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Chaos in the ring

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

Jameel McCline said at a news conference the other day that he feels like a kid in a candy store. He added that having the opportunity to fight for the WBC heavyweight title is like a dream come true for him. And, of course, he should be ecstatic. He's 0-3 in world title fights, but on Saturday, he gets yet another crack.

But McCline can't be any happier than Sam Peter.

Peter is a world champion, but he'll be fighting in a world title fight for the first time when he defends his belt against McCline on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York in a bout being televised on Showtime.

Welcome to boxing folks, where, like they used to say on the prelude to Studio Wrestling oh-so-many years ago, anything can happen, usually does and probably will. And most of it, unfortunately, is usually underhanded.

It's hard to blame Peter for the mess the sport is in, but being a champion without ever having appeared in a title fight is part of the reason why fans have such a hard time warming up to it.

At times, it's barely little more than semi-organized chaos.

For the last several years, Peter has been on the verge of making noise in the division. He's a barrel-chested brute with Tyson-esque power, but he's only shown it intermittently.

He knocked Wladimir Klitschko down three times in their 2005 non-title bout, but it's only a slight exaggeration to say that the three knockdowns were the only three times in the bout that Peter laid a glove on Klitschko.

For a guy who wants to be proclaimed the king of the jungle, it's inexplicable that he was unable to stop an old and faded former middleweight over 24 rounds. But Peter not only failed to stop James Toney in either of their two 12-round eliminator fights, he didn't so much as once have Toney in serious jeopardy of going out.

It's hard to build a marketing campaign around a heavyweight champion who has difficulty beating up an out-of-shape middleweight.

But at least Peter did get a pair of victories over Toney, which should have earned him a shot at the WBC belt held by Oleg Maskaev.

Maskaev won the championship when he defeated Hasim Rahman on Aug. 12, 2006, with a dramatic 12th-round stoppage. But his promoter, Dennis Rappaport, badly overplayed his hand and Maskaev has done next to nothing with the title since he's had it.

He defended it against Peter Okhello once, but Okhello is boxing's equivalent of a .190 hitter with no power getting a call to the majors. And instead of going directly to a fight with Peter after Peter defeated Toney in January in the second of two WBC eliminators, Rappaport tried to finagle a deal pitting Maskaev with Vitali Klitschko.

Rappaport was excruciatingly difficult to work with, stretching the process out for months without reason. The bout with Peter that was scheduled for Saturday could have been held as early as April.

When Maskaev pulled out of the fight on Sept. 21 with herniated discs, the WBC had had enough. Three days later, it named Peter its interim champion in an all-too-rare display of good sense.

That infuriated the Maskaev camp, though it doesn't affect Maskaev in any way. When he's healthy enough to fight, he'll regain his status as champion and will fight the winner of the Peter-McCline bout for the title.

The irony is that Maskaev was little more than a journeyman, who through a sequence of fortuitous breaks got a shot at the title.

And that the title shot was against Rahman proved to be Maskaev's most fortuitous break of all. Since knocking out Lennox Lewis in South Africa for the title in 2001 – on what the succeeding six years have conclusively proven was a fluke – Rahman has lost virtually every bout of consequence he's had.

But Maskaev has been unable to capitalize on his good fortune and now sits on the sidelines with an aching back and little to show for the last year.

His absence forces the public to accept Peter vs. McCline for a title that neither man won in the ring.

The bout is getting so little respect that Tim Smith, the New York Daily News' fine boxing writer, is leaving town to cover a non-title super featherweight fight between Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera in Las Vegas.

Two guys who weigh less, combined, than McCline's Thursday weight of 266 pounds are garnering twice the attention of men who are competing for what was once the most coveted prize in sports.

Can you imagine a super featherweight fight ever overshadowing a Muhammad Ali bout? Before, you'd be committed for even thinking about it.

These days, it's the cold, hard truth.

Nobody cares about the heavyweights any more because the powers that be made a mess of the sport's glamour division.

Until a heavyweight emerges who fights with the fearlessness and the passion and the courage of guys like Pacquiao and new middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, the division is going to continue to fall further into the abyss.

And that's never a good thing for the sport.

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