‘Peter principle’ could revive Wladimir

Sep 20, 2005 3:41 AM

It is an intriguing matchup, one they like to call "crossroad" fights. Such bouts could very well lead to nowhere, which in the heavyweight division of boxing is everywhere.

Wladimir Klitschko, once the highly thought of "heir apparent" to John L. Sullivan, Jack Dempsey and Muhammad Ali, meets undefeated Samuel Peter, billed as the "next great" himself, Sept. 24 in Atlantic City and on HBO screens.

Dr. Wladimir, the younger of the two fighting PhD’s from Kiev, knows all about boxing’s road maps.

"From nothing to everything is a long way," he said at his training camp in the Poconos the other day. "From everything to nothing is one stop."

Make that two stops, both when he lost the WBOgus heavyweight title. Losing wasn’t everything. It was the way in which Baby Doc collapsed that make the untested Peter the slight favorite (-155) at last view, compared to +125 for the younger brother of Vitali Klitschko.

Most of my boxing buddies lean towards Baby Doc in this one. As Rafael Mendoza, one of the wisest of all Mexican advisers said, "We know Peter can pitch, but can he catch?"

There can be little doubt that, on the other chin, Wladimir can be hurt. His stamina is questionable. He lost an early pro fight to American trial horse Ross Puritty, who absorbed a lot of punches early and came on at the end when Klitschko faded badly. Wladimir may have punched himself out in delivering a brutal beating to Lamon Brewster before collapsing in embarrassment and accusations after losing the WBOgus heavyweight title a second time.

But stamina could not have much to do with his performance the first time he lost the minor world championship. Corrie Sanders, a plump South African found out on a golf course, knocked down Wlad five times in stopping him in the second round.

It’s on his mind. He wouldn’t take questions about chin or stamina on media day. "So what do you really think about hurricane relief, Doctor?" The scary thing about the heavyweight division, though, is that Wladimir needs only beat the raw novice Peter to be right back at the head of the line. In fact, this scheduled 12-round fight will determine the next mandatory challenger for Chris Byrd, whom Wladimir pounded once before, for the IBF title.

Peter, a raw novice, has impressive punching power — the left hook with which he knocked out Jeremy Williams ranks as one of the best single shots in recent years. He seems willing to take a few blows to land one. That may not work too well against the 6-foot-5 (6-6?) Wladimir, a 1996 Olympic champion now trained by Emanuel Steward. Wladimir may not punch quite as hard as Vitali. Byrd, who beat Vitali but lost to Wladimir, says the older brother has more power — but Wlad hits well enough to make untested chins have deep concern.

It’s probably why Don Chargin, the knowledgeable California matchmaker and promoter, leans toward Wladimir in this fight. Like most of the business, he would prefer to see Peter emerge as a real threat, just to energize the division.

I admit that Wladimir is a superior boxer with good enough power to hurt anyone. I admit that Peter has never faced anything like Klitschko. "We’re going into the ring, saying welcome to big-time boxing.’’ Steward said. But there’s more than X’s and O’s involved here. I believe that Peter, while perhaps not worth the price, has shown more character. True, he has not been under any undue pressure against the riff raff he has beaten. But he has swagger, the obvious confidence that Klitschko deservedly lacks. Plus, I don’t like the way Klitschko loses. It’s almost never his fault. Against Brewster, he demanded an investigation, implying he might have been poisoned by the anti-Ukraine terrorists that must populate the Las Vegas kitchens. He said his venerable cutman, Joe Souza (one of the nicest and straightest guys in this business), put too much Vaseline on his arms, thereby closing his pores, depriving him of oxygen and causing him to gas.

The next Tito in danger?

Sorry, I can’t bet on someone like that.

There’s another fight on HBO. Miguel Cotto, the heir apparent to Felix "Tito" Trinidad Jr. as Puerto Rico’s next big boxing star, defends his WBOgus junior welterweight title. Cotto was to have defended against Italy’s Gianluca Branco, a nothing who was beaten by Arturo Gatti for the WBC title eventually won by Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Branco was no match for Cotto, but thankfully he’s gone and has been replaced by Ricardo Torres, an undefeated Colombian slugger who, despite being ranked No. 1 by the WBO, may be a danger. Since he’s an unknown danger, kind of like a reef, I prefer not to go sailing in these waters. If I did find a line on this fight, I wouldn’t touch it.