Commentary

Peter vs. V. Klitschko: Breaking down the Berlin brawl

So far, so good. Less than a week before Vitali Klitschko steps into the ring against Sam Peter and still no injuries. Eric Raskin reminds fight fans that Klitschko isn't out of the clear just yet, however.

Originally Published: October 6, 2008
By Eric Raskin | ESPN.com

Samuel PeterAndreas Rentz/Getty ImagesSam Peter, above, can only hold his breath and hope Vitali Klitschko can stay healthy in the days before their clash in Berlin.
In each man's previous fight, Vitali Klitschko and Samuel Peter weighed 250 and 250¾ pounds, respectively.

In 68 combined fights, they've scored 57 combined knockouts.

These are big men who punch the way big men are supposed to.

But that won't stop The Monday Hook from going small to preview their fight this Saturday night in Berlin, Germany.

There are numerous story lines worth watching for heading into this highly intriguing and consequential showdown, so rather than focus on one large angle, here are quick-hit looks at five Peter versus Klitschko subplots -- starting with the most basic of questions: Will Peter versus Klitschko actually happen?

1. Handle with care

There's less than a week to go until the opening bell and Klitschko hasn't pulled out with an injury yet, meaning one of three things: He's already injured but has made a promise to himself not to cancel the fight for anything short of decapitation; he's going to get injured sometime this week; or he's actually going to make it into the ring healthy Saturday.

It's the middle possibility that has the boxing world on edge. Call us overly apprehensive, but when a guy pulled out of the same fight four times in 2005 and retired from the sport, then announced his comeback in January '07 but, 21 months later, still hasn't had a comeback fight, we take on a "we'll believe it when we see it" mindset.

"The injuries are in the past," Klitschko said during a recent conference call. "I feel healthy and I don't think about it."

Well, sorry to tell you, Vitali, but we do.

The plan for the final week of preparation should be simple: No sparring. No shadowboxing. No jumping rope. No running on the pavement. No running on the treadmill. No running with scissors. No sit-ups. No push-ups. No standing up too quickly. No sitting down on anything uncushioned. No showering on slippery surfaces. No eating anything spicy. And of course, no swimming within 30 minutes after eating.

Follow those rules, and maybe Sam Peter versus Vitali Klitschko will become a reality.

2. A lot can change in four years

Klitschko's last fight was an eighth-round TKO of Danny Williams on Dec. 11, 2004. That's a hiatus of exactly 46 months leading up to Saturday's showdown with Peter.

[+] EnlargeVitali Klitschko and Danny Williams
AP Photo/Eric JamisonThe last time we saw Vitali Klitschko in the ring was in December 2004, when he wiped the canvas for eight rounds with Danny Williams.
It's not quite the same thing as Muhammad Ali's 43-month layoff in his prime on account of a political stance, but just as we never saw the same Ali again after his exile, we may never see the same Vitali again.

He's 37 years old now, after all. And he isn't making it easy on himself by tuning up against a stiff; he's challenging the man ranked by both ESPN.com and The Ring magazine as the No. 2 heavyweight out there.

In terms of historical precedent, there have been four occasions when a former heavyweight champion ended a retirement by immediately challenging for a title.

James J. Jeffries got crushed by Jack Johnson after being out of the game for 71 months. Joe Louis lost convincingly to Ezzard Charles following a 27-month retirement. Ali got stopped by Larry Holmes after being off 25 months. And Holmes was abused by Mike Tyson when he came back after a 21-month absence.

Forty-six months is a long time. And history is not on Klitschko's side.

3. Peter's tall tales

Pugilistic history might be working against Klitschko, but Peter is facing something more daunting: personal history. Against unusually tall heavyweights, The Nigerian Nightmare has mostly struggled.

[+] EnlargeSamuel Peter
Marty Rosengarten/Ringsidephotos.com Sam Peter had his difficulties with the much taller Jameel McCline.
Peter will be giving away seven inches in height to the 6-foot-7 ½ Klitschko. He gave up six to Wladimir Klitschko in 2005, and suffered the only defeat of his career. He gave up the same amount to Jameel McCline in October '07 and was knocked down and nearly out before McCline remembered his role as the division's most ineffective finisher.

On the other hand, Peter gave up 13 inches to Julius Long in April '06 and turned him from a 7-footer to a 1-footer in just 2 minutes, 35 seconds.

Then again, Long has also been knocked out by Tye Fields and Audley Harrison. Beating him is an accomplishment akin to filling in your name correctly on the SATs.

Against the two quality fighters he has faced who approach the "giant" designation, Peter has had the two worst nights of his pro career.

Peter's people insist he's a better, more complete fighter now than he was when he lost to Wladimir.

"You saw the fight against Wladimir. You saw the fight against McCline. You can decide," responded Vitali.

4. A bro-ken record

"On Oct. 11, we will have two heavyweight champions with the name Klitschko," Bernd Boente, the Klitschkos' longtime manager, recently said.

[+] EnlargeVitali and Wladimir Klitschko
AP Photo/Efrem LukatskyDo fight fans really want to see brothers Wladimir, left, and Vitali reign as heavyweight champions? We think not.
We're going on a full decade now of hearing about how Vitali and Wladimir's goal is to become the first brother combination in history to hold heavyweight titles at the same time, and I have a two-word response: Who cares?

Throughout the great majority of heavyweight history, it was impossible for two brothers to hold heavyweight titles at the same time because there was only one heavyweight title.

It's like when you hear a modern fighter brag that he has won titles in five or six different divisions. It's a nice accomplishment, but do you think Henry Armstrong, Harry Greb and Sugar Ray Robinson couldn't have reigned in that many divisions if (A) there were 17 divisions back in their day and (B) you could beat guys nobody had ever heard of to win random title belts back then?

That the Klitschkos are aiming to both be "heavyweight champion of the world" at the same time is little more than a reminder to the general public of everything that's wrong with the sport. So let's stop ramming this angle down everyone's throat as if it means anything.

5. Sam, I am … counting on you

Expanding on the previous argument, what the heavyweight division needs more than anything right now is a singular champion.

Wouldn't that make the public more willing to follow the heavyweights than being told that Wladimir Klitschko is the IBF and WBO "champ," Peter is the WBC "champ," Vitali Klitschko is the WBC's "champion emeritus," Nicolay Valuev is the WBA "champ" and Ruslan Chagaev is the WBA's "champion in recess"?

Unfortunately, if Vitali wins on Saturday, that makes the crowning of a single, universally recognized champ temporarily impossible.

The Klitschko brothers will never fight each other, and if you think that's a positive development for the sport, ask yourself how happy football fans would have been if the Patriots and Giants had never played in Super Bowl XLII and instead just agreed that they both get to call themselves champions.

If Peter wins, there's a realistic chance he can fight Wladimir again with three alphabet belts and the vacant Ring belt on the line.

If big brother Klitschko wins, there's no chance of clarity in the near future.

Members of the media aren't supposed to root for one fighter or another, at least not openly.

But rooting for Peter on Saturday night isn't about rooting for one fighter over the other.

It's about rooting for the sport. It's about rooting for the once-proud heavyweight division to take a small step toward respectability again.

Eric Raskin is a contributing editor for, and former managing editor of, The Ring magazine.