Saturday, March 8, 2008 Updated: March 9, 2:12 PM ET
Peter stops Maskaev, claims portion of heavyweight championship
By Dan Rafael ESPN.com
CANCUN, Mexico -- Sam Peter was a man on a mission.
After waiting impatiently for 16 months for a mandatory shot at Oleg Maskaev, Peter gave the bulls the night off on Saturday at the Plaza de Toros, the city's main bullring, and put on his own hard-charging show as he stopped Maskaev with a violent sixth-round flurry to claim a heavyweight world championship.
It was a dominant performance, one Peter hopes sets up an eventual rematch with unified titleholder Wladimir Klitschko, who handed him his only defeat in a 2005 title eliminator in which Peter scored three knockdowns.
"I'm ready to fight him tomorrow. I'm the best heavyweight of the world. We will knock him out," Peter said of Klitschko.
Peter, right, used a variety of hooks and crosses to finish a groggy Maskaev.
Peter passed the time waiting for the shot at Maskaev by winning two eliminators against James Toney and then an interim title against Jameel McCline after Maskaev pulled out of their fight last fall with a back injury.
Peter made Maskaev pay dearly when they finally met in a fight that was far more pleasing than the Klitschko-Sultan Ibragimov unification snoozefest two weeks ago.
They fought at a deliberate pace early on, jabbing each other and occasionally throwing mean-spirited right hands before the action picked up.
It turned wild in the third round when Peter nearly knocked Maskaev out. He wobbled him and staggered him as he battered him around the ring, landing more than a dozen punches. But Maskaev stayed upright and came back to hurt Peter with a hard left hand that buckled Peter's knees.
Peter rocked Maskaev with a right early in the fifth, just as the public address announcer finished announcing the scores through four rounds in the bout fought under the WBC's open scoring system. Peter led on all three cards, 40-36, 39-37 and 39-37.
In the sixth, Peter hurt Maskaev again and had him reeling around the ring.
A brutal right hand connected flush on Maskaev during a sustained flurry, and he fell back toward the ropes while Peter (30-1, 23 KOs) threw incessant punches.
This time, Maskaev (34-6, 26 KOs) was in much worse shape than in the third round, and referee Lupe Garcia had no choice but to stop it at 2:56 as the packed house of about 7,000 cheered.
Maskaev did not dispute the stoppage.
"He didn't knock me out. He shook me and he knocked me back, and the referee did the right thing," Maskaev said. "I hurt him a few times, but I wasn't able to finish."
Without politics of sanctioning organizations, Peter's win would set up the obvious rematch with Klitschko.
However, nothing is that simple in boxing. Although HBO, media and fans searching for an undisputed champion would like to see the rematch, it's not in the cards for the time being.
Wladimir's big brother, oft-injured former titleholder Vitali Klitschko, is first in line for a shot, courtesy of a WBC ruling last year that made him the immediate mandatory, even though he hasn't fought in more than three years.
Vitali's handlers were at the fight and spent part of the week speaking to Peter promoter Dino Duva about making the fight this summer.
"Samuel respects the WBC, and if they tell us we have to fight Vitali, we are ready to begin negotiations tomorrow," Duva said. "We will do whatever the WBC says. Samuel will honor it, but our goal is to unify the titles."
With a Peter-Vitali Klitschko likely, that leaves Wladimir to face one of his mandatory challengers, either Alexander Povetkin or Tony Thompson, this summer instead of further unifying a fractured division that has not had a universally recognized champion since Lennox Lewis' retirement in 2004.
Still, the Peter camp was overjoyed with the victory.
"We finally proved our point," said Ivaylo Gotzev, Peter's manager. "No doubt, Samuel is the most exciting heavyweight in the business. (Wladimir Klitschko) fights with fear, and my guy fights like a lion. He doesn't mind taking a shot to deliver his shot. He showed you that tonight. We will do big things. Vitali is obviously on the horizon.
"Hopefully, he will step up to the plate and make the fight happen. That will set up a great unification fight with his pussycat little brother."
Peter said he was not concerned about having to fight Vitali before a possible rematch with Wladimir.
"I'm going to get [the rematch] because I'm going to beat his brother," Peter said.
The rematch is probably the biggest money fight in the division today, and Peter helped its marketability with his performance against Maskaev.
Maskaev, 39, who made $1.7 million, was defending his 18-month reign for only the second time, and the rust showed as his 12-fight winning streak ended.
"Yes, probably [the time off hurt]," Maskaev said. "But that's not the reason why he hurt me. He was hitting me with too many punches. I will be back. My team and I will talk and we'll get a few fights together. I can't blame anybody. It was all my fault. My trainer [Victor Valle] did a good job training me, and I failed."
Peter, who earned $1.4 million, became the first heavyweight titleholder from Nigeria. As sweat continued to pour off his body, he smiled when asked about the future.
"I beat Toney twice; I can beat anyone," he said. "All of them are going down."
Dan Rafael is ESPN.com's boxing writer.