Earning your living by getting hit in the face with malevolent fists cased in leather may not seem to be the smartest of decisions. For Lamont Peterson, it was the one that saved his life.
For Peterson, who Saturday challenges Timothy Bradley for the WBO junior welterweight belt, the unforgiving ring is where he found safety, fistic weapons of intent notwithstanding.
He goes into the fight at the Agua Caliente Resort in Rancho Mirage, Calif., as an underdog, but the 25-year-old's upbringing means he will always pay scant regard to the moneyline.
Life itself came at long odds for Peterson, who grew up in poverty in Washington, D.C., along with his brother Anthony, also now a professional boxer with 29 consecutive wins to Lamont's 27.
Until the age of 10, Peterson's future was as unpredictable as the illicit alleys and potted streets where he and Anthony bounced between homeless shelters, abandoned cars and bus stations.
Drugs and crime were facts of life in the neighborhood and most of his peers from that era never managed to break free of the inevitability that cruel fate had ordained for them.
"I knew a lot of guys who are dead," Peterson said. "A lot of guys are in prison. Some guys are paralyzed. I have lost count.
"There are people that I know I will never see again, their lives have gone a certain way. It is just the way it is."
Such morbid words tumble from Peterson's lips without audible emotion. A tragically brief and helpless existence is a simple reality for many young African American men in the downtrodden areas of DC.
Few get the opportunity to escape, barring a special talent or exceptional fortune. Peterson had both.
His break came when he strode off Joliet Street in DC's Bellevue neighborhood and into Barry Hunter's Bald Eagle boxing gym. The unmistakable fume of sweat and toil reached deep into the 10-year-old, striking a chord he barely understood but had neither the ability nor inclination to break.
The rhythmic pounding of fists on pads entranced him and this new world would quickly become his new reality, a cocoon from the tribulations and temptations of the outside world.
Hunter saw not only raw ability that day, but also a young boy hurtling headfirst towards a tragic end.
As owner of a construction business who also served as a volunteer boxing coach, Hunter had seen countless lives cut short on these streets, just another tale, another life wiped out with story untold.
"This area is full of sad things," Hunter said. "Lamont came from a very difficult situation and he had to make certain choices.
"I believe boxing was the best thing to happen to him. His only other options were going to end in prison or death.
"From day one he had something special. I never had to tell him anything twice. He was doing things inside a day that most kids take three months to master."
Soon after, Anthony Peterson became similarly bitten by the boxing bug and side by side the brothers honed the skills that would eventually give them a livelihood. After solid amateur careers they jumped to the pro level together. All along the way has been Hunter, a one-man support system, surrogate father, coach and mentor.
Lamont's career has been carefully managed, and it is felt that he is largely untested to date. Bradley, a dynamic athlete hovering on the verge of the top 10 pound-for-pound ratings, represents a huge step up in class.
Yet there is no lack of belief in Peterson, and why would there be?
"The way my life has gone makes me believe I can do anything," he said. "I'm not supposed to be here, coming from where I did.
"I'm supposed to be in trouble, or worse. But I got through it, I had someone in Barry who was always there to guide me and I knew I had to stay strong or it was all going to fall apart.
"I never want to go back to where I was. I am careful with what money I have, I appreciate this gift and opportunity I have been given. I have so much motivation because of all this – and I have the skills to back it up."
More evidence of Peterson's progress came in a sparring session with Floyd Mayweather Jr., as part of the Pretty Boy's preparations for his comeback fight against Juan Manuel Marquez.
Onlookers claim Peterson at least matched, if not got the better of Mayweather in Las Vegas. Tales of sparring are passed swiftly along the boxing grapevine and not all carry full credence. Yet at the very least it is clear that Peterson was not fazed by Mayweather's reputation or lightning-fast reflexes.
Saturday night is when it really matters though, with the chance to take a stratospheric leap if he can defeat Bradley.
Win or lose, the Peterson journey should still have a ways to go. If not for boxing, it may have ended already.
- Lamont Peterson
- Anthony Peterson