Boxing's heavyweight division stinks. And Samuel Peter is a heavyweight. Ergo, logic would seem to dictate, Peter stinks, too.
There is no one who saw Peter's last fight, an uninspired performance in a unanimous decision loss to Eddie Chambers in Los Angeles, who could possibly conceive of Peter ever wrapping a title belt around his broad waist again.
Any reasonable person who saw that fight, and the one before it, an eighth-round stoppage defeat to a comebacking Vitali Klitschko, would conclude that Peter stinks.
Once in a while in sports, however, it takes grand failure and hitting bottom before an athlete is able to fulfill his potential.
And that's why Las Vegas-based Top Rank opted to take a chance and sign Peter to a promotional contract. The Nigerian, who briefly held the World Boxing Council championship before meekly surrendering it to Klitschko, will fight Marcus McGee on Top Rank's pay-per-view card Saturday in Mexico.
It was a reasonable move at a reasonable cost. Peter lives in Las Vegas, where Top Rank officials can keep an eye on him. He may turn out to be a bust, which, if that's the case, wouldn't really matter since Top Rank's investment in him is minimal.
But he may suddenly figure it out, at which point he has the ability to become a major player in the division.
Peter has four things going for him which give him a chance to reach elite status in the heavyweight division:
- He's got one-punch knockout power, the kind of punch that can knock a man out even if it doesn't land it cleanly.
- He's got a very good chin.
- He has, at least when he's in shape, fast hands.
- Perhaps most importantly, he's only 28. He won't hit his 30th birthday until Sept. 6, 2010. Evander Holyfield had three stints as heavyweight champion after his 30th birthday.
Peter has frequently fought while in abysmal shape, always promising that the next time, he'd do the right things and would come ready to fight.
His loss to Chambers in March was galling in that, coming off the one-sided loss to Klitschko, he had to realize how significant the match with Chambers would be. And yet he came in at a career-high 265 pounds and showed precious little interest in anything but picking up his paycheck.
Chambers wiped him out and, seemingly, ended his days a legitimate contender. He might never have been heard from again, except for the fact that he still hits like a mule and is still young.
Signing Peter was almost a free roll of the dice for Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, who will have his superb matchmaker and chief advisor, Bruce Trampler, counsel Peter on what it takes to not only get back to the top, but also to stay there.
Peter shed most of those around him after his loss to Chambers, keeping only long-time manager Ivaylo Gotzev.
He hired respected trainer Abel Sanchez, who has been working with him on improving his footwork, and says he has a "new crew" surrounding him.
"I needed to start over," said Peter, who insists he can reclaim his past glory. "My mind has to be a certain way. When my mind is right, I can do a lot of good things."
If Peter racks up a few knockouts in his next couple of fights, Trampler will begin to position him for significant bouts in the division. Nobody in the sport is as adept at Trampler as choosing the proper opponents and moving a fighter at the correct pace.
If he can work his magic once again, Top Rank will have landed a significant player in the heavyweight division, a fighter with the raw skills to hold and defend the title for a lengthy time.
If he's not committed to working, it's no loss because the company has invested little in him. Peter can be good and he can help to make his division interesting.
The odds are against him, but it's not wise to completely write off a guy as young as he is who punches like he does.
Buster Douglas, long an enigmatic and disappointing heavyweight, did it for one night and put together one of the great performances in boxing history by winning the title from then-unbeaten Mike Tyson as a 42-1 underdog.
Like they were in Douglas, the skills are there for Peter. He's not as talented a boxer and not as gifted with his movement as Douglas was, but Peter has the homerun power that few possess.
He's a gamble, but for a boxing promoter in a gambling town, the odds were too good for Arum to say no.
- Samuel Peter
- Top Rank
- Eddie Chambers