Peter overcomes three knockdowns to retain title over McCline

NEW YORK -- Opportunity knocked at Madison Square Garden for Jameel McCline Saturday night. He declined to answer.

Despite dropping WBC interim heavyweight champion Samuel Peter once at the end of the second round and twice in a third round in which Peter tumbled around the ring like he was wearing roller skates, McCline found a way to lose a unanimous decision and his fourth shot at the heavyweight title by an almost impossibly wide margin.

Judge Billy Costello scored the fight 115-110. Judge Steve Weisfeld had it 115-111 and judge Julie Lederman scored the bout 113-112. No one, including McCline, disputed the scores. ESPN's card had Peter winning as well, 115-111, with Peter sweeping the final nine rounds after twice pulling himself off the canvas in Round 3.

"I let him get away," McCline said sadly after the decision was announced. "I could have finished him. I should have finished him but I didn't.

"I thought I had it but he got away. That's why he's still the champion."

That was one reason. The other was McCline's odd refusal to move his hands after Peter rose with 1:47 to go in Round 3 after a right hand to the chin sent him toppling forward onto his hands and knees.

Peter was wobbling when he got up and McCline patiently measured him before sending him to the floor a second time behind three straight left jabs with right hands after them. That final combination jolted the champion and sent him flat on the seat of his powder blue trunks with 57 seconds still to go in what was probably the biggest round of Jameel McCline's career.

But Peter (29-1, 22 KO) pulled himself back up again and despite still moving as if walking across a sheet of ice on a frozen sidewalk, McCline oddly began to retreat.

Perhaps he was punched out. Perhaps he thought he was being patient. Perhaps he had too often studied Peter's similarly odd performance in losing to Wladimir Klitschko -- during which Peter dropped Klitschko three times and failed to win another minute of the fight, losing the decision and an elimination bout that would have made him the mandatory challenger for the WBO title -- and ended up duplicating it.

Whatever McCline was doing, as the fight developed he was accomplishing one thing. He was blowing the biggest chance of his career.

"When I was knocked down I knew I had to stand up and defend my belt," said Peter. "I'm a champion."

The fact that he still is a champion was as much courtesy of McCline's odd refusal to throw his hands with anything resembling bad intentions for the rest of the fight as anything that Peter managed to do. The more laconic that McCline became, the more the lumbering Peter was emboldened; he used his jab and a harsh body attack that often strayed below boxing's demilitarized zone and only a few of the sizzling right hands that had knocked out so many of his earlier opponents to control the rest of the fight.

As had happened to him so often in the past, the 6-foot-6, 266-pound McCline clearly began to tire under Peter's relentless, though often ponderous, attack. His mouth began to hang agape and more and more often he would clinch and then stare over Peter's shoulder into the eyes of his chief second, Poppa Ray Drayton, as if he was a man looking for some sort of suggestion about what to do next.

Whatever Drayton told him before they left the locker room was clearly right on target, starting at the very end of Round 2 when McCline knocked Peter off-balance with his shoulder and then dropped him on his pants with a sweet, compact right hand to the chin.

Drayton had no answers after those knockdowns however, and neither did McCline. Each round he threw his jab and the straight right hand behind it that had been so instrumental in his early success less often. That allowed Peter not only to clear his head and begin to take control of the real estate, but also to no longer run the risk of again being strafed by those rights that had hurt him early. The few times McCline did land the right hand after that, it seemed to wobble Peter but not with the same kind of concussive intensity of those early blow.

After the decision was announced Peter claimed he had broken his left hand during training camp but hid the fact to the commission because he did not want to follow in the footsteps of the man he was originally supposed to be facing, WBC champion Oleg Maskaev.

Maskaev had pulled out of the fight because of herniated discs in his back. Though Peter's promoter, Dino Duva, said he had not yet seen any medical reports confirming that injury, they had agreed to accept the interim title and push on to keep the card (and Peter's payday) intact.

After three rounds it didn't appear that that was the wisest choice, but then Jameel McCline mysteriously stopped fighting. When Sam Peter refused to follow suit, the fight, and McCline's fate were sealed.

"You learn every day in life," promoter Don King said. "Like a toddler, he learned one thing tonight. He learned to get up."

Late in the final round McCline's wife appeared to be a woman who had learned a lesson as well. She learned that her husband was in trouble.

"Please, Jameel!" she screamed at ringside as her husband repeatedly declined to move his hands in anger.

As with most of what went on after Round 3, Jameel McCline did not reply.

On the undercard, former heavyweight title contender Andrew Golota (40-6-1, 33 KOs) survived a rough first round and a badly cut eye to stop Kevin McBride (34-6-1, 29 KOs) at 2:42 of the sixth round.

"Kevin surprised me," Golota said. "He was faster than I thought he'd be."

He was fast enough to rock Golota three times in the opening round but he was unable to press that advantage and as the rounds wore on, Golota's experience and superior skills took over the match until referee Arthur Mercante Jr. stepped in and ended the fight.

"He took a lot of shots," Mercante said of McBride. "He was winded. He can fight another day."

One has to wonder if the same will be true for DaVarryl Williamson (24-5, 20 KO KOs) after he was stopped by a stunning one-punch knockout by Kali Meehan (33-3, 27 KOs) ... In a WBA super welterweight elimination fight for the No. 1 ranking, former WBO junior middleweight champion Daniel Santos (31-3-1, 22 KOs) pounded aging two-time world champion Jose Rivera (38-6-1, 24 KOs) into submission at 2:50 of the eighth round, ending what had become a savagely one-sided beating.

Rivera, 34, was unable to match Santos' punching power or his speed, plodding after the 29-year-old Santos to no good end. Rivera was in trouble in the fifth round and by midway through the sixth his right eye was beginning to swell badly.

By the seventh his face was a burning crimson and his back was covered with red blotches from the number of times he had been pushed back along the ropes. As Rivera began to fade into what he later said would be his retirement, Santos pressed him, finally stunning him with a solid right hand that stiffed his legs.

Rivera tottered backward into the ropes with Santos in hot pursuit until he was finally driven to his knees, his face pressed to the canvas. Rivera bravely got up at seven and held his hands above his head, demanding to go on despite the fact that his face was now swollen and in sad disrepair. But before referee Pete Santiago made the mistake of allowing the bout to continue, Rivera's trainer John Scully mercifully climbed onto the ring apron and threw in the towel, ending both the night and very likely Rivera's career.

Ron Borges, who has won numerous Boxing Writers Association of America awards, covers boxing for HBO.com and for Boxing Monthly.