SAMUEL PETER RESURFACES IN BULGARIA — Samuel Peter knows the feeling of a gun being pressed against his head; it is alleged that this was how a family altercation ended, an in-law understandably feeling he needed some iron to back his play in separating the furious Peter from his defenseless victim during an alleged incident of domestic violence. 6’2 and weighing 291lbs for what seemed his final fight in 2014, it’s likely that any human being making any sort of play in his company might feel the need to reach for an equalizer.
That 2014 combat, which ended in a first round knockout over a 300lb behemoth named Ron Aubrey, was notable because it came somewhat out of the blue. One moment Peter was retired, having gone out on a hurtful loss to the unbeaten Robert Helenius in 2011, the next he was back, battering Aubrey around an obscure Oklahoma ring.
Then he was gone again.
Such miraculous resurfacings are not that unusual in boxing. Fighters don’t like to retire on a loss and the two knockdowns he suffered at the hands of Helenius were humiliating, the second leaving him stretched on his back, his menace shredded by a fighter who, in Peter’s prime, would likely have been the one left flapping on the canvas. Seven months earlier he had been deftly shepherded to the downward spiral by a spiteful Wladimir Klitschko, who stopped him in ten rounds; what seemed Peter’s final ventures into the ring had been painful ones.
So if he wanted to earn himself a “W” on some lonely card in a dark bout with an unremarkable opponent, boxing probably owed it to him. He collected, he re-retired.
Then, a few weeks ago in the AS Boxing Arena in Tijuana, Mexico, Sam Peter resurfaced.
His opponent was a man named Juan Carlos Salas, a ten year 260lb veteran who had amassed a record of 6-10 and who hadn’t won a professional contest since 2009. Peter saw him off in three of four scheduled rounds. Fight fans with an eye for the bizarre perhaps raised a brow, tried to dig up the fight online, couldn’t, and forgot about it. Now, Peter is being noticed once more, perhaps not in what passes for boxing’s mainstream, but certainly at the peripheries of a sport that once nominated him the man most likely to put the two-headed Klitschko monster to bed – just as they once did his forthcoming opponent.
Next Saturday in the Arena Armeec, Sofia, Bulgaria, Peter will feel the gun to his head once again as he takes on the world’s #7 heavyweight, Kubrat Pulev.
Pulev was being connected with Anthony Joshua all of September, a prestige fight for a heavyweight who remains something of a prestige contender. Much of the glitter was clattered from the Bulgarian by, with pleasing symmetry, Wladimir Klitschko. He was matched with the heavyweight kingpin in 2014, a few weeks after Peter sneaked himself that parting win against Aubrey. Much had been made of the Bulgarian’s size (he’s most often listed at 6’4 and a half, and around 250lbs) and power and the perception was that he might cause real trouble for Wladimir. The champion, though, took ample advantage of Pulev’s efforts to make the fight an open one, sending him to the canvas four times and then to the hospital.
“One thing is for sure,” Pulev had offered before that fight. “[Wladimir] will not be able to impose his physicality on me.” Wladimir, of course, did exactly that, but such was the surge of expectancy that had carried Pulev into that fight that good things were still expected of him. For the most part, Pulev has disappointed, preferring limited opposition, a clear win in a bizarrely judged split decision victory over Dereck Chisora the highlight of two years of treading water.
Joshua represented a new crack at the bigtime for Pulev and as a big man with a big punch, many expected him to accept it for all that he would have been the underdog; that he has preferred to meet Sam Peter, a man who has boxed three rounds in two years and whose best years are firmly behind him, are as harsh an indictment of boxing generally and the heavyweight division specifically as lives in recent memory, which is saying something.
Pulev’s coach, Ulli Wegner, has claimed that Peter represents “a dangerous test for any fighter in the division.” This is untrue, but I was a little startled to learn that the two men are almost the same age (the 35-year-old Pulev is the younger man by only eight months).
Peter turned professional in 2001, the year before Pulev won his first amateur competition; in 2005, when Peter had one of his finest moments in three-times dropping Wladimir Klitschko but losing a decision, Pulev was picking up a bronze at the World Championships. By the time Pulev turned professional in 2009, Peter was finished as a top professional, losing to both Vitali Klitschko and then Eddie Chambers that same year. Codes, not eras, is what separates these two and we are reminded once again of the fact that it is the miles on a fighter’s body and not his clock that record his passage through this sporting life. It is the best part of a decade since Peter stalked the planet as its most feared heavyweight contender but barely two years since Pulev carried that same battered sceptre.
What this leaves us with is an embarrassing mismatch. Peter, by all accounts, remains teetotal in his Las Vegas home, abstaining from all but the fatty foods that has seen him tip the scale at 290lbs, all but fifty pounds north of his best weight. That he managed 260 against Salas provides but a crumb of comfort. I won’t insult The Sweet Science’s readership with a breakdown of this contest but it seems likely that Peter will waddle out of his corner, get hurt, and get stopped, or alternatively waddle out, gas somewhere after the fourth, get hurt, and quit.
As always in heavyweight boxing though, there is a third way. Where Wegner is right in his own analysis of Pulev-Peter is in saying that “one punch can change everything in the heavyweight division.”
It seems almost impossible to imagine, but could Samuel Peter be on the cusp of a shock and a final shot at the big time?
The original last line to this article read “in the year of the underdog, stranger things have happened” – in truth, they haven’t.
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