Mexican excursion could be Peter's worst "Nightmare"
By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
A funny thing happened on the way to Sam Peter's Hall of Fame induction.
Though the burly heavyweight - dubbed the "Nigerian Nightmare" for his string of trauma-inducing KOs during a four-year rise through suspect journeyman ranks - maintains the daunting physical presence he exuded during that win streak, the in-ring havoc has essentially ground to a halt.
It seems that Peter, when the quality of record-padding fodder increased from Jeremy Williams and Taurus Sykes to Wladimir Klitschko and James Toney, suddenly found his road to a destined championship replete with surprisingly competitive potholes.
In six bouts since a mid-2005 erasure of Sykes, the "Nightmare" has been downsized to mere "bad dream" status, winning five times while adding just one more stoppage - in one round against oft-toppled "Towering Inferno" Julius Long - to the highlight reel.
A 12-round match with a not-yet-dominant Klitschko resulted in the big man's first professional defeat in September 2005, and was followed by a pair of extended struggles - and some would claim, at least one more loss - against hefty ex-middleweight kingpin Toney in 2006 and 2007.
Even his most recent bout - a narrow 12-rounder over career second banana Jameel McCline for the WBC's interim title in October - was no masterpiece, seeing Peter sent to the deck three times by a seven-loss foe best known for losses in three previous title tries.
Sam Peter was dubbed the "Nigerian Nightmare" for his string of trauma-inducing KOs during a four-year rise through the ranks.
Nonetheless, the McCline verdict brings Peter to the brink of his first "regular" championship bout, in which he'll meet an aging claimant in Oleg Maskaev, seen by many as the sort of intermediate footnote Trevor Berbick provided to Mike Tyson?s ascension story more than 21 years ago.
A five-time KO victim - most recently against Corey Sanders in 2002 - Maskaev turned subsequent wins against the Craig Tomlinson, Quinn Navarre and Sinan Samil Sam crowd into a shot against then-incumbent and former foe Hasim Rahman, who was biding time until a desired match with Klitschko.
Instead, Maskaev left with the belt after a dramatic final-round TKO, but has defended just once in 18 injury-riddled months since, effectively removing himself from a substantive place in the chat about those best qualified to challenge Klitschko's position as the division's de facto ruler.
The Kazakhstan-born behemoth holds the IBF, IBO and WBO hardware after a lifeless unification win over Sultan Ibragimov in February, while the WBA's trinket is possessed by the equally lackluster Ruslan Chagaev - who defeated 40-year-old Matt Skelton in what passed for a title defense in January.
So it's easy to see, with the upper echelons dotted by has-beens (Ruiz), never-weres (Povetkin) and sideshows (Valuev), why a viscerally pleasing, albeit flawed quantity like Peter might be designated the best available option over yet another vanilla get-together of non-compelling pacifists.
Given his recent track record, though, it's a dangerous coronation to simply presume.
Sure, at age 39 and chronically troubled by back problems, Maskaev is no one's idea of a dynasty, but his size (6-foot-3, 240 pounds), power (26 KOs in 34 wins) and confidence (unbeaten in nearly six years) nonetheless present obstacles similar to those Peter struggled with on his toughest nights.
Conveniently, the two have developed a palpable enmity in the prolonged fight run-up, with a perhaps overconfident Peter delivering more than a fair share of threats during a week's worth of press conferences in Mexico - which is hosting a heavyweight title bout for the first time.
"I want to tell you one thing," he said to Maskaev, "I'm going to knock you out. I'm going to eat you alive. I'm coming to fight on Saturday night and I promise I'm going to beat you. I'm going to punish you and beat you up. I've been fighting for seven years and I've never ducked anyone.
"I hope you're planning on coming to fight on Saturday. You can run no more."
Sounds like he means business - but somehow, I'm still not impressed.
Oh, I'll admit, there's an excellent chance a menacing and motivated Peter could follow through on predictions and convincingly end the fight within four rounds.
But, should Maskaev still be upright and functioning into the bout's middle third - and it's my guess that he will be - the chances of an upset by the seasoned old pro will rise exponentially.
And that's good enough for me.
Hola, Senor Bartender...Order me up a "South of the Border" surprise.
FitzHitz says: Maskaev in 11.
The upset mojo isn't limited to the main event.
In the final pre-heavyweight feature, IBF 135-pound champion Juan Diaz will put both a belt and an unbeaten record on the line when he faces mandatory No. 1 contender Nate Campbell.
And, though Diaz has established himself as a fan and media favorite with a relentless style and an interesting back story, it's been Campbell clearly taking the lead toward making the semi main event a must see come Saturday night.
Here's a sampling:
"I don't want to sound conceited or overconfident but Juan Diaz is not a demigod," he said. "A demigod is half mortal/half god, and I just don't see that. Unless my team and I have been in this sport too long - or not long enough - we are seeing a lot of hype.
"Take a good look at who this man has fought and ask yourself, 'Who has he fought?' There are lots of fighters out there who throw a lot of punches. I'm going to teach things to Juan that he doesn't want to know. I can stop this man and I don't believe he can beat me.
"Nobody thinks I can punch, but there's something about the way I punch that makes guys change their mind when they get in the ring with me. Juan Diaz will ask himself after the first punch I land that makes clean contact, 'What part of the game is this?'
"On Saturday night I'm going to take you to hell, Juan."
Meanwhile, the soft-spoken Diaz has stuck pretty close to script in his media appearances, saying the usual things about respecting his opponent and relishing the opportunity to return to the land in which he made his pro debut in 2000 at age 16.
He was a bystander to some "controversy" in Wednesday's final session, however, when promoter Don King abruptly announced that he'd no longer be working with Diaz after this fight, due to issues with Diaz's manager, Willie Savannah.
"Juan Diaz and Willie Savannah seem to be doing just fine," he said. "Juan was lucky to make $100,000 for a fight before he came to me. He made $2 million in his first year with me and I arranged for him to fight for two more world titles, which he won. He'll make another $800,000 on Saturday night.
"It seems to me that Juan has been doing his job inside the ring and I've been doing my job as his promoter outside the ring. I'm still trying to figure out what it is Willie's not getting when looking back upon one of the best financed and most successful career progressions I have ever been part of."
King made his statement after reading passages from a February resignation letter addressed to Savannah from Diaz's attorney, Fred Levin. However, he did seem to leave the door open to working with Diaz in the future, albeit with different personnel.
"Like Fred Levin, I have made a decision to no longer promote Juan Diaz after Saturday's fight," he said. "And it's not because I wouldn't like to continue to work with Juan. It's for the same reason the esteemed Fred Levin quit. I will no longer work with Juan's manager, Willie Savannah."
Not exactly "ManagerGate" for hungry scribes, but perhaps a chink in the Diaz armor nonetheless.
Oh, Bartender...While you're at it, let's make mine a double.
FitzHitz says: Campbell in 10.
Excessive drowsiness is causing a stir across the pond this week.
Londoner David Haye, who'll put his WBA and WBC cruiserweight belts up against IBF title claimant Enzo Maccarinelli at the O2 Arena, is catching heat from promoter Frank Warren for apparently sleeping through a planned Thursday afternoon media session.
Haye claimed the conference was changed from 2 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. and declined to attend at the earlier time, saying it would impact his sleep patterns for the bout, which is scheduled for 2 a.m. local time on Sunday to accommodate U.S. television schedules, according to BBC Sport.
Warren didn't buy the excuse, instead claiming Haye's actions constituted a breach of contract.
"We're promoting. There's the old image of promoters being the bad guys but I'm paying him a fortune, an absolute fortune," Warren said, in a story posted on London's setantasports.com.
"It's like a conspiracy theory, all this crap about moving hotels, training camps every three days, not knowing what plane he's coming back on. It's a shame and it's ridiculous. He's fighting, but he won't do the things to make the promotion a success. If it is a success, the promotion, then it's a success for him. It's puzzling."
Elsewhere, Maccarinelli's trainer, Enzo Calzaghe, said Haye was "frightened and petrified."
Haye, who'll move to heavyweight regardless of Sunday's result, captured his belts in his last fight with a seventh-round stoppage of dual incumbent Jean- Marc Mormeck - improving to 20-1 with 19 knockouts.
Maccarinelli, meanwhile, has worn the WBO crown since 2006 and most recently defended it with a fourth-round TKO of Mohamed Azzaoui at Millennium Stadium in Wales.
He is 28-1 with 21 knockouts.
FitzHitz says: Haye in 8.
Last on a jam-packed list is the weekend's other significant title bout, in which a pair of old foes will get together for the fourth time with a world championship at stake.
Japanese veteran Daisuke Naito makes the second defense of his WBC flyweight belt on Saturday in Tokyo, when he'll face long-time claimant Pongsaklek Wonjongkam in a scheduled 12-rounder.
Naito, now 33, won his crown with a unanimous decision over then-champ Wonjongkam at Tokyo?s Korakuen Hall last July.
It was his first win in three meetings with the 70-fight Thai southpaw, who'd stopped Naito after just 34 seconds in an April 2002 match - the fastest stoppage ever recorded in a 112-pound title bout - and followed up with a seven-round technical decision when the two met again in October 2005.
Wonjongkam, a pro since 1994, initially captured the WBC laurels in March 2001 and was unbeaten in 17 subsequent title bouts before the third-fight loss to Naito in 2007.
He's scored a pair of victories since, including a second-round stoppage of Jack Amisa in November that raised his career mark to 67-3 with 35 KOs.
Naito's first defense, a unanimous verdict over countryman Daiki Kameda, upped him to 32-2-2.
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He is a periodic contributor to the Dave Smith Show on Sporting News Radio (radio.sportingnews.com), provides 'In The Ring' boxing commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.