Posted: Thursday September 22, 2005 2:30PM; Updated: Thursday September 22, 2005 2:30PM
Samuel Peter brings a 24-0 record (21 KOs) into Saturday's bout with Wladimir Klitschko.
I have no doubt that, standing in the opposite corner of a boxing ring, Samuel Peter is a fearsome figure.
But seated across a table at the Hard Rock Café in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon, the unbeaten 25-year-old heavyweight known as the Nigerian Nightmare was a cheery sight. For one thing, he was wearing a long, robe-like garment of pale yellow covered with sequined daisies. For another, he seemed to be the happiest and most relaxed person in the restaurant. A remarkably square fellow, Peter has a blockish head, pointed ears and an open, handsome face that lit up often with a bright, easy smile.
The question boxing fans are asking, of course, is whether that smiling visage is the new face of the heavyweight division. On Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., Peter will doff the daisies and bring his 24-0 record (which includes an impressive 21 knockouts) into the ring against former World Boxing Organization (WBO) heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
The winner of their bout, which is scheduled for 12 rounds (and will air live on HBO's Boxing After Dark), will become the No. 1 contender for both the WBO and the International Boxing Federation (IBF). If that winner should happen to be Peter -- especially if he chops down the 6-foot-7 Klitschko quickly and in suitably violent fashion -- boxing's marquee division finally would have what it has so long been craving: an undefeated, power-punching heir-apparent. Picture Mike Tyson in a sequined yellow robe.
There's no guarantee Peter is on his way to being a Nigerian Iron Mike. (Note that we're only talking "in the ring," here; by all reports, Peter is, as the press packet for the fight puts it, "affable and clean-living outside the ring" and "a devout and spiritual man." He certainly hasn't promised to eat Klitschko's children.)
Peter is unquestionably a serious puncher, though. Last December in Las Vegas, Peter, who stands 6-foot-˝ and weighed 247 pounds that day, knocked out the veteran Jeremy Williams with a single left hook, leaving Williams out on the canvas for several minutes.
But Peter is very raw. After all, this is a guy who didn't take up boxing until he was 16 and was persuaded to put on the gloves one afternoon after a high school soccer practice. He made it to the quarterfinals at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, but all told had only 23 amateur bouts. Trainer Pops Anderson, along with Lou Duva, has been working hard to refine Peter's technique.
"He'll miss you with three, four punches and knock you out with the fifth," says Duva. "Even hitting the bag, he'll miss and almost fall down, but then, Bam! When he knocked out Jeremy Williams, he was falling down. So, we're working on his balance."
Peter also has yet to be really extended. He has gone 10 rounds twice, but no one knows how well he can take a punch. Klitschko could conceivably give Peter's chin a test on Saturday night -- that is, if his own doesn't fail him first.