On September 24 on HBO, Wladimir Klitschko and Samuel Peter will meet in a twelve round elimination bout for the number one IBF ranking at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It’s a huge, pivotal bout with significant ramifications. For Wladimir, a knockout or stoppage loss would certainly end his career. A win resurrects a career that simply hasn’t been the same since Corrie Sanders’ two round blitzkrieg of Klitschko over two years ago.
For Peter, a loss simply proves that he’s not ready for prime time. A win, especially by knockout, will put Peter on the forefront of a desultory division where nobody is truly in charge. Vitali Klitschko is arguably the top dog, but his inactivity has diluted interest in the division. What boxing needs right now is a fighter who captures the imagination of the public, and Peter’s big punch and engaging personality would add some much needed substance to one of the least appealing crops of heavyweight belt holders and contenders in boxing history. Lamon Brewster provided some of that with his brutal first round stoppage of boxing’s most recycled product, Andrew Golota. However, pundits are still waiting to see consistency from Brewster, and that’s precisely one of the reasons boxing hasn’t moved forward as we would like. We simply don’t trust the heavyweights, and it’s the heavyweight division that sets the tone in this business.
What I like most about this fight is that Wladimir Klitschko literally called out Samuel Peter. Wlad’s career is teetering on the edge of destruction, and he’s put the cards on the table with a steely-eyed determination we’re not accustomed to in this age of risk assessment. Wlad’s actions show that he and Emanuel Steward want to prove that the Ukrainian transplant’s intestinal fortitude is beyond reproach, and they’re ready to prove the critics (include this writer on that long list) wrong by defeating the fastest rising contender in the division today. They’re also willing to assume the consequences if Wlad loses.
From a styles perspective, Peter is powerful, dangerous, undefeated, and confident. Nevertheless, perhaps Steward and Wlad see something others don’t. I believe they know Peter is untested against a fighter with Wlad’s offensive repertoire. Wlad is probably the best offensive fighter in the division today, and if he can keep his composure and stay out of trouble early, he could very well unmask another one dimensional puncher. I think Steward probably sees this as a similar risk as Lennox Lewis’ 1995 bout against Lionel Butler. Lewis was coming off his surprise second round stoppage loss to Oliver McCall. Both Peter and Butler are squat, powerful punchers. Lennox took his time, waited for Butler to tire, and carefully dissected him and took him out. Peter doesn’t carry the personal baggage that Butler did, but the styles mesh is similar. Wlad will likely attempt to be very cautious early as Lewis was, and will judiciously pick his spots while testing Peter’s chin. If he can’t dent Peter’s chin, he’ll conserve energy and try to box his way to a decision win. It won’t be easy, but that appears to be the game plan.
On the other side of the coin, Peter and his camp haven’t masked their feelings about Wlad. They think Wlad is vulnerable, and have predicted an astonishingly quick knockout. Truthfully, we have more answers about Wlad than we do about Peter. What happens when Peter gets to the eighth round, tires, and gets rapped on the chin by a strong puncher? If Wlad carefully measures his punch output and boxes effectively, we’ll probably get our questions about Peter’s stamina and chin answered.
In boxing, I’m always leery when a fighter talks about power first and boxing second. When a fighter forgets the fundamentals on what it takes to get inside and land the big bombs, it leaves them open. Bert Cooper claimed he’d be too much for Carl “The Truth” Williams in 1987. Williams was coming off a second round stoppage loss to Mike Weaver. Cooper was wildly confident, but ended up being stopped in eight one-sided rounds. Mike Tyson became “intoxicated” with his power, and forgot the fundamentals D’Amato and Rooney taught him that made him so effective from 1985-1989. In 1996, seemingly everyone except Ron Borges picked Tyson to destroy Holyfield. In his previous fight, Holyfield looked horrible in his strange stoppage win over Bobby Czyz. Tyson was coming of his equally strange first round knockout of Bruce Seldon, and claimed he’d devastate Holyfield. In the end, Tyson got picked apart, dominated, and eventually TKO’d in eleven rounds. Boxing fans love power, but power isn’t always the answer.
Anything can happen in this sport.
All told, Klitschko–Peter represents all that is right about boxing. The IBF is forcing an eliminator, Wladimir Klitschko is putting his career on the line, and Samuel Peter will attempt to prove that he’s the most powerful force in the division. Hopefully, the other sanctioning bodies will continue to follow suit as they have with Rahman–Barrett, and the current heavyweight muddle will appear much clearer next year. As stated above, for boxing to capture the imagination of the casual fan, the heavyweight division needs a big attraction. Samuel Peter appears to be the next big thing. If Peter prevails in a devastating knockout, fans will take notice.
From a business perspective, HBO will do everything they can to keep Peter away from Showtime if he prevails. The HBO talent pool has been getting thinner, and they now need to market a heavyweight other than Vitali Klitschko to get fans to take notice. More importantly, they can reestablish their credibility among boxing fans in the wake of some of the most biased commentating we’ve seen from them in the last several decades. If Wladimir Klitschko wins, HBO gets their knight in shining armor back. He’ll likely be marketed as a fighter who faced adversity, and paid his dues when everyone counted him out; an old fashioned redemption story. For the first time in a while, HBO would be completely correct, and we’d all owe Wladimir Klitschko a big apology while Emanuel Steward is grinning in the wings.