Let’s start with the premise that, since about 1882, there hasn’t been a harder, more nakedly transparent job in sports than climbing into a confined space, taking your shirt off and physically beating up another man up for a paycheck.
And whether you view boxing as the manly art of self-defense, sanctioned brain damage or somewhere in between, the rawness of a fighter’s solitude during a career crisis — what he thinks and feels in the seconds that will change his life — is still incomparable to any other athletic endeavor.
It almost bears pointing out: In Lamont Peterson’s most dire moments, there is no assistance from an offensive line, an oarsman, a center who protects the rim — any teammate. There is the fighter and the fighter alone.
So when he climbs into a ring at the D.C. Armory on Saturday night for the first time since he was viciously knocked down three times and out by Argentine Lucas Matthysse in May, you naturally worry for someone for whom you’ve gained a real affection as a person as much as a professional the past two years.
“Mentally, I’m better than ever,” Peterson, Southeast Washington’s own, said Friday. “Really, I am. I know some of you are worried because of what happened in the last fight, but I just think it’s a reach that other people want to talk about. I’m in the best place I could possibly be going into any other fight. Mentally I’m stronger and better — everything seems so much clearer for this fight.”
We spoke in a cramped corridor of the Renaissance Hotel downtown on Friday, Peterson’s 30th birthday. It was moments after the International Boxing Federation’s junior welterweight champion met the 140-pound weight limit for his title defense against Dierry Jean, an unbeaten French-speaking Canadian of Haitian extraction who really wants to wear a championship belt.
The fight, televised on Showtime, is Peterson’s last of two contracted under Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions. What happens Saturday night at the Armory depends on what’s next. Maybe a possible unification, big-money fight with WBA champion Danny Garcia, who actually beat Matthysse. Or another back-to-square-one fight, another reevaluation of his career, deciding, really, how long he wants to swap punches with dangerous men.
“My personal goal is four more years, to fight the best and make as much money as I can so I can retire comfortably and not worry about stressing out about money all the time,” he says.
I can’t help but go back to May and the destruction Peterson suffered at the hands of Matthysse. There were all kinds of backstories, including the revelation that Peterson had 12 vials of blood drawn the day before the fight in Atlantic City, where another boxing bureaucracy somehow forced him to take multiple blood tests that his camp says severely weakened him in the hours leading up to the fight.
Still, having covered boxing early in my career, I’ve seen great fighters never be the same after taking a beating like that. Meldrick Taylor, one of the finest fighters of his generation, psychologically didn’t recover after Julio Cesar Chavez knocked him out at the end of their memorable 12-round war in 1990 .
When Peterson’s camp says it wants another shot at Matthysse, you half-expect Burgess Meredith’s Mickey character from “Rocky III” to jump out from behind the curtains and warn, “He’ll knock you to tomorrow, Rock!”
“It’s all mental for him right now,” says Bernard Hopkins, the ageless champion known as “The Executioner,” whose charisma and stature Golden Boy is using this week to promote the fight. “For Lamont, the questions aren’t about his body; they’re about his mind. Will he be gun-shy? Will he want to engage like he’s engaged before? His body will remember, but will his mind let him go there again?”
Peterson has a harder comeback road than Hopkins ever had during any loss. Not only has Hopkins, 49, never been brutally knocked out, he hasn’t been cut in 26 years and 62 pro fights.
“I’ve watched the fight once — the Sunday after I got home, just to see what happened,” Peterson says. “No use dwelling on it. At the end of the day it’s boxing. You might lose. You’ve got to prepare yourself before you get to that point that you could lose. Then you get over it.
“I just pray to God that I have understanding of my loss. And I think I did.”
I probe more. He eventually cuts me off. “Again, you have to forget about it,” he says. “Y’all make it a little harder job to forget about it when you ask questions about it. But I’m over it. Really.”
It’s probably our baggage more than his, all those times you’ve heard the announcer’s line on television, “How can he come back from a beating like that?”
The truth is Peterson had knocked been knocked down three times in his career before that night and got back up to summon the resilience and heart needed to win a world title in his home town two Decembers ago, that magical night when Amir Khan had no answers for the prohibitive underdog. Heck, he came back from homelessness as a child.
Remembering that is to realize Lamont Peterson is better at moving past the rough patches than most of us. In fact, as he gets set to resurrect his career again Saturday night, it’s worth considering he might be the best at it.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
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