Back on top: Vitali Klitschko batters Peter to secure slice of history

Simply smashing! Vitali Klitschko, right, held back nothing in dissecting an outgunned Sam Peter. AP Photo/Herbert Knosowski

BERLIN -- Tall, powerful and imperious, Vitali Klitschko dominated Sam Peter at the O2 World Arena to reclaim his position at the summit of heavyweight boxing. It was like he had never been away.

Fighting for the first time in four years, Klitschko took charge from the first bell, driving a stiff jab into Peter's face and stunning him inside the opening minute with an overhand right, the first of many which, ultimately, returned the 37-year-old Ukrainian to the position of No. 1 heavyweight in the world.

Make no mistake. This was not a flawed victory reminiscent of kid brother Wladimir's win over Peter three years ago, when Wladimir had to rise from three knockdowns before he prevailed on points. This was a wholesale destruction of the man considered to be, erroneously, the most dangerous puncher in the division.

The extent to which Peter was a subdued, compliant victim is a reflection of the diminished state of heavyweight boxing. No one, not even Muhammad Ali or George Foreman, has ever returned from such an extended sabbatical to reclaim the crown.

Of course, it will be argued that Klitschko has merely picked up one of the myriad belts. Wladimir holds two titles and Nikolai Valuev, the Russian Giant, is in possession of the other one. But Vitali's victory was so conclusive that he effectively ended any argument as to who is the best heavyweight in the world. Certainly, he stands supreme among the belt holders.

Naturally, we will never see the brothers put this to the test, which means that the world heavyweight title will remain fractured. But the Klitschkos did not create this mess, so they are entitled to celebrate the realization of their dream.

"This was not an easy fight and it was not easy preparation. I have had so many injuries -- but now I am fit and healthy," Klitschko said.

"It was a good performance and I made my dream for me and my brother to be world champions at the same time. We have one more belt in the Klitschko family."

Wladimir appeared more animated than his brother when he climbed into the ring to begin the party.

From the opening minute, the 37-year-old Vitali Klitschko had his way with the 28-year-old Nigerian Nightmare to such a degree that after three rounds it was simply a matter of whether the former champion's stamina would hold up.

Ultimately, it was a dispirited Peter who wilted. If he landed a good shot in the entire eight rounds, he disguised it well.

His impotence was startling, especially given Klitschko's inactivity. If a spectator who knew nothing of their history were to venture a guess, Peter would have been identified as the man making the comeback.

He was one-paced, one-dimensional and unable to establish any kind of rhythm.

The 6-foot-7½ Ukrainian exploited his 7-inch height advantage to the maximum, picking Peter off with impunity. At the end of the fourth round, Peter's face betrayed the evidence of all the punishment he was taking and when the scorecards were read out -- a preposterous rule by the offending sanctioning body, which may have precipitated Peter's retirement at the end of the eighth -- all three judges had Klitschko ahead by 40-36, unable to give the out-of-shape titleholder a single round.

Peter was shaken again in Round 5 by two more right hands to the jaw and a follow-up left hook, and the swelling around his eyes grew worse. By the end of Round 8, with the one-sided nature of the action now firmly entrenched, Peter had lost the will to continue.

"I'm through," he repeated several times to his trainer, Stacy McKinley, who signaled to Italian referee Massimo Barrovecchio that his fighter had quit on his stool.

It was not the most glorious ending, but the reality is that the glory days of the division are long gone.

Promoter Don King tried to stoke up interest in a possible matchup with Lennox Lewis, who retired in February 2004, eight months after Klitschko had fought him valiantly before bad cuts around his left eye forced a stoppage at the end of the sixth round.

"I need to think about it," Klitschko said. "First I need to take care of my right hand because it is swollen."

But Lewis dismissed the notion of a rematch in Berlin earlier this year when he worked the Alexander Povetkin-Eddie Chambers fight for HBO.

"Yes, I did consider making a comeback. I thought about it whenever I watched the other heavyweights out there but I talked myself out of it almost in the same breath," Lewis told the (London) Sunday Times.

"Some people said I should have fought Klitschko again, but what for? I beat him and there will always be somebody out there, someone else to fight, but I've created a legacy, so why put it all at risk? I'm one of only three heavyweights ever to retire on top [Gene Tunney and Rocky Marciano also retired as reigning heavyweight champions] and that's important to me. That's history."

The Klitschkos have secured their own little slice of history, too, and heavyweight boxing has welcomed back the leader of the pack.

Brian Doogan is a sportswriter for the London Sunday Times and is a longtime European correspondent for The Ring magazine.