Sunday, April 02, 2023  |


First fight with Peter was turning point for Klitschko

Fighters Network

The career of some fighters can turn in a moment. Wladimir Klitschko’s moment might’ve been the 12th round of his fight against Samuel Peter in 2005 in Atlantic City, N.J.

Klitschko, who faces Peter again on Saturday in Frankfurt, had struggled before that fateful round – both in his career and in that fight. He was knocked out in two of his previous six fights, by Corrie Sanders in 2003 and Lamon Brewster in ’04, and was down three times against Peter through 10 rounds.

The big Ukrainian had the size and skills to dominate the division, it seemed, but something was wrong. His chin? His stamina? His mental toughness? All of the above?

We all had a sensation of d├®j├á vu when Klitschko hit the canvas twice in the fifth round and once more in the 10th against Peter. He survived this time, though, and had the energy to win the 11th round by outboxing and frustrating a rushing Peter.

Going into 12th round, with the fight in doubt because of the knock downs, Klitschko had three more minutes to demonstrate against a then-fearsome opponent what kind of fighter he truly was. Three minutes.

“You can’t get more dramatic than that,” said trainer Emanuel Steward, whose first fight with Klitschko was the loss to Brewster. “ÔǪ That was the most-tense and emotional 12th round I’ve ever experienced. I felt Wladimir was ahead on points but the biggest question in everyone’s mind ÔǪ was, ‘Can he make it through the last three minutes?’ Vitali Klitschko, being the big brother, asked me, ‘Can he make it?’

“I said, ‘He’ll be OK.’ Not only was he OK but he ended up having Peter out on his feet.”

Klitschko was actually rocked early in the final round but once again survived to hurt Peter and finish the fight on his feet as the victor. All three cards were the same: 114-111, meaning Klitschko had won nine of the 12 rounds.

Just as important, Klitschko chipped away at the doubts. His chin? He was knocked down and hurt but got up. His stamina? He was on his feet at the end of a grueling fight. His mental toughness? He was as determined as any fighter could’ve been that night.

The rest of the story supports those conclusions. Klitschko is 9-0 (with eight knockouts) since the Peter fight. All his perceived weaknesses seem to be in the distant past, as if they belonged to a different fighter. Today, five years later, he seems to be all but unbeatable and might have hall of fame credentials.

Klitschko doesn’t like to revisit the dark days, dancing around questions about what went wrong and what has changed. He once asked over lunch in Los Angeles why boxing writers continue to bring up his setbacks, as if they didn’t exist.

In the end, though, he said it’s all fairly simple.

“The guy fighting five years ago had not so much knowledge about the sport of boxing that I have today. That’s probably one of the differences I can mention,” he said.

Klitschko (54-3, 48 knockouts) said he always believed in himself, though, even during the worst times.

Still, the fact he survived the tribulations of the Peter fight, which undoubtedly raised whatever self doubt might’ve existed in his psyche, and won a convincing decision was certainly an important step in his career.

Steward said it even went beyond that.

“The first fight when he fought Samuel Peter I think probably was the most-crucial event in Klitschko’s career,” he said. “ÔǪ I think in the last three, four fights prior to the Brewster fight he was probably knocked down six times or something. It was a very emotional time in his life, not just in his career. ÔǪ Everyone around him, except me and him, had given up on him. ÔǪ During the fight – we watched it again yesterday – you could see what he went through. You’ll notice the knockdowns, two weren’t clean knockdowns, you saw the expression his face. You could see the emotional drama ÔǪ whether to get up, being embarrassed, thinking, ‘Maybe I’m finished.’ A lot of drama.

“Then he came out in the 12th round and had Sam Peter out with a left hook. It was a turning point in his life. It was more than just a fight.”

Steward and Klitschko, THE RING champion, expressed a great deal of respect for Peter but sounded more like promoters than trainer and fighter.

Peter (34-3-, 27 KOs) is lucky to have the opportunity, which fell into his lap when Alexander Povetkin decided against taking on this monumental challenge.

The “Nigerian Nightmare” seems to have declined the past few years. He was pummeled by Vitali Klitschko in October 2008 and, looking listless, was outpointed by Eddie Chambers the following March. He has regrouped to score four straight knockouts since the Chambers loss but none of his opponents are recognizable. Thus, few give him much of a chance against Klitschko.

And it wouldn’t matter even if he were as good as he was that night in 2005. Why? Because he’s not facing the same Klitschko.

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]