For most of the last four years, Lamont Peterson had owned at least one world championship belt. The District fighter rarely spoke about its significance though, preferring instead to pursue the most attractive matchups regardless of whether there were titles at stake. Besides, with all the alphabet champions out there, laying claim to a belt had lost a good deal of its cachet.
That’s why Peterson (33-3-1, 17 knockouts) simply shrugged when asked if his perspective has changed heading into Saturday’s bout against the undefeated Felix Diaz at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax. Peterson enters without a world title for the first time since upsetting Amir Khan in 2011 to secure the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Association super lightweight belts.
“I know I’m still one of the top fighters in the game,” Peterson, 31, said this week from his gym, the Bald Eagle training facility in Southwest Washington. “I mean, it really makes no difference, belt or no belt. Honestly, if I never fought for another belt, I wouldn’t care. As long as I’m fighting top guys that the fans want to see me fight, I’m okay with that.”
Peterson and Diaz are set to meet at a catchweight of 143 pounds. The showdown comes six months after Peterson also fought at that weight in an April loss to Danny Garcia via majority decision in Brooklyn. Peterson wound up the more energetic fighter in the later rounds, but two judges had Garcia winning, 115-113, based on the perception that Peterson started too slowly.
Following the defeat, the IBF stripped Peterson of his title — even though the belt wasn’t on the line. The WBA had vacated Peterson’s title several years ago following a failed pre-fight drug test before a rematch with Khan in Las Vegas in July of 2012. The fight never took place, but the IBF allowed Peterson to remain its title holder until the Garcia loss.
“I take pride in training hard and preparing for any fight, regardless of who it is: big name or no name,” Peterson said. “At the end of the day, this game always keeps me motivated because it seems like they’re always trying to push me out. I just want to let fans know, the boxing world know I’m still here. I’m still learning. I’m still getting better.”
Peterson’s only loss in his last seven fights other than to Garcia was to Lucas Matthysse in 2013. The Argentine slugger won via TKO, sending Peterson to the canvas three times in the first three rounds.
“I think sometimes we put too much on belts,” said Barry Hunter, who has trained Peterson and younger brother Anthony, also on Saturday’s card, for their entire careers. “The fight game is the fight game. It should be the best against the best, and that’s all we’re concerned about.”
Lamont Peterson has said as much recently, too, indicating he would be open to moving up to 147 pounds. The welterweight division is generally considered the most competitive in the sport these days, even despite Floyd Mayweather Jr. having announced his retirement on the heels of September’s victory over Andre Berto that bumped the pound-for-pound king to 49-0.
Peterson, meanwhile, faces an opponent who is his same age but with much less professional experience. Diaz (17-0, eight KOs) last fought in April, beating Gabriel Bracero in a unanimous 10-round decision at Barclays Center. This bout with Peterson will be the first scheduled 12-round fight for the Dominican-born southpaw, who won a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics.
Peterson owns a significant advantage in both reach (five inches) and height (four inches) and is undefeated in five career fights in the D.C. area. He last fought in the District in January 2014, beating previously the undefeated, Haitian-born Dierry Jean via unanimous decision.
“I think that the fighter means more than the title,” promoter Lou DiBella said. “I think the quality of the matchup means more than the title. It’s always a good thing to have a title; it’s never bad from a marketing angle. But I think Lamont’s remained certainly one of the very best at his weight and is a world-class, top echelon fighter.”