Every great boxer comes to a crossroads in their career where a distinct moment can be pointed to where that fighter overcame a challenge that ultimately solidified their eternal mark in the sport. For some pugilists it’s the reaching of a benchmark like a record title defense number or besting a rival in the third fight of a trilogy or the dismantling of a great fighter. However, the more dramatic and most memorable moments of vindication can be viewed on how a fighter climbs through adversity and comes out better.
At seven years, three months and twenty one days with sixty professional wins Wladimir Klitschko has reached a benchmark that can be remembered in the annals of boxing lore. He has now passed the great Larry Holmes in length of a heavyweight title reign and that is one of the measures of greatness a fighter reaches when they go from very good to great. However, Klitschko had to rescue his career in order to reach the point he is at right now. This article takes a trip through time to the night of September 24, 2005 inside Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City New Jersey. On this night that now seems so long ago Wladimir Klitschko was not yet champion and was walking a tight rope with his career hanging in the balance.
For those that do not remember or were not fans of the sport back some nearly eight years ago Klitschko was in a much different position than he is now. While right now he is the best in his division and looking to make a case for himself with boxing historians for his all time place there was a time when his career looked finished. By the end of 2004 Klitschko’s future was in serious jeopardy; Emmanuel Steward the great trainer who is seen as the guy who helped turn it all around began his time with Klitschko in the loss column. In their first night together Wladimir put on a great display against Lamon Brewster only to tire and succumb to a fifth round stoppage defeat. Then in their next fight together Klitschko and Steward had a near disaster against DaVarryl Williamson where he was ruled down from a punch in the fourth round, cut badly by a clash of heads, and lost the fight on one judges card only to pick up a technical split decision victory in a fight that did not erase any of the doubters.
On that night in September, Wladimir Klitschko entered the ring as a seven to five underdog and that should put the situation right into perspective. Sam Peter was a young twenty five years old and was undefeated in twenty four contests and had only been taken the distance three times. At six foot two and 243 pounds he was built like a tank and was coming off four consecutive knockouts in under five rounds. Yes he was stepping up in class big time but in 2005 it was Klitschko who was on the way down and Peter who was on the way up. Wladimir Klitschko was four and one since the Corrie Sanders debacle where he lost his WBO title and in none of those wins did he ever recapture the dominant and destructive image he had created in his run that was edging him closer and closer to a Lennox Lewis showdown.
Summed up best by commentator Larry Merchant “Is it the next heir apparent versus the old heir apparent or will the old heir apparent become the new heir apparent again.” This fight carried a lot of magnitude in the division because it could very well and as time proved did decide the next great champion. The division was a wide open road, Lennox Lewis the great champion from Great Britain had retired and Wladimir’s brother Vitali had briefly claimed the mantle at heavyweight before being cut short by injury. The championship was fractured in the hands of four men and none of them had captured the recognition of the boxing world just yet. Perhaps it would be this fight that would give the division some clarity.
The fight began with Klitschko doing exactly what he was expected to by using his height and his jab. He used his improved footwork and balance to keep Peter off balance and stayed out of range when the wide knockout blows came his way. A possible dangerous moment was averted when Klitschko was hit by hard left hook to begin the third round but he stayed up and continued to box using his jab and his feet to stay out of danger and clinched when he had to. However, the punches which had ended the night in most scenarios were not discouraging the hard charging Nigerian. Again Wladimir received a hard left hook that appeared to be Peter’s best connect of the night and Wladimir again stayed up and returned fire. All seemed well.
And then suddenly disaster struck! That moment that the matchmakers had hoped for had finally occurred, Klitschko went down. As was the case in the Brewster fight and the Williamson fight, Wladimir was down and now the fight he had been in control of was suddenly up in the air. Could Klitschko survive round five with over two minutes to go and a dead set Samuel Peter motivated for the kill? Less than a minute later Wladimir’s legs appeared to weaken as he stumbled away from Peter and appeared to fall without being punched. In the same round that Brewster had pulled the upset, Wladimir was now showing possible signs of fatigue and wilting as Peter chased him down. Peter was pushing his way out of the clinches that had been stopping his offense inside and more importantly Wladimir’s legs which had kept Peter at range seemed depleted. Unable to stay away from the big Nigerian and unable to control him inside it only looked like a matter of time before Wladimir Klitschko’s championship hopes were put to bed.
And so the stage was finally set for the most crucial round of Klitschko’s boxing life. These three minutes in Atlantic City were crucial and could save or undo everything that had been done until this point. The two men came off their stools for the sixth round and Peter looked winded after pouring it all on in the fifth. Klitschko appeared to have his legs back under him but circled around the ring very cautious of what could happen. Then, a huge left hook by Peter hits air and gets the crowd back into the fight reminded of how close Peter might be to victory. Another minute passes as Peter gets in one right to the body, his only land so far. The Klitschko jab began to make its presence back and with its signature snap. Wladimir edged a quiet round in a building where a pin drop could be heard. Not an all out war, not even an exciting round but none the less a very important one. As the bell sounded to end the round Larry Merchant commented, “This may be one of the more important rounds of Wladimir Klitschko’s career” and was followed by his co-commentator Jim Lampley who said, “This reminds me of Muhammad Ali surviving the sixth round with Sonny Liston in Miami Florida February 25, 1964 when he was blind.”
If by a stroke of luck or just better preparation Wladimir Klitschko took the onslaught of the fifth and came into the sixth with more in the tank. This was without a doubt the most important moment of Klitschko’s career because he survived and went on to win. His chin had survived the test and his questionable stamina made it through twelve grueling rounds and he had his hand raised in victory. Forever it can be asked what if Peter had not tired and came hard charging in the sixth; would he have won? Of course like all hypothetical questions no one knows for sure. Wladimir went on to control the fight like he had prior to the danger round until the tenth where he found himself on the floor again and looking in similar trouble as the bell sounded. Klitschko again won the next round boxing Peter and in the twelfth and final round had Peter the most hurt either fighter had been with a left hook that moved his entire body. A statement to finish a difficult fight that had answered many questions but had not quieted all of the naysayers.
This was the last real difficult fight for Wladimir Klitschko who has basically ran through all comers ever since. Some fighters had hype or posed a puncher’s chance because no matter how many wins the weak chin issue can never be put to bed. David Haye had all of the hype and was perceived as the guy to do it much like Alexander Povetkin right now is the man being pushed as the last threat. Even someone like Sultan Ibragimov made it difficult despite not winning rounds or putting Klitschko in danger which is sort of how the Haye fight went. Tony Thompson in his first attempt made it very awkward for seven rounds and landed plenty of punches though none were close to ending it. Nonetheless, it was Samuel Peter the “Nigerian Nightmare” who has given him his toughest fight since Lamon Brewster. In conclusion, by surviving the sixth round in Atlantic City Wladimir Klitschko was able to revive his career in one night and claim the status many predicted he could all along.