This Saturday's world heavyweight championship fight in Frankfurt, Germany, between champion Wladimir Klitschko and challenger Samuel Peter, has flown under the radar more than deserved. With American TV disinterested to the point that the U.S. outlet for the fight is ESPN3.com, there has been little attention paid to what is, in my view, a serious challenge for Klitschko -- or at least, one as serious as he's going to get.
Truth be told, this is a better fight than most of the bouts that do get major U.S. coverage, but it's also expensive. Boxing IS a business, and as a TV business, HBO no doubt researched and decided these fights were no longer worth the cost.
But I like the bout a lot, and am looking forward to watching it. It's a rematch of what was an exciting fight in 2005, nearly won by the destructive Peter, who floored Klitschko three times. Since then, Wlad's partnership with Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward has turned him into a methodical killing machine inside the squared circle, and Peter has flirted with irrelevance.
Wladimir's Path of Destruction
Since the Peter fight, Klitschko has gone 9-0 (8 KO). Only Calvin Brock, who fought Klitschko in November 2006, has presented much legitimate resistance. Tony Thompson hung around but was never in any danger of actually winning the fight, and Sultan Ibragimov ran, hugged, ran, and hugged some more en route to surviving 12 disgracefully dull rounds in Madison Square Garden in 2008, but Brock actually had Klitschko aware that he was in a fight. That is until Kiltschko, cut by Brock, turned up the heat to avoid any premature stoppages and shellacked "The Boxing Banker" with some vicious right hands to put him away in the seventh round.
Now, Wladimir (54-3, 48 KO) stands basically unquestioned atop the heavyweight world, with only the loyal fans of his aging brother Vitali clinging to the idea that someone else has a legitimate claim to being called The Man at heavyweight. It has been a fruitful five years since Wladimir last met Samuel Peter in the ring.
Peter's Long and Winding Road
Then there's Peter. "The Nigerian Nightmare" has not seen his fortunes go in quite the same direction. Peter (34-3, 27 KO) did win his next six fights after the loss to Wladimir, including a pair over world's most feared boxer James Toney. He survived a major scare against washed-up Jameel McCline in 2007, a fight he took on short notice when Oleg Maskaev dropped out of a scheduled WBC title defense in what for all the world appeared to be a thinly-veiled excuse to avoid Peter and take on returning "WBC champion emeritus" Vitali Klitschko for more money.
But Peter didn't budge on his status as mandatory challenger, and wouldn't take step-aside money. When he finally got Maskaev into the ring in Mexico, he dominated and stopped the Russian in six. And then came Vitali, and Sam Peter's career started to unravel. Vitali's return was against Peter, and he was shockingly superior, as Peter couldn't make his way past a jab and quit after eight completely one-sided rounds. A majority decision loss to Eddie Chambers followed. For that fight, Peter weighed in at a career-high 265 pounds, 22 pounds over his mark on the scales against Wladimir four years prior.
Top Rank took a flier and signed the Nigerian, hoping to rehab his career, which they have done. He's 4-0 against marginal competition since singing with the promotional giant, and has gotten his conditioning back in order, which was obviously the biggest concern. In those fights, he's tipped the scales at 243, 239, 240½ and 237½, the latter his lowest weight since his seventh pro fight in 2001.
This fight only came about because once again, Alexander Povetkin ducked out of his mandatory challenger role to Klitschko, same as he did in December 2008 when Hasim Rahman stepped in on short notice to get beaten up and cash a check. Povetkin -- now stripped of the mandatory -- had been sitting on that thing for almost three years, but would instead rather fight unlicensed Bruce Seldon in the sticks of Pennsylvania.
Peter should in no way be favored on Saturday. That should go without saying, but I don't want my feeling that he could be a legitimate challenger and real threat to the crown to be misconstrued. I don't think he'll win. The odds are definitely against him.
But nobody is unbeatable, and far bigger shockers have come down the pike than Samuel Peter beating even this locked-in version of Wladimir Klitschko. Klitschko has become a master craftsman under Steward's training, and has become almost invulnerable because he protects a relatively weak chin very well with a powerful jab and brutal power in both hands. His left hook and his torpedo right are both knockout punches. He has also become highly adept at frustrating and discouraging opponents to the point that they basically stop trying to fight him at all, and we've certainly seen Peter frustrated enough to give up before.
Peter will have to accept that he probably can't win this fight on points, but also that he can knock Wladimir out. If Peter gets to the chin, which is going to require taking some lumps on the way in (and surviving them), he can beat Klitschko. It would seem that that goes for anyone, but Peter is a particularly hard puncher, still one of the better pure punchers in the division. This isn't Ruslan Chagaev or Sultan Ibragimov or Ray Austin. This is a guy who put Wladimir on the canvas three times the first time they met.
But I gotta go with the champ. The highest hope we can really have is that Peter shows up in shape, ready to rumble, and looking for the knockout. If he does that, he might get it. Or he might get knocked out. Klitschko TKO-8