Oleg Maskaev, 31-5 (25 KOs), scored a 3rd round knockout over Livin Castillo, 13-4 (7 KOs), in Atlantic City’s Trump Taj Mahal in what amounted to a warm-up for Saturday’s Arturo Gatti – Floyd Mayweather junior-welterweight bout Friday night.

Maskaev, 232, came into Friday’s bout riding an 8-fight win, all against unrated fighters.

In the opening round, both fighters circled with Castillo, 210, actually landing quick, sharp punches to capture the round.

As Maskaev pressed his smaller opponent in round two, his much heavier punches sent Castillo running.

Early in round three, Maskaev clearly found his range with both hands and sent Castillo to the deck. Castillo rose quickly but never really fought back as Maskaev pounced. Maskaev landed clubbing shots to force Castillo back to the canvas.

Although he regained his feet, referee Tony Perez had seen enough and waved the bout over at 1:30 of the round.

Ecuadorian Castillo, 29, currently calling Atlantic City home, and a loser to current world cruiserweight champion Jean-Marc Mormeck (KO by 3, Dec. 16, 2000) in a light-heavyweight contest and former WBA middleweight champion Jorge Fernando Castro (Oct. 25, 2003), captured all ten of his wins against virtual unknowns, mostly as a cruiserweight.

Maskaev, 36, from Staten Island, NY via Uzbekistan, once looked upon as a top prospect, entered the fight vying for one more shot at a big time fight.

He once knocked out Hasim Rahman (Nov. 6, 1999) in 8 rounds before Rahman went on to win and lose the heavyweight championship. Subsequent knockout losses to Kirk Johnson (Oct. 7, 2000) and Lance Whitaker (Mar. 10, 2001) knocked the big man out of the title picture – a position he has never really approached since.

It appears to this observer that Maskaev has slowed considerably since his win over Rahman. Although he remains a powerful hitter, he is not especially hard to hit.

His five knockout losses do not bode well against big men who can hit back. Castillo did not provide a test of Maskaev’s chin.

Following the contest, Maskaev was queried by the ESPN crew of Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas about his chances of facing Vitali Klitschko.

Although he said that “contract have not been signed” he claimed that they would “definitely” meet.

It is unclear how the WBC, which has mandated the winner of the upcoming Hasim Rahman – Monte Barrett fight to meet Klitschko, will view the bout. What is clear is that he would be a long-shot to repeat his amateur win over the WBC champion.

Look for litigation to follow any announcement of a Klitschko-Maskaev bout.