Improving Klitschko faces off with formidable former foe
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Ocala, FL (Sports Network) -
As far as barometers go, it's a pretty big one.
In the neighborhood of 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, with a mean streak to match... to be exact.
And for consensus world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, it might just be a little on the satisfying side as well.
The 34-year-old Ukrainian, who's whipped every contender thrust toward him since earning title-level recognition 4 1/2 years ago in Germany, returns to the vicinity of that triumph Saturday to face former WBC belt-holder Sam Peter at Commerzbank-Arena in Frankfurt.
ESPN3.com will carry the bout live at 5 p.m. ET, while same-day taped coverage is available on ESPN Deportes at 8 p.m. A replay is scheduled for ESPN at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
It'll be Klitschko's ninth defense of the IBF and IBO hardware he picked up with a seven-round thrashing of American Chris Byrd in April 2006, and the fifth risk of the WBO laurels he added with a largely non-violent scorecard defeat of Sultan Ibragimov in February 2008.
The series of belt-borne victories -- eight by stoppage, one by decision -- have vaulted the 6-foot-6 slugger at least a stride past the short-term grime that's called itself "champion" in the same stretch, but a similarly convincing defeat of Peter will carry a measure of revenge to boot.
The two met in Klitschko's final pre-Byrd match at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, a venue the soon-to-be champ barely escaped after tasting the canvas thrice courtesy of a then-unbeaten Peter, who'd KO'd 21 of his previous 24 opponents -- all but one within five rounds.
Klitschko rose all three times en route to 114-111 verdicts from all three ringside judges, but sustained a simultaneous hit to a persona quickly branded as too safety heavy and ferocity light to galvanize public support for an eventual title reign.
It'll be Wladimir Klitschko's ninth defense of the IBF and IBO hardware he picked up in April 2006.
In five years of resume-padding since, he persuaded many.
But not all.
"Klitschko is still the same person I fought five years ago. Nothing has changed. Both Klitschkos are still the same fighters they have always been," said Peter, who was bludgeoned into eighth-round surrender against older brother Vitali in 2008. "(Wladimir) has not improved. He is still right, right, left, right. Jab, left hook. He doesn't improve. This time it will be different.
"This time around, anyone I touch will not be standing up. I don't think Wladimir will be able to stand me after four rounds. There will not be a decision this time around. This time he will not get up from my left hook. I am ready and I am prepared and I will not need a referee or a judge."
Peter's ride since Atlantic City has been a trifle more bumpy.
The Nigerian immediately followed the decision loss with defeats of journeymen Robert Hawkins, then won a pair of incrementally less-controversial California nods over recent MMA punch line James Toney in September 2006 and January 2007, respectively.
He hit the deck three times himself in capturing a narrow 12-rounder over Jameel McCline at Madison Square Garden in October 2007, then overcame a gutty Oleg Maskaev in six rounds to win the WBC championship on an HBO show in March 2008 in Cancun, Mexico.
The reign ended abruptly with the aforementioned loss to the older, taller Klitschko in defense No. 1 seven months later and was compounded by a desultory decision loss to light-hitting Eddie Chambers in a would-be ESPN showcase in March 2009.
Peter weighed a career-high 265 pounds against Chambers -- a full 22 more than the initial Klitschko near-miss and 11 1/2 up from the title loss to Vitali just five months earlier.
From nightmare to non-factor, in just a few steps.
The professional nadir prompted a return to basics, and, according to Peter, the discipline he'd lost since becoming a world elite.
He brought in trainer Abel Sanchez, whom he said "doesn't take my nonsense," and the partnership has yielded four KO wins of varying significance, but, more importantly, has seen Peter's weight plummet to 243, 239, 240 1/2 and 237 1/2.
The most recent win, a two-round blitz of fellow Maskaev conqueror Nagy Aguilera in March, positioned Peter for a serendipitous turn when unbeaten Russian Alexander Povetkin withdrew from his own scheduled title match -- claiming he was ill-prepared.
"When I first started with Sam in May of last year, I told him next summer we would be talking about Klitschko and in 12 or 14 months we would be fighting Klitschko and we would have to prepare for him from that day," Sanchez said. "He has been progressing.
"Everybody has looked at Sam as a big brawler and a big puncher but we have been trying to get him some boxing skills that he had put aside. We have been developing them again. You can't just come in the ring with a single plan against Klitschko. You have to come in with an A, B and a C plan and to be able to use them at different times."
Peter weighed-in Friday at a trim-looking 241 pounds, but the champion's trainer since 2004, Emanuel Steward, claims Peter's conditioning and improvement will be dwarfed by Klitschko's all-around superiority.
"I (do) know that Peter is not only a good puncher, but that now he is in excellent shape. Sam is much better today than he was five years ago," Steward said.
"(But) I think Klitschko has become the perfect boxer. He works perfectly, not only with the left hook but with his right hand, although his most dangerous punch is the left hook. He dictates the pace of his fights and clearly keeps his distance.
"If he wants to, he can make it a real fight. This time he will not be overexcited, like five years ago, when he fought with Peter. Then, Wladimir was full of emotion. Now he is more stable and mature, self-confident and more balanced, and his punch is more powerful than it was then. I think we will win in the fourth or fifth round."
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TV TOPICS (Some fights may not be televised)
SATURDAY ESPN -- Frankfurt, Germany Wladimir Klitschko (54-3) vs. Samuel Peter (34-3) -- IBF/IBO/WBO heavyweight titles Johnathon Banks (24-1-1) vs. Saul Montana (51-15)
HBO -- Las Vegas, Nev. Orlando Salido (34-10-2) vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa (18-0) -- IBF featherweight title Anthony Peterson (30-0) vs. Brandon Rios (24-0-1)
INDEMAND/DirecTV/Dish Network -- Mexico City, Mexico Erik Morales (49-6) vs. Willie Limond (33-2) Ryan Bito (18-6-3) vs. Edgar Sosa (39-6) Justin Savi (24-0) vs. Alberto Garza (22-4-1) Reyes Sanchez (19-3-1) vs. Daniel Estrada (23-1-1) Ramon Ayala (18-1-1) vs. Fernando Torres (12-8)
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz.