CANCUN, Mexico The heavyweight division is desperately in search of a guy who is what Samuel Peter can be.
The public's relish for a knockout is the reason boxing is, fairly or unfairly, judged by the quality of its heavyweights. No division in the history of the game has sated the bloodlust of a ravenous public quite like the heavyweights.
Mike Tyson became a legend with his ability to concuss. So, too, did guys like Joe Louis and George Foreman. A heavyweight championship bout has always been like the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of a tie game in the World Series. It can always end with the next punch.
The barrel-chested Peter has always had the kind of dynamite in his fists that would set an arena to oohing and aahing. His one-punch knockout of Jeremy Williams on Dec. 4, 2004, was the kind of shot that has been replayed thousands of times on highlight reels.
Peter is the guy who knocked down Wladimir Klitschko, the man widely acknowledged as the best of the heavyweights, three times in a 2005 title eliminator bout.
His power sent promoter Don King out to acquire half of his promotional rights from Dino Duva and later to accompany Peter on a trip to Nigeria.
But if recent form is a factor, King won't get his money's worth when Peter, who is the WBC's interim heavyweight champion, meets WBC champion Oleg Maskaev on Saturday at the Plaza de Toros.
Peter has had only one knockout in his last six outings, a first-round stoppage of the inept Julius Long on April 28, 2006. He's 5-1 in that span, losing only to Klitschko, but he's been forced to go to a decision by James Toney twice, Jameel McCline and Robert Hawkins.
McCline, who is massive but not known as a puncher, had Peter down three times in their Oct. 6 bout, but Peter never was close to putting McCline away. And Peter without power, well, is not nearly as dangerous. It's kind of like taking a pair of 30-homer guys out of the lineup and hoping to score as many runs.
Bobby Goodman, the long-time Don King Productions executive, said the power outage is simply a matter of competition.
"You have to look at who he's fighting, obviously," King said. "James Toney is a pretty tough cookie, a real durable guy. So is Jameel McCline. He had Toney down and he beat him convincingly. He also bounced Klitschko around. I don't see anything wrong with him."
The Lakers, though, probably wouldn't be too happy were Kobe Bryant to morph into John Stockton.
And so boxing fans expect to see lightning from Peter. Maskaev figures to be a good indicator of where Peter stands, because Maskaev hasn't fought in 15 months and has always been vulnerable to big punchers.
Maskaev, who won the title in 2006 when he upset Hasim Rahman in Las Vegas, is 34-5, but all five of his losses have been violent knockouts.
He's fighting a few days past his 39th birthday, has largely been inactive since winning the title and has been plagued by injuries. If anyone is ripe to be taken by a young and energetic heavyweight, it's Maskaev.
And while Peter may well win on Saturday, the question is whether he'll do it in a fashion that commands attention for a skeptical public. That public, which already had its doubts about the heavyweights, became even more wary last month after Klitschko's desultory victory over Sultan Ibragimov in a IBF-WBO unification bout at Madison Square Garden.
Peter must provide fireworks, which he promised repeatedly to do. He looked at Dennis Rappaport, Maskaev's combative promoter, and said, "Buy a new pair of glasses, because I want you to see how hard I'm going to hit your man."
He later promised Maskaev, "I'm going to eat you alive."
But a burned public demands actions now, not words, and the onus is squarely on Peter. If Maskaev wins, it will do next-to-nothing to aid the division. He's not going to be around long in any event and simply isn't known or well-promoted enough to become a significant factor.
He's simply keeping the belt warm for someone else.
Because of the public's fascination with punchers, Peter at least has a chance to grab the division by the collar and shake it and force the public to watch.
He can't afford many more outings like he had against McCline in October, when he had to rally to win after nearly being stopped in both the second and the third rounds.
Peter claims he was injured and ill-prepared to face the towering McCline, who stepped in when Maskaev was hurt. "I really didn't want that fight because I was sick and I was hurt," Peter said. "I hadn't even prepared to fight anybody who is 6-6. I only had three weeks notice to get ready.
"I fought with a broken hand and my eardrum was broken because my sparring partner had slapped me on the head and broke my eardrum. But I still consider that the best fight of my life because I still won with everything that was wrong with me. I didn't have any sparring for two weeks."
A big win a knockout win will go a long way toward erasing the memory of that painful night against McCline in Madison Square Garden. But if Peter simply muddles through, it's going to be another in a long line of disappointing heavyweight results.
Peter is saying all the right things with all his bold pre-fight talk. He needs to prove on Saturday, though, that it is more than just that.
- Samuel Peter
- Oleg Maskaev