LAS VEGAS -- Baltimore native Hasim Rahman held an ice pack against the two, large lumps running just above his eyes and along his forehead while sitting in his dressing room late Saturday night.
"I can't believe the title is leaving Las Vegas. I can't believe I let that guy walk out of here with my title," Rahman had said in the ring moments earlier after having been dethroned as World Boxing Council heavyweight champion by Kazakhstan-born Oleg Maskaev on a 12th-round knockout at the Thomas & Mack Center. "I'm just disappointed. I'm so disappointed."
Rahman (41-6-2, 33 knockouts) was knocked out for the second time in his career by Maskaev (33-5, 26 KOs), a 37-year-old who nearly retired 3 1/2 years ago after a stretch of three knockout losses in five fights, endured a back injury suffered in training, and persevered despite reinjuring what could be a broken right thumb during the fight.
Seven years ago, Maskaev used a picture-perfect right hand to score a non-title, eighth-round knockout on the day before Rahman's 27th birthday. That punch sent Rahman sailing through the ropes and into the laps of ringside commentators and onto the hardwood floor.
On Saturday, it was a left hook midway through the round that began the demise of Rahman, 33, who managed to beat the 10-count and stay in the ring - even as Maskaev flung him to the canvas and nearly through the ropes.
Rahman rose only to be trapped by Maskaev in his own corner. Crouched and sitting on the ropes, Rahman - outpunched 22-4 in the final round - absorbed several more blows before referee Jay Nady waved an end to the fight at 2:17 of the 12th round. Maskaev scored his ninth knockout in 11 consecutive wins.
In his dressing room, Rahman told ringside doctors he suffered no headaches or nausea and didn't feel the need to go to a hospital. "No cuts. Just bruises. He's fine," said Rahman's co-manager, Yah Yah Cason, a former surgeon who also serves as his cut man.
"I've got to really go look at this tape and see what I did wrong and see what I want to do," said Rahman, a Las Vegas resident who did not attend the post-fight news conference, instead going home from the arena with his wife, Crystal, and their three children.
"Rock was getting hit an awful lot, you know, and he's pretty badly swollen - pretty badly swollen all over," said Rahman's co-manager, Steve Nelson, who had hoped a victory would set up Rahman to fight unbeaten contender Calvin Brock, and then, perhaps, International Boxing Federation champ Wladimir Klitschko.
"What's next is that he's got to go home, take a few days and we'll talk and see what we do next," Nelson said of Rahman, who had gone 6-0-1 in his previous seven bouts. "These are decisions he has to think out, and tonight's not the time to even think about it. Anything can happen now."
Rahman entered the ring with a chiseled 235-pound physique as a result of spending nearly six weeks working out at an altitude of more than 7,000 feet above sea level in Big Bear Lake, Calif.
The fighter had looked sharp, having developed, with trainer Thell Torrence, what they thought was a foolproof plan to box and jab his way to an early stoppage of Maskaev.
But Rahman fell victim to a problem that has hampered him throughout his career: failure to execute the game plan.
"Maskaev didn't surprise me at all. The plan was to stay off the ropes, stay in the center of the ring and use the left hand for the last two rounds. But when Rock stopped boxing, started standing in one place, he gave the guy a target. It was a very simple plan, but Rock drifted away from it," Torrence said.
"Rock got a little tired going into the later rounds, and Maskaev got his second wind, at about the eighth, and recovered," Torrence said. "But Rock could have won the fight very easily with his left hand. He needed to jab and stay in the center of the ring, but he backed into the ropes and gave the guy something to shoot at."
Heading into the last round, Rahman trailed on two of three judges' cards, though he ended up holding an overall advantage in jabs (128-54) and total punches (250-184). But Rahman held only a slight edge (130-122) in power punches, and Maskaev was able to conserve himself along the ropes early on, gradually building momentum down the stretch.
"We always maintained that Oleg Maskaev was a warrior. He was in there taking shots early. I thought we had the fight won at the end of six rounds," Nelson said. "We thought that Maskaev was starting to fade, but, if anything, Rock started to fade. Maskaev took advantage of that."
Asked whether Rahman still suffered from the mental effects of the November 1999 loss, Maskaev said, "I think so."
"I would say that I could see it in his eyes from the first round on, when I hit him back with some good punches," Maskaev said. "Rahman was trying to outbox me. And then, when I landed a good combination early, I know that he felt it. That's when he realized that this was going to be a tough fight for him."
Maskaev's victory leaves the heavyweight division without an American-born champion for only the fourth time as he joins Ukraine's Klitschko, Russia's Nikolay Valuev of the World Boxing Association and Belarus' Serguei Lyakhovich of the World Boxing Organization - all of whom were born in former Soviet bloc countries.
"Rahman can still continue fighting in the heavyweight division if he wants to fight, and I'll do my best for him," promoter Bob Arum said. "I don't know if I have a contract - I think I do - but whether I do or don't, I'm still with him. I won't give up on the guy."