Oleg Maskaev – Samuel Peter: Will The Big Men Disappoint Again?

Samuel PeterBy Matthew Hurley: There was a big fight at Madison Square Garden two weeks ago that set about to bring some order to the heavyweight division. Although the end result produced a partially unified champion that fighter, Wladimir Klitschko, did nothing to further enhance his reputation as he parried and jabbed away at Sultan Ibragimov for twelve tedious rounds. The flagship division in boxing was again stuck in dry-dock and boxing fans sat back in their recliners, finished off their six pack of beer and shook their heads in dissatisfaction.

Klitschko, an undeniably talented big man later went so far as to apologize for his performance. The IBF and WBO belt holder is sincere in his desire to be recognized by the boxing public as the heavyweight’s number one man. He longs to step out of the looming shadow cast by the last unified champion Lennox Lewis and claim the division for his own. He even hired Lewis’ own trainer Emanuel Steward to help him achieve his goal. But boxing fans want excitement for their hard earned money and they want their heavyweight champion to be fearsome. To Klitschko’s credit he understands this and hopes to provide a better account of himself in his next bout.

Boxing fans were able to cleanse their palate when two extraordinary little men put on a show this past Saturday night that made every big man in the sport look small by comparison. The rubber match between WBC super bantamweight champion Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez was fought at such an exceptionally high level of professionalism and sheer brutality that any bout coming in its wake will suffer by comparison. Ironically this Saturday two more heavyweights will step into the ring and try to stake their claim as Klitschko’s chief rival and not disappoint a boxing public still rhapsodizing over the effort put forth by Vazquez and Marquez.

The fight between WBC title holder Oleg Maskaev, 34-5 with 26 KOs and challenger Samuel Peter, 29-1 with 22 KOs could turn out to be an interesting test of chins. If their past histories reveal any indication as to how this bout will go it would have to be the five losses on Maskaev’s record - all five came by knockout. Going up against a murderous puncher such as the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ with a faulty set of whiskers would seemingly be a recipe for disaster. However, Peter looked fragile himself in his last bout against Jameel McCline back in October. McCline, a late substitute for an injured Maskaev, knocked Peter down three times before losing a close twelve round decision. The fighter who had withstood everything Klitschko could throw at him in a losing effort in their 2005 slugfest suddenly looked vulnerable. And if Maskaev has one thing going for him it’s an extremely heavy right hand.

In an ideal boxing world Peter would decimate Maskaev in a round or two to set up a rematch with Klitschko. After all, if the Ukrainian giant is to be truly recognized as the best heavyweight on the planet he needs to get back in the ring with the contender who decked him three times before he courageously pulled out a unanimous decision victory. And yet should Maskaev pull off the upset he too would present Klitschko with an interesting challenge because whatever Wladimir does from here on out the questions surrounding his chin will always be asked. Having hit the canvas like a basketball against opponents such as Corrie Sanders, Lamon Brewster, Davarryl Williamson and then Peter does not suggest a chin of granite – more like porcelain. And Klitschko is smart enough to be aware of his weakness. It’s one of the reasons why he chooses to box cautiously as he did against an obviously overwhelmed Ibragimov and why his offensive-minded trainer Emanuel Steward so often seems exasperated by him in the corner between rounds.

Still, boxing fans are always hopeful that the next Mike Tyson or Evander Holyfield is just around the corner to help right the ship and reestablish the heavyweight division’s identity. Klitschko may still prove to be the man. He has all the skills, the physicality and a charming personality to capture people’s attention. But his recent performances have lacked the fire necessary to spark a genuine enthusiasm. Perhaps the winner of Maskaev and Peter will provide him with just the right opponent to bring all of his passion to the forefront. Or that fighter may topple his house of cards all over again.

Should Maskaev and Peter disappoint on the level that Klitschko and Ibragimov did boxing fans will sit in wait for the little men to come to the rescue yet again when Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez square off in their rematch on March 15th. It has become a basic truth in the fight game in the past several years that the sport’s heart and soul resides in the smaller frames of men, who despite their skills and desire, still make markedly less money than the behemoths who continue to disappoint. But then the little men fight their hearts out for every nickel in their paycheck while too often the big men seem to cash their checks before they even step into the ring. Hopefully that won’t be the case on Saturday night.

Article posted on 04.03.2008

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