By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Well, whaddya know?
Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks after all.
And while Lamont Peterson might not savor being linked with an aging canine, he's quick to concede the physiological know-how he's acquired as a 30-something has been a huge boon.
The Washington, D.C. native will turn 34 on January 24, just four days after he's scheduled to challenge the newest kid on the welterweight block -- IBF champ Errol Spence Jr. -- at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
It's Peterson's fourth fight since he officially climbed the ladder from 140, where he held and defended that division's IBF belt three times from 2011 to 2014.
He insists now that the move to the heavier weight will add time to his career that he'd not have had if he'd chosen to continue the agony of cutting the extra seven pounds.
"Going down to 140 started to take a whole lot out of me," he said. "I was trying to figure out a way to get down and do it the right way, the healthy way. The more I started reading and learning about the body, I was realizing that was a no-no. Losing that much weight and the stress that it's putting your body under, and to actually try to go out and compete on the top level, it wasn't working.
"Eventually it's gonna catch up with you. There have been times before weigh-ins or getting into the ring that you know you're not 100 percent. It's not because you're injured. It's only because you're not healthy. You go in that ring not feeling healthy, you run the risk of dying at worst or causing major injuries to the body. I'm just glad that's not the situation anymore. I learned and got through safe."
Peterson, who stands 5-foot-9, claimed one particular training camp during his run at 140 started with him carrying 184 pounds. He said preparation for Spence, though, kicked off at a more manageable 168 and he said he's held the line around 158 or 160 for several weeks -- with complete confidence that he'll cut the remaining pounds judiciously rather than desperately.
His last fight at 140 was a 10th-round stoppage of Edgar Santana in August 2014. Subsequent matches with Danny Garcia and Felix Diaz came at 143 and 144 pounds, respectively, before a February 2017 defeat of David Avanesyan saw him weigh-in at a career-high 146 1/2.
"I feel good," he said. "I feel like anytime I want to cut the weight off, I don't have to cut two months out or a month out. I can do it within a few weeks and feel healthy. I have the energy. I still have the fluids in me. Normally, when I get down to 150-something I'm already drained out dry, and to get those last 10 or 12 pounds off was hell. Right now, I feel good. I can lose the weight. If I have four or five pounds left I can lose that in one workout. It's no big deal. I've been eating the whole camp. Training and working hard. That's all."
It hasn't always been that way.
And less time worrying about weight will mean, Peterson said, more time to devise a strategy to beat a thus-far-unbeaten -- 22-0 with 19 knockouts -- 27-year-old champion.
"Making 140, I'd just disconnect from my body, honestly. It was basically torture throughout the day. Just working out, just doing the normal things is tough. So I kind of disconnect. I don't really focus on anything but making that weight. Right now, because I know the weight is good, my head is clear. I'm able to focus on game-planning. I'll work out to stay in shape, but for the most part, I'm just focusing to make sure I follow the game plan in the ring and throughout 12 rounds of the fight. I feel like I'm in a much better place at this point in my career, just knowing how to make the weight and do things better. I think you'll see that in the ring January 20."
It's Spence's first fight since a career-defining 11th-round stoppage of then-IBF champ Kell Brook in Brook's hometown of Sheffield, England last May. The new title-holder is No. 8 on Ring Magazine's most-recent pound-for-pound list and is slotted No. 5 in the division by the Independent World Boxing Rankings -- five spots above Peterson at No. 10.
Peterson is the IBF's No. 5-ranked contender, and he's under no illusion that Spence is a product of ill-placed hype.
"All the things they say about him are true. He's a good fighter. He's an excellent fighter," he said. "But just because he's an excellent fighter doesn't mean that I'm going to lose. You cannot paint me that picture. If that was the case then we wouldn't be getting in the ring January 20. We'd just be putting it in writing that Errol Spence won the fight. But that's not the way it goes. We have to get in there and fight. Am I worried about what anyone's saying? No. I don't worry about that. I just worry about my love for boxing. I love boxing. I love competing. So I'll go out there and I'll enjoy that 36 minutes of fighting and I'll just leave it at that."
Spence is a significant favorite with the folks who pay attention to such things, specifically to those at OddsShark.com, who suggest a $100 wager on Peterson will return a $1,100 windfall. Meanwhile, it'll take a $2,100 outlay on Spence to muster a $100 profit if the champion retains his title.
No matter to Peterson, though the veteran isn't one who says it'll just be about his experience -- he's fought 276 rounds over 13 years, compared to Spence's 88 rounds in five years.
He's fought six world champions -- Garcia (L), Lucas Matthysse (L), Kendall Holt (W), Amir Khan (W), Victor Ortiz (D) and Timothy Bradley (L) -- in his last 12 fights, going 2-3-1 with one KO in those fights. They're his only losses in 39 career fights.
But he insists an upset later this month will be a product of his strategy and his skill, not just his age.
"It all depends on what I took from those fights, those many battles with those top-level guys," he said. "How much I took from that and how much he took from that one experience he had with Kell. It's hard to say. You never try to base everything on that -- 'Oh, I have more experience so I'm going to beat him.' No. You have to get in there and fight. Forget my past and forget his past. We have to worry about what happens when we get in the ring."
When the time comes, there's no chance Peterson will be unfamiliar with his foe. He said he's a firm believer in watching prospective opponents on video, as opposed to those fighters who choose to diagnose and overcome an opposing style in the ring rather than studying too much in advance.
The more footage that's watched, he said, the more chance he or his team will discover a Spence tendency or habit that they'll use to their advantage.
"I don't just look and be like, 'OK, he did this in this fight and he's going to fight me this way," Peterson said. "I understand he's going to fight me differently because it's a different style, different height. Different from anyone else. At the same time, if you watch any fighter there are certain habits you're going to do. There are certain things you do consistently in every fight. You try to find those. I just watch so I feel more comfortable with his style and his stance. Just watching it you just get more comfortable. Just like if you were in the ring, the more rounds you do with someone the more comfortable you get. The more you watch someone the more comfortable you get."
That said, if things don't go his way against Spence, it's not necessarily the end of the road for Peterson, who turned pro in 2004 and is 4-1 with two KOs in five career title fights.
Instead, he'll seek the counsel of a trusted circle of friends and family to help him determine when enough is enough.
"My body feels good right now. I was able to get through training pretty well, pretty healthy. Honestly, better than I did when I was in my 20s," he said. "It's all about how my body feels. And each time you go out, is it worth the risk of your body? I'll always pay attention to my body and listen to the people that surround me that I know who love and care about me. If any of them were to come to me and say any day that it's time to stop, then we'll stop. And if I ever felt that way, that it's not worth it, then it's not worth it. But right now I feel good. I feel like I have a lot left in the tank and I'm ready to go out there and show that I'm still one of the top guys in the weight class.
"Expect a good fight. Expect me looking sharp. And expect me to win the fight."
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Weekly title-fight schedule:
No title fights scheduled.
Last week's picks: None
2017 picks record: 99-30 (76.7 percent)
Overall picks record: 921-304 (75.1 percent)
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.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.