Two weeks before what could be the defining fight of his promising boxing career, Lamont Peterson stood in a food line serving turkey on Thanksgiving. The recipients were homeless, and they had come to the Central United Mission in Northwest to enjoy a hearty meal on one of the few days in which they’re certain they’ll be able to eat.
Peterson and younger brother Anthony, a professional fighter as well, once were on the other side, themselves with no regular place to live, so they take special comfort in being able to provide for the disadvantaged in the city of their birth. Their service also is a reminder of how far they’ve come since they were children forced to pick pockets and steal from convenience stores in order to feed themselves.
These days, Lamont Peterson, 27, is chasing a world title and the international acclaim that comes with it should he upset unified super lightweight champion Amir Khan on Saturday night at Walter E. Washington Convention Center. It’s the second major title bout in two years for Peterson (29-1-1, 15 KOs), whose last such fight resulted in a loss to Tim Bradley for the WBO lightweight championship.
“We were in shelters, just going from house to house, sometimes on the street,” said Lamont Peterson, who was 6 years old when he became homeless. “A lot of these holidays and stuff when you’re supposed to be with your family enjoying the season, we were pretty much just struggling.”
The Petersons and their five siblings lived with their mother for the first several years after they were born, but eventually she was unable to support the family financially. Their father, meanwhile, was serving jail time, so when they were lucky, the brothers stayed in shelters or with relatives or friends. Other nights they slept wherever they could find cover.
Often, the Petersons said, they went without a full meal for weeks. One honey bun, for instance, was a treat. At one point, Lamont Peterson had grown so accustomed to living by his wits and on benches, in abandoned cars or bus stations that he didn’t think his circumstances to be aberrant.
Others in his circle also were making do with next to nothing, shivering outdoors in the winter and hustling for what little money or food they could get. At the time, Peterson recalled, he and his brother didn’t map out their futures because they weren’t certain if they had any.
That’s also roughly when the Petersons happened upon Barry Hunter’s gym in the District. Hunter took to the brothers immediately, and shortly thereafter, they moved in with him and began their lifelong attachment to the ring with Hunter as their trainer.
Not only did they practice their craft whenever time allowed, but the Petersons also attended fights in the nation’s capital featuring some of the area’s most highly regarded boxers. At those moments, they could begin envisioning themselves doing the same in their home town.
“I can remember being a baby boy going to see Sharmba Mitchell,” Anthony Peterson said of the former interim IBF light heavyweight title holder from Takoma Park. “Me and my brother were like, ‘We’re going to host a big fight here one day.’ ”
That moment is fast approaching for Lamont Peterson, whose boxing career has included a national Golden Gloves title in 2001 and 27 consecutive victories after turning professional in 2004. In April 2009, Peterson won the WBO interim junior welterweight championship with a technical knockout of Willy Blain. Eight months later, Peterson lost by unanimous decision to the undefeated Bradley.
Last December, Peterson fought to a 10-round draw against future welterweight champion Victor Ortiz before knocking out Victor Cayo in the 12th round of their IBF elimination bout July 29. That victory earned Peterson a title shot against Khan (26-1, 18 KOs), the prohibitive favorite whose résumé most recently includes a fifth-round knockout of Zab Judah for the IBF super lightweight championship.
“You guys know Lamont’s history ever since [he and his brother] were kids and what they went through,” Hunter said during a training session in Northeast several weeks ago. “Life hits harder than any man ever made, and if you can endure what they went through and be still standing, I doubt very seriously that we’re going to have any problems with what we face on December the 10th.”