In his prime, Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker was so elusive in the ring, attempting to corral the guy was like trying to wrangle a smoke ring.
As such, Whitaker captured his share of titles—and the imagination of a certain young boy in the process.
Lamont Peterson was only 5 or 6 years old when he remembers first watching Whitaker on TV, being transfixed by a fighter whose motions were as fluid as the sweat dripping from his opponents as they chased him around the ring, often fruitlessly.
“I just fell in love with some of his movements, the way he fought, the way he carried himself,” Peterson recalls, sounding like that wide-eyed kid in front of the TV again.
There was one other boxer who made Peterson feel the same way, a wholly different type of fighter: Evander Holyfield, a man with cannonball fists and an indefatigable ring presence.
“It was his determination, and just the way he handled himself in the ring,” Peterson says of his appreciation for the former champ. “Just watching those two guys fight made me want to take up boxing. I watched them a lot coming up, especially when I first got into the sport.”
As Peterson prepares for one of his biggest tests in the ring, against Danny Garcia on April 11 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, his past inspirations still manifest themselves in the present-day fighter he’s blossomed into.
You can see traces of Whitaker’s ballet-worthy footwork in the way Peterson, himself a skilled technician, works the ring, equal parts force and finesse.
And then there’s his Holyfield-like doggedness, evocative of a man who fought not with a chip on his shoulder, but a boulder.
Peterson is no facsimile of either fighter, but their contrasting styles are where it all began for that little boy in front of the TV years ago.
“I always knew that I would be a boxer,” Peterson says, reflecting on his youth for a moment. “Nothing would have gotten in my way.”