Tonight, Showtime kicks off the year with an exciting doubleheader from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida: Toney vs. Peter and Rivera vs. Simms.
I'm in the minority here, but I didn't think this rematch between Toney and Peter was necessary. That's not to say that I'm unhappy the fight's taking place. I think both Toney and Peter are superior than three out of the four current heavyweight champions. I'd rather see these two guys fight each other rather than seeing any of the following two guys fight each other instead: Briggs, Maskaev, Valuev, Ibragimov, Austin, Brock, Ruiz, Rahman, Chagaev, Okhello, McCline...I could keep going. Aside from Lyakhovich-Brewster, Toney-Peter was the best heavyweight fight I saw last year.
I'll say this again and again: I had no problem with the decision for Peter the first time around. I thought it was a close fight, and a tough one to score. It all depended on what the judges were looking for. Simply put, I thought Toney fought in spurts too often, and that Peter landed enough hard shots to win. Perhaps Graham Houston put it best in his Fight Night column: "I would call it a debatable decision rather than a controversial one." Had it been declared a draw, I wouldn't have had any problems with that. Had Toney been declared the winner by a razor-thin split decison instead, I wouldn't have had a real problem with that either. But one thing's for sure: In my book, no one was robbed that night.
And because it was for a title shot, I thought it was unfair of the WBC to order an immediate rematch. I'm speaking comparatively here, of course: What I'm saying is that I've seen much worse decisions and much closer fights go completely ignored by the sanctioning bodies. On the other hand, like I said, I'm happy that the fight is taking place.
I've followed Toney's career pretty well, and I've always been a fan of his. He's colorful, he's tough, and he's one of the top defensive boxers in the game. More than anything, he's fun to watch and fun to listen to. But the truth of the matter is, I lost some respect for him after he tested positive for steroids following his fight with Ruiz. I also lost some respect for him based on the shape he came in for his fight against Hasim Rahman, who he should have easily defeated. All that said, I still like the guy. And I would probably be rooting for him to defeat anyone else in the heavyweight division, save for Peter.
I think a Sam Peter victory would be much better for the heavyweight division, and for the sport of boxing as a whole. Toney, despite all the TaeBo and low-carb diets and whatever else we've been hearing about, is on his way out. Should he win this fight and have a shot at Klistchko, I don't think he has a shot in hell to beat the Russian.
Peter, on the other hand, is very young. He's also a colorful character. What is most important, though, is that he has that devastating punching power that makes him so exciting to watch. He could very easily become that one guy that takes over the heavyweight division.
It's true that Peter already had his shot at Klistchko. But when that fight came along, Peter was 24, he had no big fight experience, and he was completely reliant on his punching power. Even despite all that, he knocked Klistchko down twice and was very close to scoring a KO victory. Simply put, he had problems getting inside Klistcho's guard, but the few times that he was able to do so, he made the best of it. It seemed then that all he needed to do, more than anything, was work on his footwork and his defense. I would venture to guess that Peter learned a lot from that Klistchko fight, and he will have gained more than just a little experience since then, having taken Toney on twice.
The truth is, Peter didn't come to the first Toney fight in great shape either. We've been hearing a lot about Toney's new regimen and all that. But based on the weigh-in, Toney is coming in a pound heavier than last time. Peter will be about nine pounds lighter.
All that said, I'm picking Peter to win. Again. And more convincingly.
I'm kind of expecting Matt Miller (Toney's number-one boy) to chime in on this fight before it actually takes place. He'll be chilling out on my couch, watching this fight on my new TV, while I'm down here in Puerto Rico with my family.
Down here, the fight that we'll be probably watching with more interest will be the undercard, as one of our own, Jose Antonio Rivera defends his WBA 154-pound belt against Travis Simms.
If you haven't really heard about Rivera, here's a little something: The guy has won WBA titles at both welterweight and super welterweight. He has a crowd-pleasing style and has a somewhat misleading 38-4 record. This is why I say it's misleading: all four of those losses have been by razor-thin decisions. Two of them have been by split decision, in fact, with another one coming by majority.
His last two fights have been exciting slugfests, the first of which was a split decision loss to Luis Collazo in a 2005 fight-of-the-year candidate. Last year, he stepped up in weight and took on WBA Super Welterweight champion Alejandro 'Terra' Garcia. He rose from the canvas and dropped Garcia five times en route to a decision victory. That fight was actually shown on Showtime. Unfortunately, most people didn't see it, since it was on the same night as De La Hoya-Mayorga, and hence, Showtime didn't really market it at all.
Now get this: despite all this, Rivera still works a full-time job as a court clerk. Because of bad promoting, and having been avoided by some of the top fighters, he's only fought four times since 2002. Hopefully, tonight's exposure will open the door for a unification battle with Cory Spinks, which is a fight that Rivera has said he wants. Since both of them are promoted by Don King, it shouldn't be a hard one to make.
Tonight's fight against Travis Simms will not be a walk in the park, however. The title that Rivera now holds was previously held by Simms, who lost it because of inactivity. Simms is 24-0, with 18KOs, but hasn't fought since 2004. Despite his high KO percentage, he is a very slick boxer, and he usually fights going backwards.
It will be up to Rivera to put pressure on Simms and be the aggressor tonight. Given Simms boxing ability and southpaw stance, it doesn't figure to be that easy. If Simms can control the pace of the fight, he might be able to cruise to a decision victory. It's hard to know what to expect, however, given the former champ's recent inactivity.
One thing's for sure: I've never seen a boring fight from Rivera, and I don't expect to see one tonight. He's a hard-working family man, one of the genuinely good guys in boxing. That said, I'll be rooting for him to win.