Samuel Peter waited so long to get to the alter with Oleg Maskaev he was probably beginning to think the Russian-born fighter was a Runaway Bride.
But the date finally was set in Cancun, Mexico, and when Maskaev showed up, Peter was pleased to see his partner looked like a real knockout.
In a service performed by a referee, Peter sent Maskaev on a honeymoon to La La Land, scoring a decisive technical knockout of the defending champion with a flurry of combinations set up by a thunderous right hand in the sixth round. Referee Lupe Garcia stopped the fight with four seconds to go in the round, with the 39-year-old Maskaev clearly out on his feet.
The victory ends a long ordeal for Peter heavily laden with politics. First he beat James Toney in a title elimination bout for the right to face champion Maskaev, only to learn the sanctioning body for which Maskaev held a title said he must fight Toney again because the fight was close and controversial. Peter won again, much more decisively, and was scheduled to face Maskaev on Oct. 6, but the Russian-born fighter pulled out 2 1/2 weeks before the fight claiming a back injury.
The 27-year-old Nigerian (30-1, 23 KOs) went into this fight favored to beat Maskaev (34-6, 26 KOs), and most felt because both boxers are knockout artists, the bout would not go the distance, one way or another. They were right.
Surprisingly, although Maskaev was considered the more skilled boxer with the far greater amateur background, it was the massive, flat-footed Peter who came out boxing, establishing his left jab early and even hooking with it, abilities he had only begun to show in his second fight with Toney. Maskaev looked sluggish from the start, beaten to the punch and unable to establish anything of a rhythm.
It was far from an exciting fight, as both boxers fought tentatively, clearly looking to land the big right hand.
After two rounds, Peter appeared to be ahead on aggression, but was hardly dominating Then about half way through the third round Peter unleashed a flurry of combinations that forced Maskaev to cover up. Maskaev countered with a left hook that rocked Peter, but the eventual winner came right back throwing punches.
The fourth round was a repeat of the earlier rounds, with not much action, but Peter again won the round on aggression. It wasn't until the sixth that Peter finally landed his bomb in the final minute of the round, stunning Maskaev with an overhand right. From that point on, it was only a question of whether Maskaev would be able to stay upright until the bell.
Peter followed his right with a hard left-right combo, and then two straight left hooks that left Maskaev dazed and on the ropes. The referee wisely stepped in to stop it before a defenseless Maskaev could get seriously hurt.
It was a decisive victory, but hardly one to send shudders through the muddled heavyweight division. Peter showed he is an improved fighter, but still appeared raw at times and was warned twice for hitting behind the head with wide, looping amateurish right hands.
They were the same kind of punches that had knocked champion Wladimir Klitschko down three times in their fight in 2005 in which Klitschko held on to win by unanimous decision.
Emanuel Steward, the HBO commentator last night and trainer of Klitschko came away impressed by Peter's more polished performance.
"He is a much improved fighter," Steward said. "He is a serious threat with that punching power of his."
Flush with his victory, Peter chanted, "I'm the undisputed champion, who's next! Who's next?"
The sanctioning body for which Peter now holds the belt has already mandated that Peter face Wladimir's brother Vitali, who retired as champion in 2006 because of ongoing injury problems, but is looking to make a comeback.
Asked by HBO analyst Max Kellerman in the ring whether he wanted to fight Wladimir or Vitali next, Peter seemed to dodge the question, saying "damn right they're going down."
Steward, however, made no bones about who he'd like to see Peter fight.
"The only fight the public wants to see is Peter in a rematch with Wladimir. Just the three knockdowns alone make it compelling. I was very impressed with him (Peter) tonight. He's improved his head movement and his approach to boxing in general. It would be a very exciting fight. One blow could change everything," Steward said.
Last night it was not one blow but a succession of them that won the fight for Peter. It was far from a thing of beauty, but anytime a heavyweight has thunder in his right hand, it is always potentially exciting. Whether the still relatively raw Peter can beat a polished fighter like Wladimir Klitschko remains to be seen, but as the Nigerian demonstrated last night he has the power to put out anyone's lights, and the Ukrainian's three losses have all come by way of knockout.
Earlier this week Beijing bound amateur boxers from Nigeria held a three-day prayer vigil for Peter, saying the God of David and Samson should take control over his bout against Maskaev on Saturday.
"His victory will be a great boost for us," said Nigerian Olympian Afini Abiodun, one of those who kept the vigil. "Our opponents would also shiver because they know that Peter's blood flow in our veins."
Whether Wladimir Klitschko is shivering after watching Saturday night's fight is anybody's guess, but it definitely sent a message to the division that Samuel Peter is a force to be reckoned with.
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