“I had to go out there and show people that I still got it,” said Peterson, who improved to 32-2-1 with 16 knockouts.
Despite some impressive early rounds by Jean, the judges all sided with Peterson (115-113, 116-112, 118-111), much to the delight of the hometown crowd at the D.C. Armory, which was announced at 5,668.
Peterson, who turned 30 on Friday, was not in serious trouble and his conditioning got him through the later rounds against Jean (25-1, 17 knockouts), a Haitian-born, Montreal-raised 31-year old fighting for only the third time outside of Quebec.
He couldn’t have looked further from home at times Saturday night.
The two fighters were cautious at the opening bell, but Jean managed to control the center of the ring early. Two judges awarded him three of the first four rounds. By the fifth, though, Jean appeared be to losing gas and his punches were having little effect on Peterson.
Jean was suddenly backpedaling around the ring, and Peterson’s confidence grew with each punch. At one point, he dramatically wound up his clenched glove in a circular motion before launching a strong hook.
According to CompuBox, Peterson threw 622 punches compared with Jean’s 556 and landed 230, nearly twice as many as Jean’s 123. He also connected on 161 of his 289 power punches, which included 52 body shots.
“I knew that it was his first title fight,” Peterson said. “It’s a big stage and I knew regardless of what he said, he’s gonna have some type of nerves and uncertainty.”
Peterson downplayed any nerves that might have carried into the bout. The fight was his first since a stunning loss last May to Lucas Matthysse in Atlantic City.
Peterson was trying to fight his way back on the championship-level radar, but just as he was about to knock on the door of the sport’s top level, he was instead swiftly escorted off the property. Matthysse put Peterson on the canvas four times in the third-round knockout.
While Peterson downplayed the effects of that devastating loss in recent weeks, he knew he needed a big performance Saturday.
When he was awarded the decision, Peterson hoisted his belt in the air to the delight of the partisan crowd. Because the Matthysse bout had been a non-title affair, Peterson was able to carry his IBF junior welterweight title into Saturday’s fight against Jean. The win marked Peterson’s second successful defense and, despite a rough stretch, the belt could give him a bit of leverage as he plots his next step.
While Peterson has talked about moving in weight to 147 pounds, he made it clear that’s not an immediate goal.
“I would like to be considered the best 140-pounder in the world before I leave,” he said.
While a rematch with Matthysse might allow Peterson to even the score, the bigger immediate target is Danny Garcia, the undefeated Puerto Rican who holds the WBC and WBA belts. Garcia beat Matthysse by unanimous decision last September and is scheduled to defend his 140-pound titles on March 15. No opponent has been announced.
“If it’s Danny Garcia next, that’s what it is,” Peterson said.
Peterson has been trying to claw back to this level for nearly two years. He lost one of his belts and missed out on a big payday after his rematch with Amir Khan was canceled when Peterson tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone in 2012.
Saturday’s win marked just his third fight since then. The successful title defense earned him only $117,000, a far cry from what he hopes to make when he steps in the ring next.
In the night’s co-main event, the only other bout featured on the Showtime telecast, junior middleweight Jermell Charlo kept his unbeaten record in tact, winning a 10-round unanimous decision over Gabriel Rosado and improving to 23-0 with 11 knockouts. Rosado dropped to 22-7 with 13 knockouts.