Peter survives three knockdowns, wins title

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Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) – Samuel Peter was on the brink of his own worst nightmare.

Late in the third round of his WBC heavyweight title fight with Jameel McCline, the boxer nicknamed the “Nigerian Nightmare” was woozy. He already had been floored three times and the belt he never actually won in the ring was slipping away.

But he held on, then dominated the later rounds Saturday night for a unanimous decision that was heartily booed by the Madison Square Garden crowd.

“When I was knocked down I knew I had to stand up and defend my belt,” Peter said. “I am going back home and bringing the heavyweight championship back to Africa with me.”

McCline, embroiled in controversy as a reported target in a steroids investigation, seemed to be one solid punch away from the championship in the third round. He decked Peter twice, but couldn’t finish him and didn’t have much left the rest of the way.

“I thought I had him,” McCline said. “He got away and that’s why he’s still champion. I could have finished him, I should have finished him, and I didn’t.”

Peter (29-1) was handed the belt by the WBC after champion Oleg Maskaev dropped out of the fight because of a back injury. Peter said he would show he was deserving of the title with his work in the ring, and after barely making it through the first three rounds, the 27-year-old fighter did just that.

McCline, who was supposed to fight on the undercard before being moved up to the big bout, dropped to 38-8-3.

“I didn’t overlook McCline,” said Peter, who admitted he broke his left hand during training.

The headline fight was in doubt early Friday when a newspaper reported that McCline received large amounts of steroids and other banned substances in 2005 and 2006. The 37-year-old McCline had a prefight physical Thursday, and the boxers were tested for performance-enhancing and illegal drugs in the hours before the fight Saturday. Results are expected in about five days.

For Peter, it was his first title bout; McCline now has lost four times with a championship on the line.

He was oh, so close to winning this one.

At the end of the second round, a straight right sent Peter to the floor. He immediately got up and walked to his corner while taking the 8-count.

McCline landed a series of strong shots early in the third and a combination again floored Peter. This time, the Nigerian was hurt.

He got up and once more was staggered by McCline’s big left hand, followed by a right cross. With Peter against the ropes, McCline connected with another combination and floored the woozy Peter again.

But McCline couldn’t end it, then Peter took charge.

Judge Julie Lederman scored it 113-112, while judge Steve Weisfeld had it 115-111. Judge Billy Costello gave it to Peer 115-110.

The AP scored the bout 115-111 for Peter.

Peter would like to next fight Maskaev or IBF champion Wladimir Klitschko. His only previous loss was to Klitschko in a non-title fight in 2005.

McCline is left to ponder yet another defeat in a title fight. He lost to Klitschko for the WBO crown in 2002, to Chris Byrd in a split decision for the IBF belt in 2004 and, in his most recent fight, to Nikolai Valuev on Jan. 20 for the WBA championship. McCline tore up his knee during that bout and it was stopped in the third round.

On the undercard, journeyman heavyweight Andrew Golota scored an impressive sixth-round knockout of Kevin McBride, which in the jumbled division could put him in the title picture.

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