When District fighter Lamont Peterson enters the ring Saturday night, accompanying him will be the International Boxing Federation junior welterweight belt he claimed three years ago. The hardware provides a sparkling visual of Peterson’s accomplishments in the sport that rescued him from the streets of the nation’s capital, but his aspirations are far more ambitious than keeping a single title.
The to-do list in the near future includes unifying the major belts at 140 pounds with a potential showdown against Danny Garcia, the world’s top-rated light welterweight. Before that match can take place though, Peterson (32-2-1, 16 knockouts) must dispatch Edgar Santana at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, where Garcia will face Rod Salka in the main event. Both bouts will be televised live on Showtime.
“Fights like this, you can never overlook an opponent,” said trainer Barry Hunter, who helped Peterson escape homelessness and raised him as if he were his son. “Every fight we go into, we try to treat that opposition as if they are world champions already. That’s how we prepare for our fights. There’s no letting up off the gas. Not overlooking Edgar, but if we get past Edgar, of course there’s bigger fights on the horizon.”
Specifically Garcia, who owns the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council titles and is undefeated in 28 fights. Peterson’s losses are to Timothy Bradley, the former World Boxing Organization champion at 147 pounds, and Argentine slugger Lucas Matthysse, whom Garcia beat by unanimous decision last year.
In the longer term, there’s talk of moving up to the crowded and supremely competitive welterweight division where the likes of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao reside. It’s also where the most lucrative purses are assembled at the gate and in pay-per-view buys.
“There’s not a lot of guys you can go to [historically] at the 140-pound class and say they are great fighters,” Peterson said. “You can say Julio Cesar Chavez, Aaron Pryor, fighters like that, but the list doesn’t go long. I’m just trying to add my name there, and I know winning all the belts is a big step.”
In his New York debut, Peterson will be fighting for the fourth time since securing the IBF title Dec. 10, 2011, via split decision over Amir Khan at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Peterson, 30, also claimed the World Boxing Association belt that night but had it vacated after testing positive for a banned substance. Garcia subsequently scored a TKO victory over Khan to gain the WBA title.
In his last fight, on Jan. 25 at the D.C. Armory, Peterson registered a unanimous decision against previously unbeaten Dierry Jean. The lengthy layoff between that bout and Santana, 35, is nothing new for Peterson, who since 2009 has not fought more than twice in a year.
Peterson’s handlers instead have been extremely discerning in selecting opponents, remaining mindful another loss would deal a major blow to his appeal and marketability on the national landscape.
“We’ve been here before,” Hunter said. “Even [been off] longer than that. A lot of times with us, because we stay so active in the gym, even times there’s no fight on the horizon, we stay in the gym constantly, so therefore there’s a lot of work. We work everyday, and if there’s rust, there’s so little you really can’t notice it.”
Santana (29-4, 20 KOs), meanwhile, has won three consecutive fights, all coming last year. None of those bouts lasted beyond the sixth round, including a first-round knockout of Michael Clark for the vacant North American Boxing Association light welterweight belt.
Also on Saturday’s card is Peterson’s younger brother Anthony (33-1, 21 KOs), who is set to face Mexican journeyman Edgar Riovalle (37-18-2, 26 KOs) in a light welterweight match to be shown live on Showtime Extreme. Anthony Peterson, 29, is fighting for the second time this year after beating Marcos Leonardo Jimenez on March 21 via 10-round unanimous decision.
“Without winning this fight, there’s no Garcia fight,” Lamont Peterson said. “Who knows? Even if I win this fight there might not be a Garcia fight. All I can do is focus on Edgar Santana.”