Former two-weight world titleholder says all the pressure is on the young champion as he embraces the underdog role once again for Saturday night's showdown on Showtime.
Lamont Peterson has overcome entirely too much in his life to worry about public perception.
When you’ve overcome homelessness to win world titles in two weight classes, you tend to disregard daunting odds. So no, Peterson isn’t all that concerned with how fight fans or boxing writers view his supposed role in his welterweight title fight against IBF champion Errol Spence Jr. on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York and live on Showtime (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
“I’m not worried about what anyone says about me being the underdog,” Peterson said. “Supposedly, Errol is this, that. I’m this, that. I’m not worried about it one bit. I’m gonna go in there and perform the best I can, enjoy myself and, of course, always you go in there to win the fight.”
Based on Peterson’s personal experience, he knows winning will be much easier said than done. Peterson realized six-plus years ago, when he sparred against Spence to help Spence prepare for the 2012 Summer Olympics, that the accomplished amateur would eventually occupy this position.
The 28-year-old Spence (22-0, 19 KOs) is one of the top 10 boxers in the sport, according to most credible pound-for-pound lists. Against Peterson (35-3-1, 17 KOs), the powerful southpaw will make the first defense of the IBF 147-pound championship he won by traveling to Kell Brook’s hometown and knocking him out in the 11th round May 27 in Sheffield, England.
To continue his anticipated ascent to superstardom, however, Spence must get past a gritty, intelligent, well-conditioned former champion who has lost only to Lucas Matthysse and former champs Danny Garcia and Timothy Bradley. Garcia, whose majority-decision win was widely debated, and Bradley were undefeated when they beat Peterson.
An appreciative Peterson, who’ll turn 34 on January 24, has tried to enjoy preparing for his biggest fight since Garcia edged him nearly three years ago at Barclays Center. As the Washington, D.C., native moves toward the twilight of a pro career that began 13 years ago, Peterson recognizes that he might not get another opportunity like the one he intends to exploit Saturday night.
“I’m not caught up in the pressure,” Peterson said. “That’s what happens a lot of times, especially with these young fighters, where they get to this stage and they lose strictly on putting too much pressure on themselves. All the pressure should be on him. I’m honestly not worried about anything.”
The mature, low key Peterson respects Spence, who has responded positively to pressure thus far. He doesn’t think Spence is overrated and even if he felt that way, Peterson isn’t the type to talk trash.
Spence reciprocated that respect. Having shared a ring with Peterson, Spence expects a difficult fight.
“Lamont and I both have big hearts and I think everyone will be able to see that in the ring,” Spence said. “We’re both smart fighters, so there might be some feeling out before we get going. But I expect it to be a dogfight.”
“ I’m not caught up in the pressure. All the pressure should be on him. I’m honestly not worried about anything. ” Two-division World Champion Lamont Peterson
Derrick James, Spence’s trainer, figures Peterson’s mental strength will test Spence in his first title defense. Spence is bigger and stronger than Peterson, but Peterson’s experience, particularly at the championship level, should enable him to make this 12-round championship match problematic at times for the favored fighter.
“Lamont Peterson is very witty and intelligent in the ring,” James said. “He’s a tough guy, too. He brings that mental fortitude that you need to be successful. We have to be coming to this fight 100 percent and be focused the whole time. If we don’t, we may come up short.”
Barry Hunter, Peterson’s trainer, suspects Spence will have to dig even deeper to defeat his fighter than he did to beat Brook. Spence was ahead on all three scorecards through 10 rounds (97-92, 96-93, 95-94), but began battering Brook late in their fight, broke Brook’s orbital bone around his left eye and knocked him out in the 11th round.
“When you look at the Spence-Brook fight, early on Brook had a lot of success,” Hunter said. “Down the stretch, Errol imposed his will and broke Brook down. I know Errol well and I’ve coached him. He has a strong will. He’s not great in one area, but he’s good in a lot of areas. This is a different kind of guy he’s facing. Heart is something Lamont is nowhere near short on. I think this might start off tactical, and then turn into a war.”
Peterson hasn’t fought in 11 months, but that lengthy layoff allowed an injury to his left shoulder to heal.
He suffered a torn deltoid during training late in 2016, yet fought through it and beat Russia’s David Avanesyan (23-2-1, 11 KOs) by unanimous decision to win the WBA world welterweight title February 18 in Cincinnati. Peterson picked physical therapy over surgery after beating Avanesyan, which kept him from boxing training until late last summer.
Shoulder surgery would’ve held him out longer than the rehabilitation program Peterson chose and thus likely eliminated him from the list of potential opponents for Spence’s first title defense. Having full range of motion in his left shoulder has left Peterson optimistic about pulling off an upset.
“Right now, my body feels better than ever,” Peterson said. “I’m comfortable with everything that’s gone on in camp and I think you can see it in my body.”
Peterson feels fresher because he no longer has to struggle to make the junior welterweight limit of 140 pounds. His win against Avanesyan represented Peterson’s impressive debut as a full-fledged welterweight, but upsetting Spence would do much more to rejuvenate Peterson’s career.
“I have to look at this as really just another big fight,” Peterson said. “When you’re at the top, you try not to make too much of each fight. We know what’s at stake. I know that when I keep it simple, that’s when I perform best.”
For a complete look at Spence Jr. vs Peterson, visit our fight page.