A Nigerian Nightmare for McCline

by Jibril Sado

The ESPN match commentator described the manner of victory as “unorthodox”. You could hardly be more apt in your own description of this night at Madison Square Garden. Samuel “the Nigerian Nightmare” Peter is now the substantive WBC heavyweight champion of the world. And he is deservedly so.

When a process fails to take place in the usual (predetermined) way as most others of its kind do, you describe such a process as unorthodox or unconventional. In some way you could describe Samuel Peter’s career in such terms. He boxed his way steadily up the ladder of international boxing to the oblivion of most Nigerians until he took on Wladimir Klitschko a couple of years back. In essence, he forced us to take notice because unlike most boxers and other sportsmen from this country who would either defect to other countries to better their chances of success or become overwhelmed by lack of support from home and fall by the way side, Samuel Peter punched on gallantly while maintaining his Nigerian nationality. In taking a shot at the WBC title, most people expected him to contest – with all respect to Jameel McCline –against a more heralded opponent. But after scaling the hurdles posed by a combination of politics in international boxing and a succession of prospective opponents who developed cold feet at crucial moments, he was handed the WBC crown on an interim basis with a clause that he must (change tactics and prepare differently for an opponent he and the world, core boxing followers apart, hardly knew) defend the title in less than three weeks.

In the build-up to the Peter v McCline match up, if there was one thing Nigerians and other Samuel Peter supporters were apprehensive about, it was not whether Peter could punch heavy enough, for he possesses arguably the heaviest punch in world pugilism currently. What left us all edgy was the relative “unknown-ness” of McCline and the surprise package that often comes with such a status. And early on in the October 6, 2007 bout, McCline showed that if Peter and his supporters were bent on having some sort of party at his expense, he (McCline) was darn good at (attempting to) gate-crashing one. Enthusiastic, quick, sharp and straight-to-the-point, he threatened to put the bout to bed even before Peter could believe it had started. Samuel Peter had too few answers to McCline’s display of raw energy.

Three times in the 12-round bout Peter hit the canvass (was floored by the power of his opponent’s punch). But three times the Samuel Peter in him, the Nigerian in him picked him up back on his feet. In the end, this may have surprised McCline himself. It is not everyday you find boxers who can survive the canvass twice and even fewer can dream of surviving it a third time. But “the Nigerian Nightmare” did more than survive the canvass three times. His survival and recovery overwhelmed his opponent in the end and his (Peter’s) punches (slow they might have been in coming) did the rest to influence a unanimous decision by the panel of three judges to hand him the WBC belt on a substantive ground with a score of 115-110, 115-111 and 113-112 respectively.

But in every sense, this was not a spectacular bout or victory. At best, it was, as the match commentator described it, a “lackluster” heavyweight fight. In truth, Peter was ‘clumsy’, and so was his opponent. But the Nigerian managed to be more efficient, which his opponent was not. In the end Peter’s triumph was what could be described as a ‘basic’ victory rather than a spectacular one. He did not have things his own way but like all true champions – Mohammed Ali, Joe Frazier, etc – he did the little things that really matter. While professional boxing analysts may have many more holes to pick in this victory, it has to be said that Peter mostly demonstrated/applied the basics of the game – well-directed punches at crucial points, a well of stamina, endurance and strength as well as the ability to prevent yourself from being unnecessarily exposed to your opponents – to earn his victory. In achieving this victory, Peter demonstrated that you don’t necessarily have to be spectacular to win in boxing as in most sports. Rather than being spectacular, he was simply efficient – not wasting too many punches and being patient with his punches.

What we got in the end was a demonstration – like the now departed Chelsea FC coach, Jose Mourinho did so well with his Chelsea teams – of the fact that it pays if you can bide your time and then at the crucial points, you sort of ‘take the Mickey out of your opponent’. And once Peter did this, all who saw the fight live could see that McCline could have been floored by if the rounds had stretched beyond 12. But Samuel “the Nigerian Nightmare” Peter did not need more than 12 rounds to convince the judges and the spectators ‘big time’.

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