By Geoffrey Ciani: When Lennox Lewis decided to vacate his IBF championship belt rather than face #1 contender, Chris Byrd, few people probably realized the significance of this move. In the aftermath of Lewis’s bout with “Iron” Mike Tyson, few thought Byrd’s slick southpaw style presented a worthwhile challenge, and Lewis was too busy trying to negotiate a rematch with Tyson—obviously interested in maximizing his dollar in the twilight of his career. How else can one explain his relentless pursuit of a Tyson rematch? I mean, how often do you see one fighter totally dominate another with the winner demanding a rematch?
In any case, when Lewis decided to relinquish the IBF portion of his heavyweight crown, the championship belts became splintered. In other words, we had no unified champion. Lewis still had the WBC title, John Ruiz held the WBA, and Chris Byrd would ultimately beat Evander Holyfield for the vacant IBF. As a side note, the less highly regarded WBO belt was then in possession of Wladimir Klitschko. Regardless, the heavyweight division has not had a unified champion since Lewis vacated the IBF belt.
How does this relate to Saturday night’s elimination bout between Sam Peter and James Toney?
Well, the simple answer is that it shouldn’t relate. Sam Peter just defeated James Toney in a WBC title eliminator—for the second time! When Peter and Toney first squared off back in September of last year, it was supposed to be a title eliminator and the winner was slated to get a crack at the WBC championship. Unfortunately for Peter, he was not awarded a title shot! Instead, he was forced to fight another title eliminator. Strangely enough, it was against Toney again, which makes absolutely no sense being neither fighter was eliminated the first time around. Be that as it may, the two fighters battled again on Saturday night, and Peter was once again victorious. In fact, he won much more convincingly this time around.
With the victory, Peter should undoubtedly get the next shot at reigning WBC champion, Oleg Maskaev. The question is, will he? The answer is, apparently not! At least if Oleg has things his way. It appears that Maskaev would rather first take on IBF champion, Wladimir Klitschko. In fact, April 21 is actually being held as a tentative date for that bout, which, if it comes to fruition, would likely take place in Moscow.
It’s difficult to blame Oleg for not wanting to fight Peter. At this stage in his career, I’m hard-pressed to imagine Maskaev standing a chance against the powerful Nigerian pugilist. Peter has a solid chin, outstanding power, and he appears to be getting better at age 26. Maskaev, on the other hand, is well past his best. Rapidly approaching 38, Maskaev—never known for his speed—is slower than ever. He telegraphs his punches and no longer has the snap he once possessed in his jab. Additionally, he’s a bit ‘chinny’, having been stopped inside the distance in all five of his professional losses. This doesn’t bode well for him against a fighter like Peter. But of course, this is boxing where anything can happen.
For Maskaev, his best bet would be a unification bout against Klitschko. For starters, it’s a bigger payday for him. Secondly, whilst I give Oleg virtually no chance against Peter, I give him just a slightly bigger chance against Klitschko, which is to say, he’d have a very slim chance. Thirdly, boxing fans have longed for a unified champion ever since the departure of Lennox Lewis, and a bout against Klitschko would be great for the sport. Indeed, the state of boxing is often dependent on the state of the heavyweight division, and it’s been in shambles ever since Lewis rescinded on his promise to have a rematch with Vitali Klitschko.
Given all the benefits of an Oleg versus Klitschko unification bout, I still believe that Samuel Peter deserves a shot against Oleg Maskaev. Why? Because he earned it! He’s already been jerked around once by the WBC, and I, for one, don’t want to see it happen again. Peter deserves a shot at Maskaev, and the WBC should mandate this happens.
As good as a unification would be for the sport, having sanctioning bodies abide by their own rules would be even better. Besides, the unification bout can always happen afterwards. If Oleg wins, it means his bout with Klitschko will have an even greater significance than it otherwise would have. Should Peter win, a much more likely scenario, then we get to see the inevitable rematch between two of boxing’s best heavyweights, only this time, it would be for a title unification bout.
Sam Peter deserves a title shot, and I hope he gets it.
This article was also published at East Side Boxing