Sunday March 9th, 2008

The call came last week, just as I was boarding a plane to Salt Lake City. On the other end of the line was Bernd Boente, the top-flight manager for IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko and his brother, former WBC champion Vitali Klitschko.

Boente was calling to offer his comments on my recent piece in Sports Illustrated, in which I roundly criticized Wladimir after his win over Sultan Ibragimov for deferring the right to face the WBC champion to Vitali (and thereby an opportunity to unify another piece of the heavyweight championship). It was a decision that virtually guarantees that Wladimir won't fight for a title in 2008.

"We thought [the story] could have been a little better," said Boente. "But we thought it was fair -- and probably true."

That's the unfortunate part. It is true. Saturday night's WBC heavyweight title fight, in which Samuel Peter demolished Oleg Maskaev with a sixth-round TKO, should have signaled the start of Wladimir's campaign for another belt. The fight was a coming out party for Peter, who afterwards asked "who's next" and erroneously declared himself the undisputed heavyweight champ.

The storylines for Peter-Wladimir Klitschko are all there. In 2005, Klitschko was dropped three times before rallying to win a unanimous decision over Peter, hanging the first loss on the Nigerian champion. In that fight Peter was the heavier puncher but it was Klitschko who was the better boxer, scoring points against Peter with pinpoint precision.

Since that time both fighters have changed. Peter answered some questions with his decisive win over Maskaev, but his questionable performance against journeyman Jameel McLine last October still lingers. Klitschko, meanwhile, has blossomed under the tutelage of Manny Steward, becoming the best jabber in boxing while showcasing superior power with his right hand. Klitschko would be favored in a fight against Peter but it would come with the caveat that Peter was capable of ending the fight at any moment.

Sadly, it may never happen. Negotiations between Peter (who is under Don King's umbrella) and Vitali Klitschko will probably be prolonged. There is no love lost between the King and the Klitschkos, who view King as an impediment to any big-time fight that might involve his fighter losing a title. A Peter-Vitali Klitschko matchup probably won't happen until the end of the year and if Vitali, who hasn't fought since 2004, wins that title will be lost to Wladimir. Fun as it is to speculate about, the Klitschkos will never step in the ring with each other. The WBA title, the other recognized belt currently held by Ruslan Chagaev, is tied up as well with Chagaev slated to fight a rematch against 7-0 Nicolay Valuev later this year.

The Klitschkos need to have a meeting of the minds. Vitali Klitschko's time has come and gone. He grabbed the spotlight in an epic battle with Lennox Lewis in 2003. And he deserved it. But it's Wladimir's time now. There is only room for one Klitschko at the top of the heavyweight division.

Maskaev probably fought his final title fight. Injuries have prevented the 39-year old from fighting for two years and a lackluster performance against Peter probably ended his career, or at least dumped him back into the journeyman category. ... Since when is Cancun a boxing hot spot? Granted, I would have been more than willing to travel to the Mexican vacation haven to cover the fight (remember that, SI boxing editor Rich O'Brien) instead of watching it from Boston with a handful of my friends, but it seemed like a peculiar location for a heavyweight title fight. Perhaps that's an indicator of how far boxing has fallen in the eyes of the American public. ... Memo to Michael Buffer: I don't know why you weren't at this fight, but don't ever miss another. If you do, Jim Lampley might lose his mind. Lampley repeatedly lampooned the rookie ring announcer, who admittedly looked a little out of his element. But he did bring it up ... a lot. Little weird.

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