ATLANTIC CITY -- There would be no heavyweight heir apparent crowned Saturday night before a lively crowd of 10,137 at Boardwalk Hall.
Instead, it was the old heir apparent, Wladimir Klitschko, who pulled magic out of his hat when he needed it most, surviving three knockdowns (two questionable) to defeat previously unbeaten Samuel Peter via a 12-round unanimous decision.
All three judges scored the WBO and IBF title eliminator identically, 114-111, for Klitschko, now 45-3. Peter is 24-1.
The bout was far from aesthetically pleasing, with Peter's unorthodox brawling and Klitschko's defensive-minded backpedaling combining for an ugly mix. This was of no concern to the packed house though, which cheered every move from both fighters.
Practically running at each other at the opening bell, both fighters soon settled into their expected roles: Klitschko jabbing from a distance, Peter looking to bang away at close quarters. Klitschko jabbed effectively, following with his right hand and then tying up "The Nigerian Nightmare." In the final minute, Peter ate a couple of big Klitschko right hands, but he took them well and kept coming until the bell.
Klitschko continued to befuddle Peter with his jab, movement and occasional clinches, with Peter's wide swings either missing or landing somewhere on the Ukrainian's arms or back.
The pattern continued in the third round, with Klitschko now adding body shots to his repertoire while the fans booed the former WBO champion's clinching. They roared though when Peter finally got his first big left hook in just before the bell, briefly rocking Klitschko.
Buoyed by his late-round success, Peter came out with a more intense focus in round four, with his punches crisper then they had been earlier in the bout. Klitschko got back on the offense midway through the round with a left and right to the face, but Peter disdainfully shrugged the shots off and kept his foe on the defensive for the remainder of the frame.
Early in the fifth, a looping right to the back of the head put Klitschko on the canvas, and moments later the same punch sent the flailing "Steelhammer" to the floor. Klitschko, either buzzed or fatigued -- or both -- went into survival mode, content just to hold off the much stronger Peter, who pushed him off with ease.
With the momentum of the bout having swung considerably, the question was only whether Klitschko would collapse on his own or fall courtesy of Peter's fists or forearms. But Peter, right eye starting to swell, had his mouth wide open in round six as he trudged forward, perhaps feeling some fatigue himself as Klitschko tried to re-establish his jab.
Klitschko stayed out of trouble in the seventh, using his jab and carefully timed clinches to keep Peter at bay. For his part, Peter seemed gassed as his work rate continued to drop at an alarming rate.
Peter came out fast to begin round eight, but his thudding hooks only hit arms and gloves. Klitschko drilled Peter with a hard right hand, and while avoiding return fire, he was getting his head and fists back in the fight.
With his jab and right hand paving the way, Klitschko controlled the ninth round as well, with Peter showing toughness, but little else in the way of punching variety or ability to cut off his backpedaling foe.
Peter started to get closer to Klitschko in the 10th round, but it was unclear whether it was Peter's power or Klitschko's apparently unsteady legs doing most of the damage to the Ukranian's cause. To his credit, Peter kept swinging, even though his eye continued to weld shut. In the final minute, Peter finally landed a huge right hand, hurting Klitschko. Seconds later, the Ukrainian was on the canvas for the third time. He rose, but barely made it out of the round.
Smelling blood, Peter roared after his tired and buzzed foe. But finally, Klitschko stood his ground and teed off on Peter, momentarily slowing Peter's progress. With the crowd now chanting "Peter, Peter," it was Klitschko who surprisingly came to life, though Peter finished the frame strong.
Klitschko opened the 12th round with a hard left hook which Peter took well, but Klitschko couldn't say the same for the clubbing right hand from Peter that jarred him.
Midway through the round though, Klitschko got even, staggering Peter and almost put him down with a hard left hook. It was to be the last great punch of the night, but after resurrecting his career, there had to be an explosion of relief from the former HBO golden boy.
As for Peter, his flaws were left open for the world to see on his biggest night ever. But power and courage are always key weapons to carry into battle with you, and at 24, the Nigerian still has time to get things right.