By Lyle Fitzsimmons
OK, it took every bit of 440 days. But I guess I’m officially on board.
Seems this Lamont Peterson kid can fight, after all.
I’ll concede to being on the naysayer side of his ledger since Dec. 10, 2011, when an IBF/WBA title fight – or district-sanctioned cable TV mugging, if you prefer – ended within him emerging from the Washington Convention Center ring with everything short of Amir Khan’s wallet.
I had Khan winning seven of 12 rounds for what would have been a 115-112 scorecard margin under normal one-knockdown circumstances that night, though it was trimmed to just a single point courtesy of the still-iffy penalty machinations of overmatched referee Joseph Cooper.
I’ll admit the lingering bad taste of that first go-round might have impacted how I felt about a rematch, and, when Peterson scuttled those plans by getting popped for PEDs in a voluntary test a few months prior… well, let’s just say he didn’t help his case with me.
But he may have won me back a little on Friday.
Though I’d still rank his “the testosterone was medically prescribed” explanation below my 4-year-old’s “Mommy said I could draw on the kitchen floor” bargaining, I will give him credit for eventually shutting his mouth, taking his punishment and returning to work with the same grinding lunch-pail approach that suited him so well – win, lose or draw – in the match against Khan.
And though it’s a sizable step down from the “King” to Kendall Holt, the former WBO champ was determined enough, conditioned enough and still on a high enough level to give Peterson problems had he either taken the challenge lightly or been unable to shake off all 14 months’ worth of rust.
The latter seemed at least plausible for about nine minutes, a stretch in which the hometown incumbent was visibly moved – though not necessarily hurt – by nearly every punch Holt landed, and seemed just as cautious about the feints the New Jersey import used to camouflage his deliveries.
I had it 2-1 for the challenger through three rounds and was largely in agreement with a Twitter universe that labeled Peterson as “flat” or “not into it” over the same introductory period.
My transformation began in earnest in the fourth, when Peterson landed a left hand that instantly crumbled Holt’s resolve. A second knockdown in the sixth ultimately turned the fight’s final stages into a guessing game on when excellent referee Tony Weeks – were you watching, Mr. Cooper – would step in.
When he finally did so at 1:42 of the eighth – rendering moot my 68-63 card for the winner – he both returned a shred of legitimacy to the champion’s claim on the division’s IBF-controlled turf and instantly positioned the new Golden Boy signee amid a smorgasbord of promoter-friendly fights.
Not only does the 140-pound Oscar roster already include Peterson’s old friend Amir, but it’s also bursting at the seams with Khan’s subsequent belt-swiping nemesis – Danny Garcia – and a pair of rugged Argentines, Lucas Matthysse and Marcos Maidana, with a combined record that boasts 66 wins, 61 knockouts and four of five career losses by split decision.
Peterson predictably spoke Garcia’s name first among the possible contests, with the intention of reclaiming a title strap that was initially returned to Khan after the drug issues and then lost to the unbeaten American in what ranked among this column’s biggest jaw-droppers of 2012.
Presuming Garcia gets past a still-dangerous Zab Judah in their rescheduled April 27 date in Brooklyn, it’s an intriguing clash to be sure. And lest we forget, another De La Hoya-controlled wildcard in the junior welter deck comes in the form of lightweight champ Adrien Broner, who foreshadowed a potential rise here two weeks ago by saying, “It doesn't matter what weight I could go to. People say they are vicious at 135, or at whatever weight I'm at, then I move up and all of a sudden no one is there.
“I will fight anyone willing to fight me.”
Regardless of which opportunity he pursues – and so long as he avoids a relapse into shoddy pharmaceutical prescribing – the positive impressions Peterson made against Holt seem likely to keep him plenty busy trying to defend his turf going forward.
And, while I’d label him a defending underdog against at least a small handful of those aforementioned title-belt suitors, it’ll be at least another 440 days before I dismiss his value entirely.
Welcome back to the big time, ya big dummy.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF featherweight title – Mashantucket, Conn.
Billy Dib (champion) vs. Evgeny Gradovich (No. 11 contender)
Dib (35-1, 21 KO): Third title defense; Held IBO title at 130 (2008, zero defenses)
Gradovich (15-0, 8 KO): First title fight; Has fought in nine U.S. states
IBO welterweight title – Site TBA
Chris van Heerden (champion) vs. Matthew Hatton (No. 24 contender)
van Heerden (18-1-1, 10 KO): Second title defense; Unbeaten in South Africa (18-0-1)
Hatton (43-6-2, 17 KO): Third title fight; First fight in South Africa
Fitzbitz says: “Thanks to a famous sibling, Hatton keeps getting title shots, presumably in the hopes that he’ll ultimately find a champion he can beat. Keep looking, Matthew.” van Heerden by decision
Vacant WBA lightweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Richard Abril (No. 1 contender) vs. Sharif Bogere (No. 2 contender)
Abril (17-3-1, 8 KO): Second title fight; Zero wins since October 2011 (0-1)
Bogere (23-0, 15 KO): First title fight; Eighth fight in Las Vegas (7-0)
Fitzbitz says: “Abril has had tough luck on the scorecards in all three of his losses – all by split decision – but it seems like this’ll be the time he’ll finally get a break, and a belt.” Abril by decision
WBO bantamweight title – Windhoek, Namibia
Pungluang Sor Singyu (champion) vs. Paulus Ambunda (No. 1 contender)
Sor Singyu (43-1, 28 KO): First title defense; Third fight outside Thailand (1-1)
Ambunda (19-0, 10 KO): First title fight; Tenth scheduled 12-round fight (9-0)
Fitzbitz says: “The road trip to face an unbeaten foe won’t be a piece of cake, but it says here that the champ has the stuff to get it accomplished. The reverse wouldn’t stun, though.” Sor Singyu by decision
WBO light flyweight title – Cebu City, Philippines
Donnie Nietes (champion) vs. Moises Fuentes (Unranked)
Nietes (31-1-3, 17 KO): Second title defense; Held WBO title at 105 (2007-10, four defenses)
Fuentes (16-1, 8 KO): Fourth title fight; Reigning WBO champion at 105
Fitzbitz says: “Fuentes has proven to be a legitimate commodity at 105 and could fare well at 108 as well, but he meets a hometown guy here who’s done the same thing.” Nietes by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 1-1
2013 picks record: 6-3 (66.7 percent)
Overall picks record: 469-155 (75.1 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @fitzbitz.