian from Chicago, took a steady beating in nearly every round until he abruptly floored the champion (23-2) twice in the 10th. Another flurry forced referee Richard Steele to stop the fight with 40 seconds left in the round.
Diaz, his right eye closed and bleeding, stumbled to the ropes for a celebration, then leaned into the crowd to shout, "Where's my dad?" His father was escorted to the ring to join in the festivities.
In the final fight before Rahman's title defense, Humberto Soto knocked out Ivan Valle in the fourth round of a WBC super featherweight eliminator.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.