When Lamont Peterson makes the long, slow walk from the dressing room at the DC Armory to the ring to meet Dierry Jean on Saturday in a bout televised by Showtime, the bright red belt that identifies him as the International Boxing Federation super lightweight champion will be on display somewhere close by.
Peterson will walk to the ring last and will be introduced last, as is customary form in boxing for a champion.
But Peterson doesn't feel much like a champion and he sure doesn't have a lot of interest in the belt.
During a telephone interview with Yahoo Sports, Peterson voiced the opinion of many of the sport's fans when he decried the web of politics that has strangled the sport and blasted the many sanctioning body titles as meaningless.
"As far as going into this fight as the champion, none of the belts, the championship, none of the belts mean a thing to me," said Peterson, who is 31-2-1 with 16 knockouts but is coming off a knockout loss to Lucas Matthysse that didn't cost him his title.
"When I say it means absolutely nothing, I mean exactly that. A lot of times, this person's got a belt, that person's got a belt and there are a thousand belts out there. But if you follow boxing, you know who the champion really is in the weight class."
There are literally dozens of sanctioning organizations, and many of those have a slew of different belts. Four of them – the IBF, the World Boxing Association, the World Boxing Council and the World Boxing Organization – are regarded in the sport as the "major" belts and a fighter is considered a legitimate world champion if he holds one of those.
In Peterson's 140-pound weight class, the champions are Peterson in the IBF, Ruslan Provodnikov in the WBO and Danny Garcia in both the WBC and WBO.
To Peterson, though, there is no question about the identity of the champion.
"At this point, in my opinion, Danny Garcia is the champion in the weight class," Peterson said. "Until I beat him, I wouldn't feel like I'm the champion. I could have three belts and he could have one, but at the end of the day, he's undefeated, he's fought and beat the top guys, and he's clearly the No. 1 guy at the weight class at this time."
Peterson said he still loves the sport of boxing. His most enjoyable times are still going through the rigors of a training camp, preparing for a bout.
He still loves the competition and the art and science behind a fight.
The business of boxing – the way it is run, managed and regulated – has soured him on his chosen profession, however.
He puts up with it because of his love of the game, but said he would love to see it blown up and reorganized from a business standpoint.
He supports having only one champion per weight class and said, "If I get in a little better position than I'm in now" he'll speak out frequently to try to make that a reality.
Part of the way the sport is manipulated is by controlling the ratings. Sanctioning bodies are notorious for providing favorable ratings to fighters who are aligned with promoters and/or managers they're close with.
Peterson experienced that first hand early in his career.
"When I was coming up, I think I was 22-0, something like that, but I wasn't highly ranked," he said. "Then, I signed with Top Rank and all of a sudden, I was fighting for an interim title in two fights and I was rated No. 1 for [then-WBO super lightweight champion] Timothy Bradley.
"I got that shot at Timothy Bradley almost as soon as I signed with them. It's just the way the boxing game is set up. I hate that it's that way, but it is that way. Like I said, I'll try to do my best as one person, and it's not a lot coming from just one person, but I'll try my best to change things as best I can."
His biggest priority now, though, is getting past Jean so he can put himself into position for the ultimate prize, a shot at Garcia for supremacy at 140.
Jean is an aggressive, confident pressure fighter, and Peterson's task is to back him up. Generally, pressure fighters don't fare as well when they're forced to fight going backward.
Peterson is a skillful boxer, but often gets into trouble because he loves to exchange. He said he wants to marry the two styles and be a boxer/puncher, using his boxing ability to set up scenarios in which he can fire away.
He also needs to overcome the mental stigma of the third-round knockout loss to Matthysse. It was that victory that propelled Matthysse to stardom and into a high-profile bout with Garcia on the Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez undercard.
Peterson was knocked down three times in the bout before it was stopped, but said there will be no lingering effects.
"I put that one in the trash can," he said. "It's one of those things that can happen in boxing."
The man-vs.-man competition is a part of the sport and is the aspect of it he cherishes. He's not thrilled that he lost his last bout, but he's wise enough to understand that's what happens when the best meets the best.
He'll turn 30 on Friday, the day of the weigh-in when he'll be torturing himself to make weight, but said these are the times he will never forget.
"The competition, the one-on-one aspect, the preparation, training camp is the happiest time of my life, believe it or not," he said. "I can't eat what I want. I've got to go to sleep at a certain time. I've got to wake up at a certain time. I've got to train so hard until I'm so tired, but believe it or not, that's my happiest time with boxing. When it's time to give it all up, this is the part I'll really miss, and I'll be sad, and it will take some getting used to.
"From the first time I saw boxing on TV, when Pernell Whitaker was fighting and I think Evander Holyfield was on the same card, I've been attracted to it. It's hard to explain, but I have a love for the sport that I have for no other sport and really, no other thing."
His problems in dealing with the business and political aspects of the sport, though, have made it hard to retain that love.
"My love for the sport is still pure, but I'm not going to lie to you, all the problems with the managers and promoters and seeing the game for what it really is, it took some of the joy away," he said. "I was like a kid in a candy store when I turned pro and got into the game, but now it's like boxing has let me down a lot and taken a lot of air out of the balloon. But I'm still here and it's given me something to fight for as far as trying to help the sport out.
"Overall, I still love the sport and I love the competition, but the game itself, I can do without."
- Sports & Recreation
- Lamont Peterson