CANCUN, Mexico – The fight was in a bull ring and this time, the bull won.
Samuel Peter used sheer brute force to overwhelm Oleg Maskaev in their bout for the WBC heavyweight title on Saturday at the Plaza de Toros, stopping Maskaev with four seconds left in the sixth round after a series of clubbing shots.
The bout was only marginally better than Wladimir Klitschko's win over Sultan Ibragimov last month, in which Klitschko added the WBO belt to his IBF title.
There was a lot to complain about on Saturday, but Peter at least deserves credit for doing what fans have come to expect of a heavyweight champion.
The minute he hurt Maskaev, he attacked. A lot of flaws can be erased, and overlooked, with the kind of power that Peter displayed against Maskaev.
"I have the power and I told you that," Peter said after raising his record to 30-1 with his 24th knockout. "I'm strong and I am ready to fight anybody."
The first round was so devoid of action that it looked like Round 13 of the Klitschko-Ibragimov bout. And it had many more stretches of non-action than it did of action, but pretty much everything Peter threw was with intention to maul and maim.
Maskaev, who hadn't fought in 15 months, looked like he had been on the shelf for too long. His timing wasn't good and he seemed exceptionally slow.
Peter was about a 5-1 favorite, largely because of the thump he carries in his hands. After two uneventful rounds, Peter cracked Maskaev with a right that sent the one-time lieutenant in the Soviet army stumbling back into the ropes.
It was the kind of move that separates Peter from most of the other heavyweights in the world.
"That's what he does," said Dino Duva, Peter's co-promoter. "Samuel Peter has the kind of power to make people forget the other heavyweight champions."
It may not be the kind of power to make anyone forget a champion like Larry Holmes, who was sitting at ringside, but it's more than enough to make him a star among the current diluted crop.
Maskaev has a hard right of his own, but he didn't hit anywhere near hard enough, or throw enough punches other than range-finding jabs, to keep the barrel-chested Peter from walking him down.
Maskaev's plan seemed to be to circle and pop a jab in Peter's face, but he didn't even seem to want to commit to the jab. He flicked it and didn't seem to throw it with much conviction.
That a 39-year-old coming off more than a year's layoff would look slow and rusty should be no surprise, but what was more surprising was the passive way Maskaev took the loss.
He was hit repeatedly behind the head by Peter, a tactic he had complained about before the bout. And though it seemed that referee Lupe Garcia's stoppage was a bit premature, Maskaev accepted it with equanimity.
"He didn't knock me out," Maskaev said. "He shook me and he knocked me back and the ref did the right thing."
Maskaev did precious little over the first four rounds save for brief stretches in the third. But in the fifth, Maskaev began to take a bit of the play away from Peter and wobbled the one-time Nigerian Olympian.
Maskaev, though, wasn't quick enough to capitalize on his opportunity. Peter recovered quickly and fought his way out of danger.
"I hurt him a few times, yes, but I wasn't able to finish," said Maskaev, who was stopped for the sixth time in 40 pro fights. "He did hurt me a few times."
Now, the journey for Peter leads from a Kazakhstani-born heavyweight to a pair from Ukraine.
He must next fight former WBC champion Vitali Klitschko, who hasn't fought since 2004 and who retired in 2005 because of a series of major injuries. The older of the two Klitshcko brothers, who is best known for a rousing performance in a 2003 loss to Lennox Lewis, Vitali tried to make a comeback last year and had to pull out because of (surprise, surprise) injury.
But when he retired, the WBC bestowed him with the seemingly innocuous honor of WBC champion emeritus, promising him an immediate shot at the title should he ever come back. At the time, after he failed to make the post for a series of bouts, it seemed unlikely he'd ever be able to exercise that option.
But he's back and Peter will have to defeat both brothers to gain acclaim as the man in the division.
His only loss was to Wladimir Klitschko, whom he knocked down three times in their 2005 bout. But other than the three rounds in which he scored a knockdown, Peter lost every other round.
But in his exuberance after defeating Maskaev, he was eager to get another crack.
"I'm ready to tomorrow and I'll beat both of them on the same night," Peter said. "First the older one and then the other one."
He made the excuse that so many fighters make after a loss, saying he didn't take the first Klitschko fight seriously.
"Now, I'm seeing that big money coming up, and I'm going to take them all seriously now," he said, beaming.
It was a night for beaming, at least for Peter.
And if he can continue to deliver the way he did on Saturday, it might be the first step toward the resuscitation of a long-dormant division.
- Samuel Peter
- Oleg Maskaev
- Wladimir Klitschko