The first time that heavyweight contender Kali “Checkmate” Meehan, a native of New Zealand who now lives and trains in New South Wales, Australia, fought at Madison Square Garden, he was stopped in four rounds by Hasim Rahman.

That loss, which occurred in November 2004, was especially disheartening to Meehan because the fight was an IBF, WBA and WBC eliminator. Meehan had earned the bout with Rahman after his particularly good showing in his previous fight against then WBO champion Lamon Brewster.

Although Meehan lost a split decision, he rocked Brewster on numerous occasions and looked like a bright new addition to the heavyweight ranks.

“When I fought Rahman at Madison Square Garden, I was fighting injured and I was intimidated,” said the refreshingly candid Meehan. “After all, it is the Garden.”

The amiable 37-year-old Meehan returned to MSG on October 6, on the non-televised undercard of the Samuel Peter-Jameel McCline heavyweight title bout. Looking totally unintimidated, he absorbed several of DaVarryl “Touch of Sleep” Williamson’s vaunted right hands before stopping him with a crushing right hand of his own at the end of the sixth round.

Although Williamson, a resident of Denver, Colorado, beat the count, Dr. Barry Jordan, the chief medical officer for the New York State Athletic Commission, ruled him unable to continue. Williamson, who didn’t come out for the seventh round, saw his record drop to 24-5 (20 KOs), while Meehan’s record improved to 33-3 (27 KOs).

“I was never going to lose this fight,” said Meehan afterwards. “I wasn’t the least bit intimidated tonight, and I won’t be in the future. This time, and next time, I know just what I got to do.”

Making Meehan’s victory all the more special was the fact that he took the fight on relatively short notice and amid great personal tragedy. A week prior, his father-in-law had died of liver cancer. The previous month a close personal friend of his had passed away. Moreover, the fight was held on the fifth anniversary of his beloved aunt’s death.

“Sometimes these things make a difference,” said Meehan.

Meehan’s impressive victory over Williamson puts him in a good position in the heavyweight sweepstakes. If not much else, Williamson is a tremendous right hand puncher. Former IBF champ Chris Byrd, who has sparred countless rounds with Williamson and also beat him by decision in a title fight, said he has the best right hand of anyone he has ever faced.

Considering the abundance of championship caliber opponents that Byrd has tangled with, including Wladimir Klitschko (twice), that says a lot about Meehan’s durability and resiliency.

Mark Janssen, Meehan’s trainer, is quick to back up Byrd’s assessment. “Williamson is a huge puncher,” he said. “He caught Kali flush quite a few times, but I have a strong belief that Kali has the best chin in the division. He proved it again tonight.”

The well-respected Steve Farhood, who writes for Britain’s “Boxing Monthly” and is a television announcer on “ShoBox: The New Generation,” sees lots of potential in Meehan but is not so quick to deem him a future champion.

“Judging by the way Meehan fought against Brewster, he can be competitive with the best,” explained Farhood. “Judging by his lackluster performance against Rahman, he can be outclassed by the best. Who is the real Kali Meehan? I don’t think we know yet.”

Other writers and fans are equally perplexed by the enigmatic Meehan. They all agree that he was awfully impressive in his losing effort against Brewster, where he showed heaps of stamina, guts, heart and a decent punch.

There is no doubt that he is a competent heavyweight, but even in this somewhat dismal era he does not particularly stand out. Then again, who does? Even Samuel Peter, who many people were quick to anoint as the savior of the heavyweight division, showed more flaws than attributes against McCline.

That fight only provided more questions than answers about the future of the moribund division.

Of concern to many observers about Meehan are the several lapses of activity during his career. Since nearly beating Brewster over three years ago, he has only laced them up five times. Between each fight, he was inactive for at least six months.

The popular consensus is that he should decide if he wants to be a fighter or a family man. He reminds many of Corrie Sanders of South Africa, another talented heavyweight who had beaten Wladimir Klitschko but seemed emotionally distracted from the game.

Rumors were swirling that next up for Meehan could be a WBA elimination bout with Nikolay Valuev, the seven-foot tall Russian giant who lost that title by disputed decision to Russian Chagaev.

Because it has been reported that Chagaev might be afflicted with hepatitis B, a career-threatening disease, it is very possible that the prospective Meehan-Valuev fight would’ve been for all the marbles. It turns out that Valuev will battle Sergei Liakhovich for the right to meet Chagaev.

Meehan should realize that with Don King as his promoter and a victory in his last bout on his resume, he better be ready to get a career-defining fight with little or no advance notice.

Regardless of what happens next, Meehan, a former rugby star Down Under, has much to be proud of during his decade as a pro boxer. He has held the South Seas, Australian, Asia Pacific and Pan Pacific heavyweight titles and twice fought at MSG, which is something many fighters just dream about.

If the Valuev had come to fruition, there was talk it will be held at MSG on the undercard of the Felix Trinidad-Roy Jones Jr. extravaganza on January 19.

You can be sure that the 6’5” Meehan wouldn’t be the least bit intimidated by Valuev, who would’ve have a five-inch height advantage, or by his third appearance at the Mecca of Boxing. With all the cancellations and injuries afflicting fighters, we could still see Meehan/Valuev, or Meehan getting another high profile shot on late notice. He promises to stay on message.

“I won’t let another big opportunity slip away, like I did with Rahman,” said Meehan. “That will not happen again.”