By Trigo Egbegi
Yours Truly was conspicuously absent from duty last week for all the wrong reasons, I suppose. If you must know.
I’m not ashamed to admit I’m your stereotypical supporter/analyst of boxing who will splurge time and energy on a subject that provides more regret than joy, even when and where it involves the sport’s biggest names.
Evander Holyfield is one such name in question.
Such was my frame of mind on the events in the week April 3, 2011, beginning with the rescheduling of the eagerly awaited general elections which attracted the ire of all Nigerians – old and young: rich and poor: male and female – drawn from across the giant geographical divide.
As if that was not enough bad news, a phone call all the way from Lagos located me in my holiday camp in Bayelsa State, seeking my comments on the defeat of Samuel Peter.
For once, I was deverstated, less on account of the manner of defeat of the young man than concern for his future. For a start, I wasn’t expecting that Samuel Peter would pick up the kind of fight that already condemns him to the losers ranks even if he won. Thus, I never bothered to be on the trail of the quietly advertised WBO International heavy weight Championship event.
Well, that explains the irony of life itself. About this time six years ago Samuel Peter was the toast of every home in the Niger Delta Region, as well as in Jigawa and Lagos States. Ditto the Nigeria Police Force Directorate in Abuja.
And when he kayoed Oleg Maskaev the night of March, 2008 in Cancun, Mexico, for the much coveted WBC title, Peter had graduated to becoming the most recognizable, most adored name in all of Nigeria. The glory was to be short lived, though.
Today, Samuel Okon Peter is in a free-fall from the very apex of his boxing career, all the way to the deepest valley of no return, I’m afraid. All the glory garnered via victories in the period spanning 2005 and March 2008 look to have been effectively wiped out by four back-to-back defeats of the past three years.
This piece is not intended to spite our fallen hero in his hour of grief. Rather, it is to express a profound concern for the future of a man at the crossroads in need of prayer and help. It is, similarly, intended to amplify the voices of the supportive few whose views I am in tandem with.
Obisia Nwankpa, predictably, fired the opening salvo when the listed the fighter’s unimpressive run of late, and advised that he retires. Himself a boxer of repute during his own fighting days, and who had had the privilege of working with the dethroned heavyweight king at close range prior to turning pro.
Understandably, Obisia must be making his point from personal experience, having, himself, plummeted from grace to grass when he chose to linger on – against all advise to call it quits.
Celebrated trainer, Joe Mensah, provided perhaps the more convincing point when he called on the grounded policeman to look deep into himself and decide if he still desires to be relevant.
Joe Mensah is one whose views should not be dismissed with a wave of the hand, on account of his status. He was head coach of the Nigeria national squad to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney that included Peter and London – based Olusegun Ajose whom Mensah still handles as pro.
He is of the view that Peter seriously needs to go back to the drawing board with his team all over again, or else forget it.
Joe Mensah’s view is, indeed, laden with deep meaning, considering the turn of events since Samuel Peter altered his corner, and overall attitude both in and outside the ring. He is one who strongly upholds the view that a fighter must remain focused as much as he was as contender/challenger.
I’m still of the view that Samuel Peter is one of the few exceptions in the list of those not originally cut out to become world heavyweight champions. His accomplishment came largely through mental strength and hunger which made up for the huge gap created by his lack of skill.
Now, I fear that mental strength must have been lost after the Maskaev Victory of March 2008 in Mexico. Without it, Peter is just the plain Samuel that was never given the chance to get far. He is at the level where he has to struggle even against fellow B-class contenders.
Samuel Peter may never have realized the full extent of psychological damage inflicted by the combined Klitsckho brothers. Against the elder Klit, he was not just beaten; he was beaten up. It was the kind of beating that compels a fighter to search deep inside him and ask if he still belongs in the ring.
If Samuel Peter had correctly answered the question he had posed to himself, I’m certain he would not still be hanging around and accept a fight like the one that saw the one-time WBC king demolished by a self-anointed Nordic Nightmare, for a spurious WBO belt.
For now, I think retirement looks the best option for a man who still has all his faculties intact. There’s no better time to hang the gloves than now that Peter can opt out to other less demanding careers, even right at home in Nigeria.
Finally, here’s joining millions of concerned fellow Nigerians appealing to our son to call it quits for that moment in history when we’ll all remember him for the good time – not the way million will remember the likes of Robinson, Pep, Ali, Holmes, Leonard, Hearns, Roy Jones, Holyfield and Hopkins for their end times.