So Hunter did. The Petersons became fixtures in the group that used to pile in the back of Hunter’s pickup truck, riding through rain or snow to and from the gym. But Hunter was more than just transport, more than just someone who showed up with bags full of Taco Bell to make sure the kids ate.
“He was the first guy ever in my life to say, ‘Anthony, no. Don’t do that. That’s wrong. Do it this way,’ ” Anthony said. “But it wasn’t like he imposed his grown-man authority on me. He talked to me like an individual, not like a child.”
Lamont once got into an argument with an adult outside the Columbia Heights rec center at which Hunter then held his boxing program. To this day, Lamont can’t remember the topic, the nature of the dispute. He remembers only that it changed his life.
“You know what?” the adult said. “I’m gonna take you into the gym and tell Barry.”
He dragged Lamont inside. Hunter heard the tale. Then, he turned to Lamont.
“So,” he said, “what’s your side?”
Lamont reeled at the inquiry. He gathered himself, told his version of the events. And the strangest thing happened: Hunter believed him.
“At that point, I knew there was something different about him,” Lamont Peterson said. “I knew I could trust him.”
‘We want to change boxing’
Bald Eagle Rec Center finally quieted one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, and Barry Hunter’s apostles — nearly two dozen fighters who had sparred and shadowboxed and thudded on punching bags — came by, casually, for their post-workout handshake and hug. One by one, Hunter embraced them, thanking them for them work, hoping he would see them the next day. While this was going on, Lamont Peterson crouched underneath a barbell, bent his knees, and shot back up with a guttural grunt.
“Can’t get him outta here,” Hunter said, nodding in Peterson’s direction. “Always been that way.”
This is what chafes at Hunter still: that the positive test and the canceled fight might overshadow the fact that the IBF ruled in August that Peterson should retain its belt, that the World Boxing Association has called Peterson only a “champ in recess,” never officially stripping him. The controversy, Hunter believes, overshadows the work.
“Everything we put into this?” Hunter asked, incredulous. “It really did change my outlook on people, the system, everything.”
Part of the system, though, is promoting fights and fighters, and Hunter still cares deeply about promoting and preserving Peterson. So there must be posters and flyers, because whether at the Mandalay Bay or the D.C. Armory, Peterson vs. Holt is on ESPN2, live, and the broadcast would be better with a packed venue. The posters and flyers bear block letters proclaiming, “Redemption.” Catchy and, on a surface level, appropriate.
Redemption, though, isn’t something Peterson feels he needs. Not personally, at least. But if something good is going to come from all this . . .
“To be honest, redemption is necessary for the moves we trying to make,” Peterson said. “We want to change boxing. Who wants to follow a cheat? Who’s going to listen to a cheat?”
And who would pursue a cheat? Last month, Peterson surprised the boxing world — and even himself — by signing a deal with Golden Boy Promotions, the very same outfit that manages Khan, the very same outfit that had railed against Peterson after his failed test. In some ways, these are just the kind of folks that Peterson and Hunter and “our little ragtag group,” as Hunter said, have tried to avoid in the past. Now, here they were, at his doorstep, offering redemption.
“Sometimes, you look at it, and you got to make a deal with the devil,” Peterson said. “As long as your heart’s in the right place, and you know what you want to do, you do business. . . . To be honest, I still feel a certain way about Golden Boy. But that’s just the way it is. It’s just business.”
It is also, Peterson believes, a vehicle. Golden Boy still manages Khan, still has other fighters at 140 and 147 pounds, such as the undefeated Danny Garcia of Philadelphia, who would make attractive, money-making matchups for Peterson. Such a platform provides other benefits.
“I always tell people we need stricter drug testing, things like that,” Peterson said. “Maybe this will shine the light on this subject. Maybe it’ll get done.
“A lot of times we ask for stuff, and when it don’t come the way we want it to come, we start crying.”
He will not cry about it. By that point, the gym was quiet. The other fighters had dressed, headed out into the cold. Peterson put down his last weight, then walked back toward the ring, done for the day. His expression revealed none of the hurt of the past year, none of the hope for the future. What stood in the light that shone through the windows of Washington’s best boxing gym was only a will, unbroken.