Helenius destroys Peter

By Bill Patrice Jones: Last night in Germany, on the undercard of Marco Huck’s successful title defence against Ran Nakash, the boxing world may very well have seen the last appearance of former WBC heavyweight champion Samuel Peter. The once much feared Nigerian puncher suffered his second consecutive knockout loss, his fifth in total, and must surely now seriously contemplate hanging up his gloves for good. Robert Helenius meanwhile, while still having a lot to learn, will certainly move onto bigger and better things at heavyweight.

All the signs leading into this fight were ominous for Samuel Peter. He was coming off a particularly punishing September title challenge against Wladimir Klitschko in which his bravery was rewarded with a concussive onslaught of power punches from the world’s best heavyweight. After the Klitschko loss, for which he obviously trained very hard, Peter’s situation went from bad to worse. Rumours spread that he had gained a large amount of weight, and then before his title loss was even a month old Top Rank released him from their promotional contract. Peter was now a free agent, and seemingly with no particular place to go. More positive rumours circulated that he was going into a Vegas training camp with Jeff Mayweather, but this was never confirmed. Peter went into negotiations with a few fighters about a potential comeback fight in 2011, but boxing fans had serious reservations about his ability to make it back to championship level again. Who could blame them?

After failing to secure an IBF eliminator with Tomasz Adamek, Peter looked towards a lower level of opposition, eventually settling on unbeaten Finnish prospect Robert Helenius. Immediately this looked like a bout which was going only one way. Helenius was certainly no easy meal ticket, and few imagined Peter would be able to have his way with him unless he took the fight very seriously. Ultimately this bout was set up as a huge stepping stone opportunity for one of Sauderland’s hottest prospects. Looking at the fight objectively there was good reason to believe Peter had enough left to restart his career, but one had to consider both how much he had struggled in the past with tall fighters as well as the very live possibility that Peter’s punch resistance, so vital an asset throughout his career, might finally have left him. Every fighter has a breaking point and Peter was a prime candidate for meeting his. One could point to any of his three losses against the Klitschko brothers as career changing fights. When you add to that the rest of the punishment his once granite chin had soaked up over the years, you were left with a legitimate suspicion that he might not be able to walk through the Nordic Nightmare’s punches.

Helenius was already the rightful favourite before Peter scaled in at 259 pounds, the second heaviest of his pro career. The odds now seemed stacked in Robert’s favour even more. Peter’s whole approach to this fight seemed baffling. There was no sign of Jeff Mayweather, with whom he had allegedly been training, and there was very little in the way of talking to the press. One throw away comment about teaching Helenius the basics of boxing and ‘turning him into a schoolboy’ was hardly enough to convince the detractors.

Peter and his team seemed thrown together to say the least when the action started. His head trainer was a onetime entourage member back when Peter was promoted by Don King, and his own manager Ivaylo Gotzez was acting as his second and cutman! The fight started at a pretty slow pace, Peter failed to land much in what was an uneventful opener. Helenius probably edged the round purely on punches thrown. In the second Peter started to walk Helenius down with a little more purpose and got through with some good punches at the close of the session. Helenius seemed a little uncertain, and was certainly wary of Peter’s power in the first half of the fight. Peter won the third pretty convincingly going to the body and putting Helenius on the defensive, he ended the round with a hard right hand at the bell. Peter was told in his corner that he was doing well, and it appeared so, but he was already breathing heavily.

The fourth and fifth were also decent rounds for the big Nigerian, who seemed to be moving ahead on the cards. Peter was, to his credit, displaying sufficient head and shoulder movement to thwart Helenius’ attempts to time him with something big coming in. Peter still appeared to be a decent fighter, but his extra poundage was limiting him in a big way. Helenius was caught hard a few times in the fifth and at one point seemed hurt, though he quickly recovered. There were nervous faces spread over Helenius’ promoters and trainers after 6 rounds. Maybe he had been put into deep waters too quickly?

Helenius was having a hard time because his jab wasn’t crisp enough to stop Peter moving forward, he also employed no lateral movement meaning he had to resort to clinching in order to stop an exchange. It was hard to say where the fight was heading through the middle rounds. Helenius was beginning to relax and find the mark on an increasingly tired Peter; however, he was certainly down on the cards and had not hurt Samuel yet. After eight rounds of action I had Peter ahead by five rounds to three, based mostly on aggression, body punching, and Helenius’ uncertainty.

The end came suddenly and shockingly in the ninth. Peter seemed to have lost his game plan and Helenius loosened up. Peter’s success up to that point had been thwarting Helenius’ power and going to the body with combinations. Helenius finally timed Peter coming in with a three punch combination, the last of which was a hard left which sent Peter on his back. To his credit he got to his feet, but he never fully recovered. Helenius suddenly seemed a different fighter as a right jab followed by another very hard left sent Peter down and out. It was the first time Helenius had really put his power on display and it was certainly an impressive knockout. Based on the completed eight and a half rounds of fighting, I have no doubt that a prime or even an in shape Peter would probably have beaten Helenius last night. Robert was uncertain in the early going, and Peter was able to have success. Nothing should be taken away from Helenius who put together his punches when it mattered, and clearly has a bright future, but Peter’s flagrant lack of conditioning and loss of punch resistance were the salient factors in determining the ending. In many respects the conclusion was painful to watch.

Many will see this as the right result for the division as Robert Helenius could now move on to better things in his career. He displayed two important qualities last night; power and punch resistance. His inability to keep a very overweight Peter at a distance though was worrying. In many respects as a 6,6 fighter Helenius made Wladimir Klitschko look very good. If Helenius struggled to keep an out of shape Peter at bay for much of the fight, one should respect the manner in which Klitschko controlled the distance against a motivated in shape Peter last time out.

The Robert Helenius Samuel Peter fight was once more a potent reminder of the cruelty of prize fighting, particularly at heavyweight. Peter now adds his name to the list of once feared heavyweight contenders/champions reduced to punishing losses on drab and uninspiring undercards. When Peter was held aloft by his team in Cancun Mexico proudly upholding the WBC title in 2008, he could hardly have envisioned a mere three years later lying defeated in a German ring on the losing end of an undercard fight. Yet such is the nature of the sport we love. If Peter had lost a close decision last night there might be room for thinking he could condition himself again and keep going, it was the sudden and dramatic nature of the knockout which mean he should retire. His career will go down as one of potential never fulfilled. At his destructive best he was truly a menacing and explosive fighter. His downfall was partly by his own hand, and partly at the hands of both Klitschkos who seem now to have beaten him out of his prime. We should remember Peter as the heavyweight George Foreman described as ‘the most determined in the division’ while he relentlessly pursued Wladimir Klitschko in 2005, or remember him as the focused and powerful fighter who totally out boxed and outfought James ‘lights out’ Toney in their rematch. It’s a shame we never had the chance to see a prime Peter fight against many other heavyweights in and around the top ten. At his best he surely could have made great fights with the likes of; Haye, Arreola and Povetkin. Yet even for those who won’t ever give Peter respect or admiration, simply remember him as a champion, because anyone who attains that level is worthy of some respect.

Article posted on 03.04.2011

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