ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Advertised as a ‘heavyweight eliminator,’ Saturday night’s fight at Boardwalk Hall may have lived up to its billing: With any luck it may have eliminated both heavyweights.

What does it say about Samuel Peter that he knocked his opponent down three times, was never down in his fight, but lost on the cards of all three ringside judges, as well as those of every reporter at ringside?

What does it say about Wladimir Klitschko that he got knocked down by a boxer as clumsy and amateurish as Peter appeared to be on this night?

And what does it say about the heavyweight division that either of these guys will shortly find himself fighting for a title?

Klitschko won going away (114-111 on the cards of all three judges, and ours as well), and conquered at least a few of his own demons as well. When the Ukrainian giant hit the deck twice in the fifth round, he looked to be on the verge of reenacting his swoon against Lamon Brewster, but Klitschko survived that battering, as well as a subsequent trip to the canvas in the tenth round, and resumed his aggressor’s role down the stretch.

“Hopefully I’ve convinced some of my critics that I have the stamina to go 12 rounds,” said the victor afterward.

The crowd of 10,137 turning out for the “Boardwalk Brawls” came expecting to see somebody get blown away, but the explosive display of power never materialized. It was clear from the time the boxers entered the arena that this was going to be a home game for Klitschko. Blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags were visible throughout the old barn, and his supporters alternated between enthusiastically chanting Klitschko’s name when he was in control of the fight (which was most of the time) and holding their collective breath each time he got knocked down.

Klitschko spent much of the evening utilizing his height advantage to land long-range jabs, punctuated by the occasional, and usually ineffectual, right hand. Peter is listed as 6’2”, but it rapidly became clear that given the differential in size the only way he was going to land a jab at all was to take two quick running steps to get inside Klitschko’s reach to throw it. The first few times Peter assayed this maneuver, Klitschko appeared to be so startled that he recoiled in surprise, but in short order he realized that it would be  far more effective to simply reach out and embrace Peter on the way in, smother the punch, and wait for referee Randy Neumann to come along and untangle them. Thus did much of the rest of the bout proceed.

Klitschko had dominated most of the early going, but early in the fifth Peter bull-rushed him to land a quick trio of punches, the middle of which was a clubbing right hand that caught Wladimir on the top of the head, and as Ukrainians throughout the hall gasped in unison, their man was down.

He was clearly hurt, and though Peter piled it on in an effort to capitalize on the damage, he wasn’t quite able to finish the job. He did put Klitschko down with another right hand, but Wladimir was able to effect his best John Ruiz impression and held on for dear life until he was rescued by the bell.

The cobwebs cleared, and the rest of the fight was notably one-sided apart from the tenth, when Peter landed another right hand to the top (the back, Wladimir would claim) of Klitschko’s head to send him straight down again.

Dr. Klitschko survived that one, and escaped unscathed as Peter chased him around the ring. It was to be Samuel’s last gasp. Over the last two rounds, his face increasingly puffy, he threw mostly wild left and right hands, hoping to get lucky, but couldn’t find the jackpot.

What does it say about the heavyweight division that either of these guys will shortly find himself fighting for a title?

CompuBox punchstats revealed that despite absorbing a hat trick’s worth of knockdowns, Klitschko landed a hundred more punches than his Nigerian opponent over the twelve rounds, mostly thanks to a whopping 129-26 margin in jabs connected.

Peter certainly looked the worse of the two when it was over, and offered no complaint about the decision.

“I took Klitschko’s best punches and I knocked Klitschko down three times, but he fought his best and he beat me,” said Peter, now 24-1. “If we fought on my best night I could beat him, but he beat me tonight.”

Despite the anticlimactic main event, both the live audience and HBO subscribers got their money’s worth, thanks to Miguel Cotto and Ricardo Torres, who engaged in a spirited war in which they battered one another until one man was left standing – in this case Cotto – who scored a 7th-round knockout to retain his WBO junior welterweight  title.

Torres, an unbeaten Colombian who had edged into the co-feature only after original opponent Gianluca Branco was injured in training, came to the bout an unknown quantity but left with the admiration of the crowd.

Cotto drew first blood when he caught Torres with a counter-left in the first round to knock him down, but Torres not only survived the trip to the canvas, he hurt Cotto with a counter-left of his own and finished the round strongly.

In the second round it was Torres’ turn. As the two battled toe-to- toe shortly after the opening bell, the challenger hurt Cotto with a left hook, and then knocked him down with a left hand. Cotto hung on to survive the round, and was even battling back over the final thirty seconds.

After a third stanza remarkable mainly for a marginally low blow by Cotto (which drew a lecture from referee David Fields and bought Torres some rest), Cotto hurt Torres with a hard right to the body followed by a left. Torres wobbled a bit before going down in a delayed reaction.

Torres hurt Cotto again in the fifth with an uppercut and looked to have the champion on Queer Street. Cotto survived a round so one-sided that one judge, Julie Lederman, scored it 10-8 for Torres.

The see-saw battle turned for good near the end of the sixth when Cotto felled Torres with a straight right, and it was clear that he had yet to recover when the seventh commenced. Cotto caught him with a left hook and then jumped in to land a barrage of punches that sent Torres to the floor for what would be the final time. He had fought gallantly, but had nothing left, and was a forlorn figure, hunched over on all fours, as he took Fields’ 10-count to absorb his first defeat in 29 pro fights.

“I never expected it to be so tough, to go back and forth like that,” said Cotto. “I’m glad people saw I could take a punch and fight back.”

Cotto (now 24-0) confirmed that he was in trouble on at least a couple of occasions, “but I kept telling myself I had to win, no matter how.”

In the principal undercard bouts, New Jersey welterweight Kendall Gill (20-1) faltered down the stretch but still easily outpointed Ukrainian Vladimir Khodokovski (12-8-2), while Vero Beach (Fla.) heavyweight Michael Marrone (11-0) got to celebrate his 20th birthday early when referee Tony Perez disqualified opponent Adam Smith (4-8-1) in the fourth round for “excessive holding.”

A second-round TKO victory scored by Henry Akinwande ensured that 243-pound Nigerian heavyweights would go 1-1 on the night. Akinwande (47-2-1), just three weeks shy of his 40th birthday, made short work of Tipton Walker (13-12-1) of Benton Harbor, Mich.

In other prelims, unbeaten Arkansas heavyweight JD Chapman (trained by former champion Michael Moorer) stopped Robert Kooser (7-4) to record his 16th win in as many fights, and German middleweight Alexander Sipos (16-0-2) knocked down Steve Walker (16-13) of Hannibal, Mo. four times on the way to a third-round TKO.