Sam Peter: powerhouse (pic Tom Hogan)
By Sean Waisglass: There's much talk about how the winner of tonight's marquee heavyweight bout between Wladimir Klitschko and Samuel Peter will claim the title of "Heavyweight Hope" - a man 200 pounds-plus who'll pull the sport's most glamorous division out of the muddle and back into the spotlight. The word "crossroads" is also being thrown around a lot, insinuating that the loser will be doomed to stepping-stone status or maybe even retirement.
But ponder the post-Lennox Lewis state of heavyweights, and it's pretty clear that two things seem to be hold fast no matter how many times fans, journalists, and networks prop some poor bastard up on a pedestal and call him the next king of the heavy mountain, or toss the same guy in the proverbial trash bin once they've fallen off:
1) The heavyweights are a helter-skelter of quirky and unpredictable big men. Mix and match these fellas up, and you never can tell who's going to come out on top. And 2), not only are there always second chances for a heavyweight boxer to redeem himself when things go wrong, there are third and fourth chances if they stick around long enough. With no division superstars in the relatively shallow ranks, all it takes is one good win on TV to erase an ugly memory and boost a boxer back up the ladder.
And that's what tonight's bout should be considered - a chance for the winner to climb another rung or two up the heavyweight ladder. Trust me, no saviours will grace the division when that final bell rings.
I'm a believer in tough love, and with that in mind, boxing as a whole needs to wise up and accept our heavy men for what they are; a bunch of interesting and evenly matched characters who often provide entertaining bouts for exactly such reasons. You never know what you're going to get with this motley crew, but more often than not, when the top fighters get together, you get something worth watching.
These guys have been providing quality sports entertainment without getting credit for their efforts because they haven't been punching in replicas of Holyfield vs. Bowe, much less Ali vs. Frazier.
That's unfair. You want Pound for Pound? You want all-time classics? You got it - just head south on the scales... But at least recognize that these heavyweight pugs have been putting it all on the line in one competitive match after another, ducking no one - and more than a few great scraps and dramatic nights have been the result.
Recall tonight's competitor Wlad's stunning yet thrilling losses to Brewster and Sanders after a stellar rise. Think about the undersized and feather-fisted Chris Byrd's David-like slugouts with the goliath duo of McCline and Golota. Or the near-double belt-holding Golota's shock first round KO loss to underachiever Brewster. What about former middleweight James Toney's inspiring wins four divisions north against perennial top ten Ruiz or former champ Holyfield, whom everyone seems to have forgotten was the favourite? Or Vitali's big brother-avenging brawl with Corrie Sanders. Or written-off underdog Monte Barrett's near triple upset against undefeated prospects Mesi, Guinn, and Beck? Even last month's Friday Night Fights "never-was" collisions featuring Lawrence Cley-Bey vs. Derrek Bryant and Vinny Madalone vs Shannon Miller were fun tussles.
If fans, media, and the heavyweight boxers themselves collectively went to group therapy, I think it's safe to say the headshrinker would advise us as such: We need to accept our heavyweights for who they are - a hard-working bunch who may be flawed, but are trying their best.
A cold hard look at the division's supposed future, both still in the running and out - Peter, Wlad Klitschko, Audley Harrison, Calvin Brock, Guinn, Nicolai Valuev, et al, only makes one remember the last wave of supposed saviours, now failed and faded. Men that for a few fights, showed potential, but ultimately turned out to be part of the division's long-term plateau resulting in the last king of the heap, Lennox Lewis, now being sorely missed despite a much-debated and often disappointing reign.
It's a dramatic back-story for sure: Klitscko, 44-3 (40 KO), the former up-and-comer now fallen from grace, tries to re-establish himself in the upper tier by blocking the way of new-comer Peter, 24-0 (21 KO), who's hungry to prove he's the real deal. The tall rangy boxer with supreme skills faces off against the stocky slugger with serious power - classic fistic drama set-up for sure.
But get your head out of the clouds folks, this HBO-televised bout, which will take place live in Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, is no vision of the future, no crowning of the next superstar in the heaviest weight class, no promise of somebody taking the helm of the flagship division. It's just a great match-up of two top level guys willing to take on a dangerous challenge in order to climb their way up the ladder.
That's not so bad... Accept it and enjoy.