Peterson: There”s a saying that boxing saves lives… In my case it”s the truth
For the young man who challenges Amir Khan for the world light-welterweight championship on Saturday night, the few steps up from the streets here into the Walter E Washington Convention Center have been a mountain to climb.
For most of his boyhood Lamont Peterson lived rough in this, one of the most powerful cities on earth, and yet one of the toughest.
With his father in prison and his mother broken on the rack of poverty, Peterson and his younger brother Anthony were sent out to fend for themselves on these streets where hunger watches from the gutter as the American masters of the political universe drive by in their limousines.
Second chance: Boxing has been the salvation of Lamont Peterson
As urchins of barely primary school age, they begged scraps of food from diners and often went weeks without a proper meal.
“We were going from house to house, door to door,” Lamont recalls. “Sometimes we were taken into shelters for the homeless but often we were just out in the streets for days.”
They slept on benches or in doorways if the weather was kind enough, or in abandoned cars or bus stations if they needed to escape the cold. What was the worst night of all
“My grandfather refused to let us sleep in the house,” he says. “We broke into his basement and it was full of rotting food, clothes and mice. It smelt vile.
“The toilet was blocked but me, my brother and one of my sisters had no alternative but to use it. That sticks in my memory as the nastiest night of all.
“Sometimes now I think about how that could have been possible for a six-year-old and I think about the kids today of the same age who are are going through the same thing. It seems impossible this could be happening in today”s society.
“Sometimes when I go to bed I lie awake thinking about how terrible it was and about the kids going through the same thing today. But I always try to end the night with a smile.”
Peterson thanks God that he didn”t drift into gang life: “My brother and I always seemed to find the right decision. Thank God the gym became my home. It was also my family life. I went there to train twice a day. I would have lived there if I could.”
Showdown: All eyes will be on Washington on for the Khan v Peterson fight
Lamont was just 10 on a chilly night when the light the brothers saw through a half-open door proved to be their salvation. The ramshackle building into which they sneaked was Barry Hunter”s boxing gym.
This much loved trainer took one look at the boys, fed them, took them into his home and let them work out among his stable of boxers. Unsurprisingly, they proved to be hungry fighters.
Lamont won youth tournaments as he grew into a Golden Gloves amateur champion. Now 27, he has been beaten only once in the 31 professional fights which have brought him to this most challenging moment of his career.
Despite the importance of the occasion, he never forgets the plight of the people with whom he used to share the battle against starvation. He says: “There is a cliche about how boxing saves the lives of some kids. In my case, it”s simply the truth.”
Peterson broke training for a day to help deliver food to the needy and spent Thanksgiving at a homeless mission serving the kind of meals which saved his and his brother Anthony”s life.
He says: “It is an honour for me to take time out for these projects. I know how rough things can get.” Then he adds: “A lot rougher than anything that can happen in the ring.”
Love match: Amir Khan is planningto marry 20-year-old American girlfriend Faryal Makhdoom
He points to a tattoo on his forearm. It depicts a bulldog gnawing on a bone. The inscription reads: “This is the way we eat.” Although our own Amir starts as a firm favourite to keep his unified WBA and IBF titles, Peterson”s paternal trainer agrees with his boy.
Hunter says: “I”ve been watching this young man beat the odds his whole life. Together, we”ve seen things that send chills up the spine of the average person. After all the struggles he has been through, nothing Khan can do is going to bother Lamont unduly. And there is more than the money to our motivation. We want to send a message across Planet Earth.”
Peterson explains: “This is my chanceto shine. That and to prove to kids everywhere that if you work hard, stay dedicated and determined, you can come through whatever life throws at you and make it.”
Suchwords do not fall on deaf ears when uttered in the hearing of his opponent. Equally committed though Khan is to keeping his crown and going on to yet greater boxing heights, he says: “I have huge respect for what Lamont has done with his life.”
Thatis one reason why he agreed to give Peterson the opportunity of home advantage in Washington, the capital city to which his family moved fromMemphis when he was an infant.
But Khan adds: “When we come down to the fight, I know I have the tools to beat him, which I must do.”
Word up: Both fighters are showing each other great respect ahead of the bout
Khan”s trainer Freddie Roach, who was inducted on Wednesday into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, is similarly sympathetic but professional: “Barry is a great person and very good trainer. He has been the saviour of Lamont and his brother and turned both of them into excellent boxers.
“I also understand everything that drives Lamont. He deserves this chance and I”m happy we are giving it to him. But in the end superior skill wins, and Amir will be too good for him.”
Peterson validated his credentials as challenger with a draw against Victor Ortiz, who went on to rough up Floyd Mayweather Jnr before being controversially knocked out while being warned for head-butting.
Peterson”s only defeat thus far was inflicted by Tim Bradley, the WBC light-welterweight belt holder, whom Khan chides for ducking a fight for the undisputed title.
Unless Bradley rises to the bait next, Khan will move up half a stone to welterweight where, among other marquee names, Mayweather plies his trade.
But first he must take care of business against Peterson, on a night which promises to do much credit to boxing.
Khan-Peterson is live late on Saturday night on Sky Sports HD1.