Peter-McCline: The BigTime Nightmare

By George Kimball


Peter-McCline: The BigTime Nightmare

NEW YORK --- “It’s destiny that this should happen,” said Jameel McCline. “This is my fourth shot, and NOBODY gets four title shots in their career without winning one. I just feel it’s God’s plan that I should be the first one.”

Far be it from us to cast aspersions on God’s plan, but Jameel is a bit off on his boxing history. Jersey Joe Walcott had four cracks at the heavyweight title (two against Joe Lewis, two against Ezzard Charles) before winning it on his fifth. And for that matter, Andrew Golota is also 0-for-4 (Lennox Lewis, Chris Byrd, John Ruiz, Lamon Brewster) in heavyweight title fights. Francois Botha had four cracks without a win, counting his NC for Steroids in the Axel Schultz fight.

Be that as it may, McCline, who came up short in his previous challenges to Wladimir Klitschko, Chris Byrd, and Nicolay Valuev, now finds himself in a Madison Square Garden main event Saturday night, challenging Samuel Peter for the “interim” version of the WBC title.

Even the Nigerian Nightmare himself seems to have difficulty coming to grips with his new designation.

“I didn’t think to get it this way,” said Peter. “I was thinking to beat him (Oleg Maskaev) to become heavyweight champion of the world, but they (the WBC) have their rules. They have the right thing to do. I don’t tell them what to do.”

Even those of us who are normally critical of the haphazard manner in which Los Bandidos create and withdraw titles seemingly at whim didn’t have a problem with Peter’s elevation after Maskaev pulled out of the fight on two weeks notice.

“This guy (Peter) has been a bridesmaid for too long,” said Joe Dwyer, who will be overseeing Saturday’s formalities on behalf of Sr. Sulaiman. “It was the right thing to do.”

And although Dennis Rappaport is still complaining, the truth of the matter is that in his heart of hearts even Maskaev can’t very well argue against the decision, since he came by his championship by beating a guy (Hasim Rahman) who had won it in essentially the same manner – after the title had been vacated by another Soviet with a bad back.

Even the WBC is probably surprised by the dearth of criticism over the promotion of Peter and the installation of McCline as his challenger. The organization’s real Nigerian Nightmare would come if McCline WON this fight.

When Peter was still supposed to face Maskaev, the bookies had him nearly a 4-1 favorite. Vitali Klitschko was favored over Big Time by approximately the same odds. Don’t ask what the line is on Peter-McCline, though. There isn’t one. The fight is off the board.

When he first learned that Maskaev had done a Dixie, Peter says he was terrified that the fight wouldn’t come off and he would be back waiting in line again. Thanks to some lobbying on the part of Don King, who had just signed McCline, it was back on again. Peter’s co-promoter Dino Duva said Wednesday that in the absence of the interim title, there probably would have been no fight at all, since it would have been foolish for the Nightmare to jeopardize his position against any opponent in a non-title fight.

Enter McCline, who is still marveling over his good fortune.

“It’s an amazing opportunity and here I am,” he said with a smile. “I was fighting Klitschko, but that didn’t work. Then I was going to fight DaVarryl Williamson, and now here I am, fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world. It’s surreal, but I’m grateful. I’m in awe, I’m in shock, and I’m very happy to be here.”

Would McCline consider himself a “real” heavyweight champion were he to win?

“Under the circumstances, yes,” he said. “I  don’t understand this interim stuff at all. All I know is that this man (Peter) is a beast. This man is a strong fighter, a big man who doesn’t play games. This is a fight for the heavyweight championship.”

At the same time, McCline has viewed tapes of Peter’s 2005 loss to Klitschko on numerous occasions.

“Listen,” he said. “He (Peter) has trouble with big men who can move and have a jab, and that’s exactly what I bring to the table.”

Of course, even in losing Peter knocked Klitschko down three times that night.

“But I have a different chin that Wladimir Klitschko,” insisted McCline. “I’ve never really been knocked down. I went down in the 11th against Wladimir (in their 2002 WBO title fight), but that was out of exhaustion. Against Valuev, by knee went out; my leg didn’t work. Other than that, I’ve never been off my feet.”

McCline’s cheerful demeanor at Wednesday’s press conference stood in stark contrast to his last appearance at the Garden. Before he fought Byrd there three years ago he was surly, uncooperative, and looked like a man who wished he were somewhere else.

“Yes,” he agreed. “But I’m a different person now. It’s three years later, I’m three years older, three years smarter, and three years happier. Things are going really well in my life right now.

“After I fought Klitschko I had some bumps in the road,” said McCline. “Beginning with the Byrd fight, I lost three out of four, and I went from No. 1 to No. 73 in the space of 13 months. Then I got back up there before I fought Valuev. There’s been a lot of reassessment, both in who I am as a man and as a future champion.”

When we first encountered McCline seven years ago he was working as a sparring partner for Lennox Lewis. When Peter was asked yesterday whether he’d ever sparred with McCline, he seemed offended. The Nightmare haughtily announced “I am NOT a  sparring partner.” (Though he later acknowledged having served in that role with Wladimir Klitschko and Rahman earlier in his career.)

Peter, by the way, was telling reporters Wednesday that his newly gained status had been singlehandedly responsible for a groundswell of interest in the sport in his homeland. “Otherwise it would be all soccer, but now everywhere it is boxing. Old people, young people, it doesn’t matter.”

We can’t speak for the young Nigerians, but we’re just guessing that the older ones might still have remembered Dick Tiger and Hogan (Kid) Bassey whether the Nightmare had come along or not.

When Peter was preparing for Maskaev at his training camp in the Poconos, his principal sparring partner was Bermaine Stiverne, the 12-1 Canadian who will fight Edward Guittierez on Saturday night’s undercard. Then, after word came that the Russian was being replaced by the 6’6” McCline, said Peter, “I sparred with this guy who beat McCline.”

That would be Zuri Lawrence, the 6’4’ upstate heavyweight who has accumulated 22 wins without registering a single knockout. Zuri’s 2005 win over McCline was one of those “bumps on the road” Jameel was talking about.

Bringing in Lawrence was the only concession the Peter camp made to McCline’s size.

“It doesn’t matter if he’s six-six or ten feet tall,” said Peter. “I’m the heavyweight champion of the world now. I’ll fight whoever.”

McCline has fought in the Garden before. This will be Peter’s maiden voyage in the Mecca of Boxing, though barring a miraculous last-minute run on the box office, it probably won’t be the biggest crowd before which he has performed.  As of yesterday morning ticket sales were around 5,000. Maybe they should have had the fight, instead of the press conference, in the Theatre.

The bravest man in attendance Wednesday, by the way, was neither Peter nor McCline, but MSG vice president Joel Fisher. In what hasn’t been a very good week for Garden executives, he was the highest-ranking MSG official willing to show his face in public.

Fisher said that the re-designation from title fight to interim title fight hasn’t had a dramatic impact on sales.

“We had some requests for refunds (after Maskaev’s defection from the card), but we’ve had orders for tickets too,” he said.

The two principal undercard fights – Golota against Ireland’s Kevin McBride and former 154-pound champions Daniel Santos and Jose Rivera in a WBA eliminator – remain intact. Australian heavyweight Kali Meehan has stepped in as Williamson’s opponent. Only the main event will be shown on the Showtime telecast.


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