Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"Nigerian Nightmare" Ready to Crush Maskaev's Dreams

WBC titlist Oleg Maskaev (left) is flanked by promoter Don King and Nigeria's Samuel Peter at the press conference to announce their fight in Cancun, Mexico.

There's a store on the Danby Road in Ithaca, New York called Sam Peter Furniture. It has nothing to do with the World Boxing Cartel interim heavyweight titlist, but that hasn't stopped the curiosity seekers from poking their heads in the door with hopes that they might see the "Nigerian Nightmare" behind the counter relaxing in a La-Z-Boy recliner.

"You know, a couple months ago some guy showed up here with a trunk full of boxing gloves," said a store employee when asked about their store having the same name as a heavyweight contender. "He showed up out of the blue one Saturday morning hoping that he could get the gloves signed. I told him if he just wanted them signed 'Sam Peter Furniture' I could do that easy enough. But he wasn't too happy when he figured out we had nothing to do with the boxer."

Whatever the case, Sam Peter has no time to kick back and take a break in a recliner anyway. He has one man on his mind and that man is none other than 39 year-old WBC heavyweight champ Oleg Maskaev. The two had been scheduled to meet on October 6, 2007 at Madison Square Garden in New York, but Maskaev pulled out 2 1/2 weeks before the fight because of a back injury he suffered while in training. The delay didn't please Team Peter, who live by the old saying "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" so the WBC made Peter its interim heavyweight champion on September 24th.

“For keeping me waiting, I’m going to be punishing him in rounds one, two and three and then I’ll knock him out in four,” said an agitated Peter earlier this week. He's been waiting a long time to get Oleg Maskaev into a boxing ring and on Saturday night he gets his chance as the two will meet up in the Plaza de Toros bull fighting ring in Cancun, Mexico.

“I’m coming to fight on Saturday night and I promise I’m going to beat you,” an intimidating looking Peter said to Maskaev on Monday. “I’m going to punish you and beat you up. I’ve been fighting for seven years and I’ve never ducked anyone. I hope you’re planning on coming to fight on Saturday. You can run no more.”

Peter who stands just a shade over six feet tall, is scary when he's angry. At 250 pounds he is thickly muscled with forearms like bowling pins and a neck like a Brahma bull. He's knocked out 22 of 29 challengers while only losing once (to Wladimir Klitschko) since turning pro in 2001. At 27 years old he has every conceivable advantage over Maskaev who has shown a propensity to get knocked out by big punchers and is coming off a few training injuries as well as a 15 month lay-off.

Although he has the appearance of being indestructible, Peter was knocked down three times in his fight last October versus fringe contender Jameel McCline. "Big Sam" showed a lot of heart in rising from a knockdown at the end of the second round and then again rising twice from knockdowns in the third round. Peter hung on though and he managed to eke out a close unanimous decision win.

Showtime Championship Boxing analyst Al Bernstein called the fight against McCline from ringside and he was impressed with what he saw in Peter. "When we look back at round three in this fight...he will look back at that round and everyone will, and say that was tremendous fortitude just to get through the rounds. Jameel McCline landed some major shots. He showed the fortitude in that third round to hang in there and kept his technique intact to win the last rounds."

Many, however, still view Peter with skepticism. He struggled with the smaller James Toney and at times early on in fights he has appeared winded. Peter is a no nonsense come ahead clubber of a puncher with lummox-like movements.

His co-promoter, Dino Duva, has always been in Peter's corner and he also sees areas where his young heavyweight can improve . “Now if he keeps learning, if he keeps working and keeps honing his skills then he’s going to be an all-time great heavyweight champion,” says Duva who has pretty much staked the future of his promotional company on the success of Peter. "My whole life in boxing right now is Samuel Peter. He basically is my company."

When asked the the question about whether he needs to improve, the usually affable Peter just grins. His answers are always short and to the point and he doesn't analyze himself too deeply. "In the future we shall see," says Sam. "I'm still improving with time." And then he smiled. Pops Anderson has trained Peter from their home base in Las Vegas, but for this fight Stacy McKinley, who is best known for assisting with Mike Tyson, has stepped in to make improvements in Peter's game.

As for WBC titlist Oleg Maskaev, most are looking right past him and figure that he'll be easy work for the younger and stronger Peter. The Nigerian is a strong favorite to not only beat Maskaev, but to knock him out. The bookmakers have installed Peter as a -450 favorite and the over/under for the fight is 7 1/2 rounds. Maskaev is riding a twelve fight unbeaten streak that dates back to 2003 but he didn't fight at all in 2007.

Maskaev is also a man of few words and after resurrecting himself and his career from the hands of a knockout loss to Cory Sanders he has a new team of people around him with trainer Victor Valle, Jr., manager Fred Kesch and promoter Dennis Rappaport. His win over Hasim Rahman to garner the WBC title was a last minute come from behind victory and since then he has been called the new "Cinderella Man" of the sport.

"I'm expecting a war," says Oleg who was named The Ring Magazine 2006 Comeback of the Year fighter. "I've just got to make sure I'm one hundred percent when I get into the ring and I know I will be. It's never easy to predict anything in boxing. You can be on top one minute, and then one punch later, it's all over for you."

As Oleg knows too well, the sport of boxing can be a real nightmare.

March 2008

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