Boxing: Samuel Peter’s glory after Hogan Bassey and Dick Tiger

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Samuel Peter’s victory against Oleg Maskaev in the World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight title fight in Cancun, Mexico, Saturday night has again put Nigeria on the world’s boxing map.

Samuel Peter’s victory against Oleg Maskaev in the World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight title fight in Cancun, Mexico, Saturday night has again put Nigeria on the world’s boxing map.

First, it was Hogan ‘Kid’ Bassey, the left-handed wonder kid from South-eastern Nigeria, who literally booked Nigeria’s place in the annals of professional boxing history with his demolition job on France’s Cherif Hamia way back on 24 June 1957.

After Hamia had bloodied Bassey’s face and the Nigerian was preparing to take a trip to the canvas, it took his expatriate wife’s cries of “Bassey remember your left” for the little, but lion-hearted African boxer to obliterate his opponent in their world featherweight title fight.

Responding to the wife’s cries, Bassey let go his dynamite left and the rest was history — the Nigerian, on the verge of being knocked out, found his strength to knock out his taller opponent and to book a place for himself, his country and the African continent in the history books.

In that fight, which took place in France, this little Nigerian, who had sojourned in the UK coming off with a wife who proved his saviour in the Hamia fight, the referee had to stop the fight in the 10th round to save the Frenchman from unnecessary punishment.

Then, on 23 October 1962, came another Nigerian (called Dick Ihetu Tiger), also from Nigeria’s South-east.

Tiger overwhelmed American Gene Fullmer over 15 rounds in San Francisco to take the world middleweight title.

The duo were principally responsible for earning Nigeria a respectable mention in the world of boxing and indeed in the committee of nations from 1957, when it was yet to gain independence from Britain, to 1963, when it became a republic.

Since then, professional boxing achievements became a mirage and mirrored a downturn in the internal Nigerian amateur mechanism, which was expected to throw up future professional boxers.

Although Nigeria did well in the Olympics, African and Commonwealth games boxing events, the likes of Bassey and Tiger never cropped up again.

Although decent amateur boxers like Isaac Ikhuoria, Fatai Ayinla, Nojeem Maiyegun, Obisia Nwankpa came on the scene, they never really made it to boxing’s pinnacle.

Then the break! The emergence of Peter in the pro-boxing cadre generated a lot of interest in Nigeria.

From the presidency to the parliament and down to the streets, Peter’s win over Jameel McCline, who stood in for injured Oled Maskaev, 5 October 2007, became a topic for national discourse.

When he paid a visit to Nigeria late last year, President Umaru Yar’Adua received Peter at the Aso Rock presidential villa in the capital city of Abuja, and accorded his entourage, which included the legendary Don King, the doyen of boxing in America, a presidential attention.

Suddenly, the lifeless Nigerian Boxing Board of Control came back to life and sports pages of Nigerian newspapers were awash with Peter’s photographs and achievements.

That he is fighting in the heavyweight category makes him even more prominent as that has emerged as boxing’s richest division, where a mere 12 rounds of three minutes each could fetch a boxer more than US$10 million in just one night.

It is the hope of every Nigerian that Peter will one day become as popular and rich as the legendary Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson — heavyweights who made hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in addition to fame.

For Peter, 27, the Oleg Maskaev win in Cancun, Mexico, Saturday, is like the icing on the cake, for he has a whole lot of future lying in waiting for him.

Before getting to the twilight of his career, Peter should line up a number of fights to rake in millions of dollars for himself.

Peter, who is based in Las Vegas, US, is next expected to fight Vitali Klitschko before a possible fight with Vitali’s brother, Wladimir, who last month unified the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and the World Boxing Organisation (WBO) titles by beating Sultan Ibragimov.

Peter boasted after Saturday’s fight: “I’m the best heavyweight in the world. I’m undisputed. I can beat anyone. All of them are going down.”

Nigerians wish him a fulfilment of this prediction because those wins will definitely enrich his pocket and earn Nigeria the international respect it deserves.

One good thing this has done for Nigeria is the renewed interest in pro-boxing generated all over the country, especially since the fight was shown live on national television in Nigeria.

Even the ‘bad’ guys on the streets are beginning to think of channelling their energies into boxing, instead of engaging in vices which could lead them into trouble with the establishment.

With Peter’s victory, may be the Friday night boxing shows across the country, especially in Lagos, will spring up once again.

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