(Big photo for big guys: Wladimir Klitschko, left, and Samuel Peter; credit Klitschko’s Facebook page)
It’s been a minute since we last saw that look of primal terror on heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko’s face, the look where he seemed to be thinking “ohmigod ohmigod I got hit oh no what I am I gonna do now?” (only, presumably, in Ukranian, since I bet that’s the language of his thoughts). The last person to really inspire Klitschko’s panic fully was Samuel Peter in 2005, when the clubbing caveman of a Nigerian repeatedly decked Klitschko with winging overhand rights that connected both cleanly and on the back of Klitschko’s jittery brain. Klitschko survived the fight, pulling out a victor by winning just about every round other than the ones where he got dropped.
Saturday, ESPN3.com webcasts a rematch of that curious contest. But it most likely will resemble nothing of the first. Klitschko and Peter are immensely different fighters since 2005 whose careers have taken vastly different paths. Klitschko has since completed the overhaul of his style under the tutelage of trainer Emanuel Steward, and with steady victories against top competition en route to becoming the division’s king, has seemingly gained a measure of confidence that enables him to keep his head for those rare occasions where he does get whacked. Peter, meanwhile, has gained a measure of technical proficiency, but also has shown lapses in desire, quitting against Klitshko’s brother Vitali and putting forth a disinterested effort against Eddie Chambers, only to get his career back on track a bit of late.
In theory, anyone with top-notch power can test the fragility of Klitschko’s confidence about taking a punch, and Peter has that. In reality, this should be another non-competitive Klitschko domination. It’s hard to blame Klitschko for being in that situation again, though. He’s going to be the favorite against anyone he fights for the indefinite future. And Klitschko made a strong offer to Ring’s #2 heavyweight, David Haye, who promptly went into hiding. He apparently had a deal with Alexander Povetkin, ranked third, only for Povetkin to bail out. Since Peter — nowhere to be found in Ring’s ratings — was the next available high-ranked challenger for one of his alphabet belts, he got the assignment, with the marketing angle that he was the last person to make it really rough on Klitschko.
The Peter reclamation project began following the quit job against Vitali and the uninspired loss to Chambers with a switch of trainer and promoter. It’s four fights deep, and Peter hasn’t really beaten anyone of note since then. In his last bout, the closest to such a win, Peter stopped Nagy Aguilera in two rounds in March. Aguilera was coming off a surprise 1st round stoppage of Oleg Maskaev, but that’s all he had to his career. Peter, to be fair, performed well. He came in at his lowest weight in nearly nine years, countered sharply, worked his jab and managed a nice mixture of patience and destructiveness.
As technically sound as Peter looked — even his usually wild overhand right had an element of “controlled” to it — he’s not going to be better technically than Wladimir. The younger Klitschko has perfected his repetitive game to the point that I get sick of repeating the description of it. He takes advantage of his exceptional height and supreme jab to keep his opponent from getting close or mounting much of an offense, dropping in the occasional heavy right hand, and if anyone gets too close he either takes a step back or holds. He’s so good at this nobody’s been able to do jack against him since Tony Thompson in 2008, when Thompson’s own size gave us our last good glimpse at Klitschko’s panic-face. Steward was with Klitschko for the first Peter meeting, but Klitschko’s own reclamation project was just underway. It’s far more advanced now.
This may sound strange, but part of me thinks the cruder, wilder version of Peter is more likely to have had a chance against Klitschko even in 2010. If Peter tries to counter Klitschko’s jab, I think he’ll keep coming up short. If he tries to work his way in via his own jab, I suspect it’ll be the same. I figure only unpredictable charges will have any hope, but then, those didn’t work well enough before in order for Peter to score a win, either. As Peter has become more technical, he has surely become easier to anticipate. His team said he’ll have plan A, B and C for Klitschko, but even a better-boxing version of Peter doesn’t project to have more than two plans I can even imagine.
Toward the end of their first fight, Klitschko badly wobbled Peter. I think he’ll do some more of that here. I doubt he’ll quit like he did against big brother, but I bet his corner or the referee will save him somewhere around the same round Vitali did him in — the 8th.
Then, hopefully, for as much as the Klitschkos’ style doesn’t entertain me or much of anyone outside Germany, Wladimir or Vitali will get more capable opponents in the ring with them. It’s been something of a wasted year for the pair so far. Wladimir had an injury to recover from, and ended up with Peter, less-than-the-best option. Vitali is spinning his own wheels with Shannon Briggs next after fighting no-hoper Albert Sosnowski. If I’m not going to enjoy their fights, and I almost certainly won’t, it would at least be great to see them keep fighting and beating the top men in their division, the way they’ve been doing for years. It’s the thing about them that’s far and away their best attribute.
[TQBR Prediction Game 4.0 is in effect. Remember the rules.]
As I’ll be on vacation this week, the mighty Carlos Acevedo will be handling the post-fight write-up for Klitschko-Peter II.