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Samuel Peter-Nigerian Nightmare


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The last noteworthy heavyweight out of Africa so far, the still-unproven Efe Ajagba notwithstanding, Samuel Peter was one of the last small heavyweights to win a world title, however holding it briefly. Peter stands 6’1 but was always very stocky and bearlike, and also possessed true punching power. However, his defense was always his great vulnerability and it led him to losing some key fights. Later he burned out and lost many fights, most by knockout. 

Samuel Okon Peter was born on 6 September 1980, in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria. Young Samuel first played football, before being introduced to boxing as 11-yearold. He started boxing as amateur after that and was the national and 3 time African Zone heavy champion. He qualified to represent his country at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and advanced to quarterfinals, losing to Paolo Vidoz on points. Vidoz was older and more experienced, so Peter’s performance was considered impressive. After the Olympics, Peter was signed by manager Ivaylo Gotzev and was trained by Andy “Pops” Anderson. He made his pro debut on 6 February 2001 against Bulgarian Georgi Hristov and won by KO1. After winning seven fights that year, he was signed by Dino Duva of the famous Duva boxing family. 

In 2004, he was brought up in the level of competition and faced and beat Charles Shufford and Jovo Pudar, both by UD10,  before facing the knockout artist Jeremy Williams on 4 December and producing his first signature victory by knocking Williams out with a single left hook early in round 2. Williams was still considered a dangerous opponent, so this victory brought Peter up in the rankings. He also confidently predicted before the fight he would win by early ko. On 22 January next year, he faced Cuban expatriate Yanqui Diaz, a 6’4 fighter who held a great upset victory against Juan Carlos Gomez. The IBF USBA title was on the line and Peter again impressed, knocking the taller guy down five times before the fight ended by TKO5 in his favor. After scoring two more easier knockout wins, Peter was now 24-0 with 21 ko’s and ready to challenge the best. 

He got to fight the guy who back then was on a comeback trail after long being considered a future great but since losing twice: Wladimir “Dr Steelhammer” Klitschko. The two faced off on 24 September ‘05 at Boardwalk Hall, AC. Klitschko, being much taller and with a significant reach advantage, tagged Peter constanty in the early rounds, while Peter rocked him in round 3 with a left hook and again hurt him with a lef hook in round 5, before sending him with a follow up punch that looked like a rabbit punch. Klitschko was known for his vulnerabililty to punchers, especially smaller and faster ones. As he got up, Peter charged at him and put him down again with a punch to the back. WK mounted a comeback, but Peter remained dangerous and in round 10 he dropped him for the third time with two right hands. In round 12, Peter walked into a left hook and was wobbled, but made it out of the round. In the end, Klitschko was proclaimed as the winner with the unanimous score of 114-111. Despite losing, he gave Klitschko one of his toughest fights and did the most eyecatching stuff. 

His next big fight was against a former middleweight, James Toney. Thus, for a rare occasion, Peter was the bigger taller man. The prefight conferences were marked by animosities between the camps and Toney with his famous or infamous trashtalk increased the tensions, but Peter remained reserved and composed. The fight itself happened on 2 September 2006 at Staples Center and was very entertaining. Toney’s skills made the fight competitive, but Peter landed more punches and was the main aggressor thruout. He also hurt Toney more than once but was unable to get him out of there due to Toney’s toughness and defensive abilities. In the end, one judge curiously had it 115-112 for Toney, but the other two had it 116-111 for Peter. Peter lost one point for rabbit punching in the ninth. However, some people thought Toney was the real winner, according to The Washington Post, who scored it 114-113 for him, so a rematcn was mandated. It happened on 6 January 2007 at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood and Peter scored a knockdown in round 2 with a left jab, becoming one of the few to knock Toney down. He dominated the fight clearly this time and won by the scores of 119-108 and 118-110 twice. Thus, he halted Toney’s heavyweight crusade effectively. 

He then faced another giant like Klitschko, 6’6 Jameel McCline, who however didn’t possess the same power. He still managed to drop Peter three times, twice in round 2 and once in the 3rd. The fight happened 6 October ‘07 at Madison Square Garden and was for the interim WBC title. Peter rebounded from the knockdowns to take control of the fight and in the end won by scores of 115-110, 113-112 and 115-111. He could now finally challenge for the full WBC title and faced the aging Kazakhstan-born Russian Oleg Maskaev, who won the title by stopping Hasim Rahman. They faced off on 8 March ‘08 in Cancun, Mexico and Peter, younger by 11 years, simply overpowered Maskaev (who had just turned 39) and stopped him with a barrage against the ropes in round 6. He thus became the first Nigerian and African world heavyweight champion, at the age of 27. 

After reaching his goal, the downward slope began fast thereafter. He called for a rematch against Wladimir Klitschko, who now held all the remaining belts, but instead got to fight his older brother Vitali, who was coming back from a 3-year retirement. Vitali was even taller than his brother at 6’8 but since he already was 37 and coming back from a retirement, nobody expected him to win. The fight was held on 11 October at the O2 Arena in Kreuzberg, Germany and Peter weighed in slightly heavier than for the previous fight. He was dominated clearly and instead of putting constant pressure on Vitali, he tried to box and was instead picked apart by the long armed challenger and ended uo retiring after 8 rounds, taking a bad beating. This marked a turning point in his career and he also lost his next bout against the slicker Eddie Chambers, fighting in Los Angeles on 27 March ‘09. The verdict was an uneven majority decision. 

He came back and scored four knockouts, last one against fringe contender Nagy Aguilera, before finally getting a rematch with Wladimir K, again in Germany, Frankfurt, 11 September 2010. Like against his brother, he was easily dominated by Wlad K and knocked out in round 10, after missing with a punch and getting nailed with a combination. He tried, but just looked slow and far from the guy he was in their first fight. Next year on 2 April, he faced another very tall fighter, Robert Helenius of Finland and opened the fight well in the first six rounds, but then tired and got knocked out in round 9. It was clear now he was past his best, but he came back to the ring in 2014 and knocked out journeyman Ron Aubrey in the first round. On 3 December 2016, he faced the strong contender Kubrat Pulev in his hometown of Sofia, Bulgaria and looked poor, quitting in his corner after 3 rounds. He kept fighting until 7 December 2019, when he was stopped by TKO1 by new prospect Arslanbek Makhmudov, at Bell Centre in Montreal.

Samuel Peter finally retired at the age of 39-way too late. He also got stopped by Hughie Fury by TKO7 before the Makhmudov fight and he should have called it quits after Pulev fight at least. His record is 38-9-0 with 31 knockouts. Despite his relatively brief time as a top fighter and champion, Peter was a force and a notable figure in heavyweight scene. His historical weight also gives him importance, as he still remains the only African-born and bred heavyweight to become a world champion. A devout Christian, Samuel doesn’t drink or smoke and he always carried himself with dignity at press conferences and in public appearances in general. A humble and hardworking warrior who simply aged too soon, and was in there against some very tough competition. A nightmare in the ring, at his best, but a delight outside of it. His victory over Maskaev was named the 26th most significant event in Nigerian sports history in 2020. But, he arrived a bit late to the scene, at a time when the heavyweights were getting increasingly dominated by very large men who fought in a rather onesided manner. Had he fought 20 years earlier, who knows…



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