Peterson’s perseverance finally pays off with Rios bout
Midway through Anthony Peterson’s fight with Adan Hernandez on ESPN2 in June of 2006 it was clear the undefeated lightweight prospect was ready to advance to higher-profile challenges against the division’s top fighters.
It didn’t matter that Peterson was only 21 years old at the time of the fight, which took place in Memphis, Tenn., on the eve of the Jermain Taylor-Winky Wright middleweight championship that was staged in the same city. It didn’t matter that the Washington, D.C. native was only in the 18th bout of his pro career or that he had gone directly from fighting in six- and eight-round bouts to a scheduled 12-rounder.
Peterson outclassed the capable Texan over the championship distance with such poise and professionalism that most observers believed he would graduate from Friday Night Fights to HBO’s spotlight, where Taylor and Wright would battle it out a day later. The former amateur standout was so talented and technically sound that many boxing writers thought he would win a major world title within one or two years of the Hernandez bout.
For whatever reason, boxing politics or fate, that hasn’t happened.
Four years, 12 straight victories and 81 consecutive weeks in THE RING’s lightweight rankings have gone by since Peterson, now 25, beat Hernandez and he has yet to get a shot at a title.
However, Peterson (30-0, 20 knockouts) might finally be in position to change his hard luck when he faces fellow unbeaten lightweight standout Brandon Rios in the opening bout of an HBO Boxing After Dark broadcast on Saturday from Las Vegas.
The fight with Rios (24-0-1, 18 KOs) is a 12-round title-elimination bout. The winner is supposed to get a shot at the 135-pound belt currently held by Venezuela’s Miguel Acosta.
Peterson, who has been burned by sanctioning organizations before, isn’t bothering to look that far into the future.
“I don’t believe anything I’m told anymore,” Peterson told RingTV.com. “I don’t believe anything that’s said in boxing, especially if someone is promising me a title shot. I’ve been the No. 1 contender in three different organizations for three years, and I never once got a shot at any title. I won’t believe that the Rios fight will lead to a title shot until the week of when I’m supposed to climb into the ring with the champion. And even then I won’t be sure.
“I thought I finally had my shot on June 5 at Yankee Stadium. I was supposed to fight [Humberto] Soto for his belt on the [Yuri] Foreman-[Miguel] Cotto undercard. Supposedly it was a done deal but then it was suddenly pulled off the table. I was told he wasn’t ready to fight but then I saw he was set to defend it against some guy named Ricardo Dominguez three weeks before the Foreman-Cotto fight. Who is Ricardo Dominguez? What’s he ever done? And why is he getting a title shot before me?”
Peterson is not a jaded person by nature but his bitterness toward the often sketchy side of the boxing business is understandable. He feels the opportunity he’s finally receiving on Saturday should have come at least three years ago.
“It’s been way too long of a wait,” Peterson said. “I beat 30 cats in a row and knocked out 20 of ’em and yet guys who’ve done a lot less are moving ahead of me. It’s like I’ve been black balled.”
Despite years of frustration, Peterson refuses to give in to despair. Of his many considerable attributes — an extensive amateur career, superb athleticism and textbook boxing technique — Peterson’s will is probably his strongest asset, and it served him long before he ever laced on a pair of gloves.
From age 6 to 8, Peterson, the youngest of 12 siblings, suffered unthinkable hardships when his family was forced into homelessness after his father was imprisoned on drug charges. Sleeping in abandoned cars, bouncing between homeless shelters and bus stations, Peterson and his older brother Lamont often roamed the streets of Washington, D.C., just to stay out of trouble before finding a safe haven at Barry Hunter’s boxing gym.
Hunter, who quickly evolved from the boys’ boxing coach to their legal guardian to an eventual father figure, took them in and taught them as much about life as he did the Sweet Science. Their participation in school and church was every bit as important to Hunter as their time in the boxing gym, and the boys grew into well-rounded young men as well as promising prize fighters.
Peterson, who along with Lamont, a junior welterweight contender, received the Boxing Writers Association of America's award for “perseverance in overcoming adversity” in 2007, is no stranger to suffering or the sometimes-harsh unfairness of life.
Boxing politics, frustrating as that is, pales in comparison to what he’s been through.
“I’ve dealt with it by telling myself that God is saying that I’m not ready and that when the time comes — and I know it will — I’ll be able to handle anything that comes my way,” Peterson said. “I truly believe that. Even though I was probably ready to win a title three years ago, I’m not sure if I was ready to hold it. But now I know in my heart that I’m ready to win it and defend it against all comers.”
Hunter echoes his young fighter’s wisdom.
“I think he was physically ready for any of the fighters with world titles three or four years ago,” Hunter told RingTV.com. “but it’s the mental part of the sport that fighters really have to have ready when they step up to the championship level.
“I wasn’t sure if he had it after the Hernandez fight. He wasn’t mature enough then. But now more than ever, I think he’s mentally ready to step it up.”
Hunter says he didn’t know for sure that Peterson had what it took to be a world-class fighter until he overcame a game and dangerous opponent.
“It was three years ago at the D.C. Armory,” Hunter said. “Anthony fought a kid from the Dominican Republic we knew nothing about. We tried to scout him and we couldn’t find nothing on the young man, but he was definitely a threat. He had a high knockout ratio and he was very confident, so it was a gamble.
“Anthony won by eighth- or ninth-round stoppage, but he had to fight for the victory. That fight told me how mature Anthony was because it showed me he could battle in the trenches and come on strong down the stretch.”
Peterson remembers the fighter and the fight as if it happened yesterday.
“It was May 25, 2007. I fought Luis Ernesto Jose and won by ninth-round stoppage,” Peterson said. “There was no footage on him and we took the fight on a week’s notice, so there was no way to prepare for his style.”
Jose turned out to be a rangy southpaw with power. The Miami-based Dominican had scored 24 knockouts in compiling a respectable 27-4-2 record. Peterson, 22-0 at the time, sampled Jose’s power in the first round.
“He hit me with a shot that put me on queer street in front of my hometown fans,” he said. “I didn’t show it but it was one of the most devastating punches I ever took in my life. I was hurt. My legs were under me but my head was gone. I didn’t know where I was anymore. My brother and my coach were the only ones in the Armory who knew because I went into attack mode the moment I was hit and I only do that when I’m hurt. Barry poured water on my head and helped me settled down between rounds.
“I tell myself three things when I’m in that kind of situation: ‘I’m in a fight. It’s OK. I’m in shape.’ That’s what I said to myself to pull through, and I did. I took him into deep water and I drowned him. My patience, my character, my will, and what I’ve been doing in the gym was all put to the test in that fight.”
Peterson’s patience and character were tested with his long wait for Saturday’s meaningful bout and many fans expect Rios, a gutsy Southern California-based brawler with an extensive amateur background, to test his will and gym work more than Jose did.
Peterson isn’t so sure about that but he says fans are in for a treat.
“I’m real familiar with Rios,” he said. “I remember him from my amateur days when he was more of a boxer, but he’s changed his style as a pro. Now he’s more of your typical Mexican fighter. He’s not jab oriented and he gives you no lateral movement. He likes to come forward and bring the heat with the hook, the uppercut and the overhand right. He’s real strong. He’ll try to go my body, but I’ll go to his body before he gets to mine.
“It’s a great stylistic matchup, but he’s one-dimensional. I could be safety first and just outbox him in a boring fight, but I want to make it an exciting fight and eventually break him down to a 10th-round stoppage.”
Hunter is expecting fireworks.
“We’re definitely expecting a high intensity bout because their styles go together,” he said. “I know how Anthony is. He won't back down from a fight, and I have a feeling that these two young men might go together like Bowe and Holyfield or Vazquez and Marquez. We’ll see.”
If Hunter is right, Peterson might be able to make up for lost time with many more HBO appearances.
Doug Fischer can be contacted at [email protected]