pic by Tom Hogan
Interview by Ant Evans: He's young, he's powerful, he's heavy handed and plenty of people are hoping against hope that he's the future of the heavyweight division. He's Samuel Peter, the aggressive, unbeaten 'Nigerian Nightmare' who will be showcased once again this Saturday night when he clashes with once-defeated Taurus Sykes at the Events Center in Reno, Nevada (Showtime televise 9pm ET/PT).
The 24-year-old Peter, 23-0 (20), may have just shy of a decade to play with in comparison to his fellow contenders - the average age of the heavyweight top twenty is 33 - but the Nigerian is in a hurry for a world title shot.
"After this fight Saturday I would love to fight for a title," Las Vegas based Peter told SecondsOut Tuesday. "Patience in fighters is good, but too much patience can be a very bad thing. I'd fight any of the champions next, anyone who has a title, but the one I really want is (WBC king) Vitali Klitschko because he's the best right now."
But, first thing is first: the 12 rounder with the 23-1-1 (6) Sykes, who has been talking smack ahead of the fight.
"I don't know nothing about him," Peter stated. "I just do what I supposed to do in the gym and train and spar like I'm fighting the world champion every time. If I do that every time I train - I beat everyone up. I thank the promoters and Showtime for this opportunity to prove one more time that I will not disappoint nobody who (gets behind) me."
'Disappointed' is certainly one way to describe those who jumped on the bandwagons of almost a decades' worth of young pretenders like Shannon Briggs, Michael Grant, Dominic Guinn and even Peter's ultra-talented countryman Ike Ibeabuchi. Peter, as promising as he appears, could well be another heavyweight tease but he's certainly saying the right things to reassure us that he's for real.
"I'm different from all those fighters," he said. "God made me different. I won't let people down. I've always been a big puncher and that is for real. I got into boxing after breaking my leg in soccer and (realised) that I could punch. In my first fight I was only 15 and I fought a much bigger man, there weren't many fighters in Nigeria so I had to fight men. I knocked him out. I didn't really understand the rules of knockouts but I knew he couldn't hurt me and I could hurt him."
Representing his native Nigeria, Peter made the quarter-finals of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. It wasn't a bad showing at all for a 19-year-old kid with only three years experience in a field of 25-30 year olds. But all the attention and the super-heavyweight gold medal went home to London, England with Audley Harrison. Fast forward five years and 'Fraudly' - as some uncharitable British sportswriters have dubbed Harrison - is now all but forgotten while Calvin Brock, European Champ Paolo Vidoz (who outpointed Peter) and especially Peter himself are all light years ahead of the Sydney champion.
What initially set Peter apart was his youth. The average age of today's top 20 heavyweight is 33.4 years and Peter is a virtual foetus at 24. But there are also encouraging signs that the Akwaibom, Nigeria, born puncher has the potential to be something a little special.
After a typical ring education in boxing's backwaters, the Nigerian Nightmare (cool nickname, eh?) exploded onto the big time radar last December, when he starched contender Jermey Williams with perhaps the most thrilling/chilling knockout of the year. Williams has blown hot and cold in his career but was coming off a big win over the 29-1 Atilla 'the Hun' Levin and hadn't lost in four years. In fact, the fast-handed American easily took the first round and actually made Peter appear a little one-paced. But in the second round - boom! - a left hook detonated like a H Bomb on the point of Williams's chin.
The lights behind the veteran's eyes were out long before Williams hit the canvas.
Williams lay prostrate, his arms contorted underneath his body, but after a few anxious moments he proved OK. With Williams coming to, the realisation quickly dawned that Peter had just gone from 'prospect' to 'contender'. And, it is worth stating again, he isn't even 25 years old yet...
With 250lbs of rock solid muscled welded around a deceptively stocky looking 6ft 2inch frame, Peter resembles 'the Thing' of the Fantastic Four comic book fame. He's as powerfully build as any heavyweight you could mention in recent years.
"Again, I thank God for that," said the deeply spiritual fighter. "He made me stronger than everyone else. I can take anyone's punches."
And that's at least a partial explanation for why Peter takes a few, because not every performance by the Nigerian has glittered.
For example, he struggled to outpoint Charles Shufford a year ago. While Shufford was once thought of as a contender, it doesn't bode well for Peter's supposedly irresistible punch power that he couldn't drop a man already KO'd by Jameel McCline and Wladimir Klitschko. However, Ivailo Gotzev, who manages Peter, points out that his fighter's mother had died a week before the fight and also, at least, Peter had the mental strength to finally assert himself in the final three rounds.
"If I don't find a knockout punch then I don't worry," Peter said. "Charles Shufford, he's a good fighter, but he didn't come to fight with me. Jeremy Williams came to fight and I respect that and if anyone fights with me I will knock them out. No doubt about that."
It is this air of menace which is stirring the boxing fraternity. In January HBO showcased Peter against Yanqui Diaz, who made his name KOing Juan Carlos Gomez, and Peter again looked the goods, scoring a five round KO.
"I don't go into fights knowing I will get a second round knockout or anything," Samuel said. "But if I get my shots (off) I can knockout anyone. I train so hard, my confidence is high and I thank God for my punch power.
"I am very grateful for everything that is happening for me in my boxing career and I want to show everyone that I can be a good world champion in good, exciting fights with knockouts. Since I first appeared on Showtime the President and all the ministers of Nigeria have been watching me and wanting me to win a world title. For Nigeria, it would be unbelievable for us to have a world champion. Very unbelievable."
And yet, there are already some converts to the 'unbelievable'. Maybe on Saturday night Samuel Peter can make a few more people wake up to the 'Nigerian Nightmare."
Ant Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org