But over the past 14 fightless, pointless months? Peterson is 29 now, not a kid. Turns out he could teach his mentor about what it means to keep your will unbroken.
“Lamont held me up,” Hunter said. “He held everyone up. He taught me something. Yes, he did.”
Choosing the right way
Last spring, when he was working out as the champion and anticipating his fight with Khan, Peterson shuffled silently into the low-slung, temporary gym in Southeast where Hunter moved his troops so the addition at Bald Eagle could be built. He started pulling off a sweatshirt, taping up his hands, without saying a word. Hunter came in, saw his star student and bellowed, “I’m gonna punish your ass!”
Peterson sneaked a small smile. To understand how he handled the past year, you have to understand the punishment he endured to even be in such a position, what Hunter did to make sure he got there. Winning a championship? Just a chapter, and a short one. Take, for instance, Peterson as a teenager, with his promise long since identified and Hunter’s investment in him beyond hours or days, but years — meals and shoes and rides.
“Boxing is my mistress,” Hunter said, and he has more than occasionally lamented the time he spent in the gym rather than with his own kids.
Back then, Peterson started smoking marijuana, and lots of it. He started drinking, too often and too much. He tried to train through it, tried to fight through it, tried to hide it from Hunter. He couldn’t. He would show up for workouts in no shape to fight. Hunter smelled the difference in his student. His solution: ramp up the intensity.
“See what you do out there?” Hunter would yell as an unfit Peterson tried to spar. “See how it gets you in here?” In his head, Peterson had to acknowledge: “Yeah, you’re right.” He slogged through some amateur fights, lost to opponents he once would have easily dismissed.
“I was doing so much damage to my body,” Peterson said. “I couldn’t come in here and do that type of workout.”
So after a while, he didn’t come at all. He sat on the edge of two disparate lives.
“It was right there on the line,” Hunter said. “It was that [stuff], or it was this [stuff].”
But anybody who has come through the Headbangers program, which Hunter has headquartered in several down-and-out rec centers over the past quarter-century, knows Hunter’s relationship with the Petersons was different. Anthony, too, is a pro fighter now, a lightweight with a 31-1 record. Back when Lamont and Anthony were 11 and 10, Hunter — a contractor by trade, a boxing coach by passion, an evaluator of the human spirit by nature — sensed a quality in them that he found rare.