Peter seeking to make powerful statement vs. Toney
Samuel Peter once favored soccer over boxing in his native Nigeria. When he knocked out his first sparring partner in 1995, that all changed, Michael Woods writes.
Power, the ability to render a man unconscious with one mighty launch of an oversized fist, is Nigerian heavyweight Samuel Peter's greatest attribute in the ring. Peter's gift of being able to knock a man senseless was apparent from his first venture in the boxing arena.
The year was 1995.
Nigeria's Peter, who will step into a ring in Los Angeles on Saturday night with fistic wizard James Toney, a man who has never been knocked out in 77 professional bouts, was a student at a secondary school in his native Akwa Ibom.
His foe on that day was a kid they called "Chemical," because typically, the kid was a true badass, totally toxic to his foes.
Not on this day.
Peter actually favored soccer over any other sport as a youth, KO'd Chemical in the first round of their sparring session.
Soccer, immediately, was put to the back of the line.
The teen with the gifted fists immersed himself fully in the sport, successfully moving up the amateur ladder all the way to the 2000 Olympics. He competed in Sydney as a super heavyweight, losing in the second round to Italian Paolo Vidoz, who fought his way to the final before losing to Audrey Harrison, the British entrant.
Manager Ivaylo Gotzev, who oversaw the career of cruiserweight champion Vassiliy Jirov, scouted Peter in Sydney and signed him. The Nigerian, now 25, packed up and left the most populous African country for the U.S. He settled in Las Vegas on Gotzev's advice, because the manager knew the lead-fisted heavyweight could secure adequate sparring in Vegas, the fight capital of the world.
Buzz on the knockout-minded Nigerian started to percolate in 2004 and Peter's nasty KO of capable vet Jeremy Williams on Showtime prompted a flurry of activity in online chat rooms. It was scary knockout that left Williams in another world, splayed out on the canvas; he did get to his feet after a few moments but that was it for Williams. After 47 pro bouts, he called it a day and is now training boxers on "The Contender" on ESPN.
No one has managed to do it yet.
Seventy-seven fights, four losses, none by KO.
Nobody has had the correct combination to unlock James Toney's chin.
Roy Jones Jr. hit Toney with two left hooks in the third round of their 1994 beef and was awarded a knockdown en route to winning the IBF super middleweight crown. But if you watch the video, you'll see that the punches may have been aided by Jones stepping on Toney's front foot. And, while Toney is sent to the ropes, nothing but the soles of his feet touch the canvas.
Southpaw Reggie Johnson, though, definitively sent Toney to the canvas in the second round of their 1991 scrap for Toney's IBF middleweight belt, which Toney won by decision. It was a hard, straight, lead left that floored Toney.
But that was 15 years ago and since then, heavyweights Hasim Rahman, Dominick Guinn, John Ruiz, Rydell Booker, Evander Holyfield and hard-hitting cruiserweight Vassiliy Jirov couldn't put Toney down or away.
Still, Peter's power is a step up from those pugilists. So one might think the prudent tactic would be to slip and move and stay away from Peter's power shots? Toney will do no such thing, his manager John Arthur says.
"James don't respect nobody's power," he says.
"We hope Peter keeps his word and tries to knock James out and stands and fights. James don't run from nobody."
The search for the next great heavyweight is a perennial one, right up their with the hunt for Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and Paris Hilton's talent, so hardcore fight fans followed Peter's progress eagerly.
Peter took two steps up in 2005, when he met Wladimir Klitschko, the 6-foot-6 Ukrainian who had been advertised as the future of the sport before his progress was rudely halted by unheralded South African Corrie Sanders in 2003. Peter tested the china-chinned Klitschko repeatedly and knocked the Eastern Euro to the canvas three times in their scrap. Klitschko boxed smartly in those rounds that he didn't get bludgeoned to the mat and came away with a unanimous 12-round decision.
Peter's stock actually rose with the loss. He went 12 rounds, which naysayers who pointed to his cushioned belly didn't think he could muster.
But Toney, the Michigan-born former middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and cruiserweight champion, is quite different than Klitschko.
Toney has forgotten more than most pros have ever learned. His mere shoulder, which he uses to shield his chin, is as effective as King Arthur's vaunted shield. He rolls it this way to dissuade a foe from lunching a volley, rolls it that way to feint his own offering. Can Peter, who undeniably does own a potent left hook and damaging overhand right, catch the wily 38-year old at Staples Center?
"September 2nd, Toney is going to see," Peter told ESPN.com. "Everybody is going to see."
One area in which Peter (26-1, 22 knockouts) already has proved his mettle is during the prefight hype wars. Toney (69-4-3, 43 knockouts) has done his very best to get into the Nigerian's head, aiming racist and profane blasts at Peter during a series of conference calls. He made faux-Aborigine clicking sounds during one call and promised to send the man back to Africa.
Peter replied firmly, holding his ground in the barb-fest but never let his blood pressure rise to Bobby Knight numbers.
"That talk does not anger me," he says. "Anybody can talk. I do my talking in the ring."
Peter, who is a congenial sort with friends and confidants, is much more reserved with the press. But he did offer ESPN.com a confident call of Saturday's outcome.
"I'm going to knock Toney out in four rounds," he says.
That is a Nicolay Valuev-level tall order.
Toney has never been knocked out as a pro. Peter's people are well aware of this fact and have made sure that trainer Pops Anderson has been working on boxing skills and strategies in case the Peter power doesn't phase Toney. Manager Gotzev promises that his man possesses more traits beyond the concussive force and will display them on Saturday.
"Sam wants to knock people out but that has prevented people from seeing his boxing ability," Gotzev says. "He has lots of skills, quick hands, great boxing moves.
"Toney's ring savvy will bring out the best in Sam," he says. "[Peter] will have to hit a difficult target, will have to punish the body, be methodical, chop, chop, chop."
Peter, though, is a headhunter, as Gotzev well knows. What if he reverts to form, and forgets to target Toney's softer segments?
"If he just targets the head, that would go against everything we worked on in camp," Gotzev says. "If Sam does that, that's on him."
"But headhunting is the most fun for him, he's a natural born killer, that's what killers do, they take the head off."
Michael Woods, the news editor for TheSweetScience.com, has written for ESPN The Magazine, GQ and the New York Observer.