Two years ago, Samuel Peter's boxing career flatlined on a stool in Berlin. His reign as WBC heavyweight champion was over, with Vitali Klitschko having battered the bulky Nigerian for eight rounds until Peter could no longer summon the strength to continue.
The end seemingly came four months later, when a flabby, out-of-shape Peter, fighting at a career-high 265 pounds, lost a majority decision to Eddie Chambers, a top American heavyweight (in these times, though, that label isn't saying much).
At 28, Peter was through. Or so we thought. Top Rank, which hasn't been a player in the heavyweight division in recent years, believed it could revive Peter's career. So it signed Peter to a promotional contract and paired him with Abel Sanchez, a capable strategist who has guided world champions Terry Norris and Orlin Norris. Big Bear, Calif., became Peter's new home, where Sanchez has emphasized the jab and tried to morph a brawler into a boxer.
"I have been with Sam now since last May," Sanchez said in a recent conference call. "The dedication has been the big difference I have seen in Sam. I have been able to keep him in the gym six or seven days a week. I think in the past he has allowed outside sources to distract him and he had a lack of commitment, but I think his time, to me, it has changed."
With Sanchez in his corner, Peter (34-3) has returned to his winning ways. The competition hasn't been stiff -- Marcus McGee, Ronald Bellamy, Gabe Brown and Nagy Aguilera collect checks solely to help rebuild confidence and careers -- but Peter's trademark ferociousness has returned. Each of his last four fights has ended in a knockout and none has lasted beyond the fourth round.
"Before, I rushed myself in everything I did," Peter said. "But now I don't rush. I take everything the way it comes."
And in a sport filled with second chances, Peter is going to get his. Five years ago, Peter was involved in one of the most exciting heavyweight fights in recent memory, a loss by unanimous decision to Wladimir Klitschko. The excitement came courtesy of Peter, who knocked Klitschko down three times.
On Saturday, Peter will get a shot at redemption when he challenges the younger Klitschko (54-3) for his WBO and IBF titles in Frankfurt, Germany (ESPN3.com, 5 p.m. ET). Not because he is worthy, mind you. David Haye is the WBA champion, but he has proved to be more bark than bite. Alexander Povetkin, the No. 1 contender, is worthy, too, but he doesn't want to be at a news conference, much less a fight, with Klitschko. (Povetkin had been scheduled to fight Klitschko on Saturday but never showed for the official announcement in July and withdrew.)
That leaves Peter, a fighter with a questionable résumé but a still prominent name. Peter's popularity stems from his power. Heavy-handed, he has proved capable of ending a fight with one punch, the kind of intrigue Team Klitschko is looking for to sell tickets and, hopefully, attract an American audience.
"Tickets sales in the weeks leading up to the fight have been really strong," said Tom Loeffler, managing director of K2 Promotions. "Sam is perceived as a very dangerous opponent. He had Klitschko down three times and has tremendous punching power. Sam has 27 KOs and Wladimir has 48 KOs, and that's 75 KOs between the two of them. They are both really big hitters, and in the first fight, Sam was a favorite to beat him."
Peter, of course, will be a heavy underdog this time around. Klitschko has barely lost a round, much less a fight, since his backyard brawl with Peter and has established himself as the top heavyweight of this era.
Peter, however, is not impressed. He sees a vulnerability in Klitschko's chin and doubts that five years has made it stronger.
"He has not improved [since '05]," Peter said. "He is still right, right, left, right. Jab, left hook. He doesn't improve. This time it will be different. ... There will not be a decision this time around. This time he will not get up from my left hook. I am ready and I am prepared and I will not need a referee or a judge."
Still, doubts about Peter remain. Boxing has seen fighters rejuvenate their careers on the backs of journeyman before. Roy Jones. Evander Holyfield. Going into this fight, Peter is short on believers. It's on him to change their minds.