03/09/2008 | 01:43 PM
CANCUN, Mexico – Samuel Peter stopped Oleg Maskaev in the final seconds of the sixth round to claim Maskaev's WBC heavyweight title with one last flurry of powerful punches on Saturday.
Peter (30-1, 23 KOs) was more potent and more poised than the 39-year-old champion in front of a lively sellout crowd at Plaza de Toros, Cancun's bullfighting ring and the unlikely site of boxing-mad Mexico's first heavyweight title fight.
The four major heavyweight titles have been dispersed among several relatively unknown Eastern Europeans in recent years, but now an African has joined them – albeit a Nigerian who lives and trains in Las Vegas.
Peter has been one of the heavyweight division's top prospects for years, with fight fans loving his pure power and sometimes reckless style. Though he still lacks some technique, he finally has a belt and a shot at bigger fights – even an eventual rematch with IBF champion Wladimir Klitschko, the only man to beat him.
Boxing's erstwhile glamour division also should get a boost from a competitive, engaging fight just two weeks after Klitschko's dull decision over Sultan Ibragimov in Madison Square Garden. Maskaev and Peter both rocked each other with tremendous punches in the third round, and Peter eventually showed the power that made him a champion.
Maskaev (34-6), who entered the ring laughing and wearing a sombrero, labored through 13 years and five knockout losses before he won the WBC title in August 2006 with a stunning 12th-round KO of Hasim Rahman, the highlight of six straight years without a defeat. He then developed several nagging injuries that limited him to one title defense since winning the belt, and no fights in the last 15 months.
He was scheduled to fight Peter in Madison Square Garden in October, but pulled out two weeks beforehand with a back injury. Peter claimed Maskaev had been ducking him for more than a year – but then Peter, after being named interim champion by the WBC, bumbled through a three-knockdown victory over substitute Jameel McCline.
After two slow opening rounds in Cancun, Peter stunned and staggered Maskaev with a prolonged burst of power punches, chasing him from one post to the next. Maskaev's knees buckled, but he stayed up – and then he knocked Peter silly with a brutal left hand moments later.
In the sixth, Peter landed a devastating right hand. Maskaev came up woozy, and Peter pursued him relentlessly, landing more than a dozen shots before the referee stepped in to protect the defenseless champion with 4 seconds left in the round.
Maskaev made $1.7 million (€1.1 million) and Peter earned US$1.4 million (€908,000) for the bout. Peter has won six straight fights since his only defeat.
Peter landed 93 of his 255 punches for a higher percentage than Maskaev, who threw eight more blows. Peter connected on 55 power shots – including a huge number in the sixth.
With his new title in hand, Peter now is expected to take on at least one of the Klitschko brothers – and possibly both. Wladimir, who unified the IBF and WBO titles last month by beating Sultan Ibragimov, has said he wants to go after all the heavyweight belts.
But he also said his brother, Vitali, should first fight the winner of Peter's bout with Maskaev. That's probably what will happen, thanks to the arcane rules of the WBC, which appointed Vitali its "emeritus champion" with the right to challenge the champ when he decides to return from his nearly 3½-year layoff.
The Klitschko camp despises King, Peter's co-promoter, but King is confident he could make a deal with Vitali if Peter wants the fight.
After Maskaev dropped out of the first fight with Peter, promoter Don King's decision to move the fight to this tropical resort city on the Mayan Riviera seemed strange to many, but more than 6,000 fans crowded into Cancun's bullfighting ring for the festivities despite the absence of any big-name Mexican boxer.
Former champion Jose Luis Castillo failed to make weight for his 140-pound (63.5-kilogram) fight against Timothy Bradley, and his undercard bout was canceled.
But hundreds of fans still gathered well before dark on the busy grounds separating the ring from a bustling main thoroughfare in downtown Cancun.
Hawkers sold everything from churros and hot dogs to headbands celebrating Julio Cesar Chavez and souvenir fight T-shirts in front of a long line for tickets. Inside, vendors walked the aisles with white buckets of beer, just as they do every Wednesday at the bull fights.
Nate Campbell posted a major upset on the undercard, winning a split decision to claim Juan Diaz's IBF, WBA, and WBO lightweight titles. Campbell, a journeyman 12 years older than the previously unbeaten Diaz, opened a nasty cut over Diaz's left eye in the sixth round, then outworked Diaz to the end. - APNews
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