By Jake Donovan
It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
The phrase is the perfect metaphor for preaching the lost art of patience. It’s hardly a lesson that needs to be taught to Lamont Peterson. He and his younger brother Anthony lived it every day throughout their childhood.
As anticipation builds for Saturday’s title fight showdown with Amir Khan, the elder Peterson gets to stroll down the same D.C. streets he was once forced to run – and at times seek shelter. There were points in his childhood where tomorrow must have appeared to be a lifetime away.
But patience has now led to the biggest opportunity of his still promising career, one that comes mere miles from his home rather than on the other side of the Atlantic.
The latter scenario was once sold as possibly the last shot he’d ever receive at the big time, when the prospects of a Khan showdown were first on the table. A six-figure payday was offered for Peterson (29-1-1, 15KO) and his team – headed by trainer and father-figure Barry Hunter – to travel to jolly old England, a deal to which Hunter declined.
“Lamont has always been raised along with the rest of the fighters in the gym to never ever prostitute yourself out for a dollar bill,” Hunter would go on to explain at length. The summarized version is that the fight couldn’t just be about the money, that it also had to be the right opportunity.
Traveling to England to face the house fighter coming off of the most thrilling win of his career didn’t make for an impartial setting, just a mere money grab at best. Hunter stood up and took the blame for his fighter passing on the opportunity, appreciating the fact that Peterson saw the opportunity for what it was, retaining the life lessons taught to him when first entering his trainer’s gym at age 10.
“Lamont said something to me during the course of that whole deal and it made a lot of sense and I thought the same way, but I wanted to hear him say it. He said that if he would go to Europe and not knock Amir out, more than likely he will get the loss and he said at the end of the day, when he stepped into that ring, he puts his life on the line just like Amir would have done."
The move was viewed as a death sentence by many in the industry, wondering where Peterson even had a leg on which to stand. He was coming off of a 10-round draw with Victor Ortiz, in a fight that served as the televised co-feature to Khan’s thrilling narrow points win over Marcos Maidana on HBO.
Nearly one year prior, Peterson fell way short in a failed title bid against Tim Bradley. The former amateur standout suffered two knockdowns en route to suffering his first loss as a pro, and then spent the next year largely off of the radar prior to receiving the opportunity to face Ortiz on HBO. Prior to that point, he was forced to watch younger brother Anthony low blow his way to his own first loss, disqualified in a vacant lightweight title fight against Brandon Rios.
In turning down the fight, Peterson’s options were limited to fighting on the ESPN2 circuit, facing former title contender Victor Cayo for chump change compared to what he stood to make for a spring showdown with Khan.
Meanwhile, Khan (26-1-1, 18KO) managed to land two HBO headliners in the span of four months. The fight that could’ve been Peterson’s own was instead given to Paul McCloskey in a largely forgettable affair. Khan’s next appearance was far more memorable, dominating Zab Judah en route to a fifth round stoppage against the American.
Khan’s popularity and star power were rapidly on the rise, yet he was left without a formidable dance partner for what he plans to be his final fight at 140 before seeking bigger game at welterweight. The 2004 Olympic Silver medalist was pining for a unification bout with Tim Bradley in a bout that would truly define divisional supremacy, but the unbeaten American declined while in the process of changing promoters.
With the absence of a mega payday that would come with showdowns against the two biggest cash cows in the sport – Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao – a move to welterweight wasn’t quite yet financially sensible for the flashy Brit, who instead turned his eyes to the best available option at 140.
Re-enter Peterson into the mix.
Negotiations were renewed and a deal was eventually reached for Khan to travel to Peterson’s hometown of Washington D.C. for this weekend’s showdown.
The bout marks the biggest title fight in the nation’s capital since Riddick Bowe’s lineal heavyweight title defense against Jesse Ferguson more than 18 years ago. The historic town also served as the backdrop for the final fight in the storied career of former heavyweight king Mike Tyson, who suffered a humiliating knockout loss to Kevin McBride in 2005.
Neither bout was the type of fight that fans want to serve as reflective of the D.C. boxing scene. It’s why Peterson and his team were so adamant about bringing a fight of this magnitude much closer to home than its original choice on the other side of the Atlantic.
In the end, patience not only gave them what they want, but provided a golden opportunity in their lap.
“Because we took that chance and we were patient, not only did we get the dollar amount that was decent, we ended up getting a fight on HBO and at home,” notes Hunter of his negotiating strategy. “Instead of looking like the village idiot, now we look like the best thing since sliced bread.”
Of course, what’s left is for Peterson to actually go out and win the fight. Even with the event taking place in his hometown, he’s still left as the underdog and listed as the B-side of the promotion, with Khan holding the greater star power.
None of that is of any concern to the 27-year old, now seven years into his career and in the heart of his prime.
“I'm okay with him getting most of the attention and being considered the fighter in this fight,” Peterson humbly admits, though he has already soaked up plenty of attention early into fight week. “The good thing is at the end of the day, we have to get in the ring. We have to do those 12 rounds if need be.
“So I'll get my chance to shine. It's not really a problem with me. I'm okay with it. I'm comfortable where I'm at right now. I'm just happy to have this opportunity to show what I can do.”
Some view it as possibly his last opportunity, which sounds crazy since he’s still a month from his 28th birthday and having just completed seven years in the pro ranks. Whether or not Peterson gets another title shot after this one isn’t even of concern at the moment.
All that he carries about is serving as the embodiment of a city he once saw at its ugliest. Previous means of survival in this town including sleeping in cars, bullying others for a buck, pickpocketing innocent bystanders and cutting cocaine for local drug dealers.
A stroll into Barry Hunter’s gym changed his life as well as that of his brother, though he has never quite had the chance to show his city the truly best that he has to offer. This weekend’s fight represents that opportunity to do so.
All he asks is for all of his people to get an up close and personal view of the man he’s become.
“Well, the support I need is for everybody to come out. Just make sure you make some noise for me, show me some love and just motivate me to victory. This means a lot for me, but not only me and that's what motivates me the most. It's for D.C. to me. That's how I feel.
“It's for all the kids who aspire to be anything in their life. They don't have to just be boxers, but just to show them that if you work hard and stay dedicated to what you do, you can make it.”
Peterson is less than a week and one fight away from truly making it. Few get a second chance at much of anything in life. Peterson has been blessed with playing out the odds on both sides of the ropes, to which he credits the patience he’s been taught to exude as the key to his success.
“Roadblocks will occur through your journey, but that doesn't mean that's the end of it. I think my story, me and my brother's story shows that and states that very, very clear.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at [email protected]