City Paper is not for tourists
Lamont and Anthony Peterson have always had each other to punch. There’s love in every right cross and left hook.
“We used to have nobody else to fight. Just us,” says Lamont. “There are other people around now, but we still go at it more than ever.”
“We go in the ring, bump hard, and it’s over. No hard feelings. No anger,” adds Anthony. “I don’t know anybody else who could do what we do like that. But that’s the sport we’re in.”
The Peterson brothers are rising stars in the fight game. Lamont, 23, is 20–0 as a junior welterweight and is ranked in the Top 10 by most of the alphabet groups that sanction matches. Anthony, 22, is 22–0 as a pro in the lightweight class and now stands as the No. 1 contender in the World Boxing Association rankings.
They will throw their fists at non-siblings on Friday while co-headlining a fight card at the D.C. Armory, which will be televised on ESPN2.
Their boxing bios list the Petersons’ hometown as Memphis, Tenn. Most of their bouts have come at casinos in the mid-South and have been shown on regional sports networks there.
But this is a homecoming.
“Memphis, that’s for business,” says Lamont. “That’s where the fights are, where we went to build up a name.”
“But we’re from D.C.,” Anthony says. “Our plan has always been to get back home.”
If you only see one Peterson, look around. The other one’s nearby. They always train together. They almost always fight on the same cards. They’ve always lived together. They were put in foster care as little kidsand separated from their 10 elder siblings—but not from each other. They now share an apartment in Naylor Gardens, a complex in Southeast.
I first met the Petersons in early 2002, in the basement of Lincoln Junior High School, off 16th Street NW in Columbia Heights. The building was old and falling apart, and their workout space near the school’s boiler room was permanently damp and smelled like my unwashed socks.
There was no boxing ring on site, but the place sure felt like a pug paradise. The then teenage amateurs had their gloves laced up and were pounding on each other in the middle of the room as local boxing coach Barry Hunter watched (“The Fight Club,” 3/22/02).
By then, Hunter had already been mentoring them about how to behave in and out of the ring for some time. Lamont was only 10 years old and weighed 63 pounds when he was first brought to Hunter by Patrice “Boogie” Harris, who, along with being a local fighter who’d made some U.S. national teams as a heavyweight, was married to one of the Petersons’ big sisters.
Two weeks after Lamont’s first visit to Lincoln Junior High, his 55-pound little brother showed up, too.
“They were in foster care at the time, and I knew Barry was great with kids, and I knew he’d love Lamont, so I tried to get them in his gym,” says Harris, who with Hunter will be in the Petersons’ corner at the Armory. “Barry fell in love with Lamont, and then Anthony had to tag along with his brother.”
Soon after his first tag-along, Anthony was tagging Lamont and vice versa.
“Back then, none of the other kids could get in with us,” says Lamont. “We had to fight each other.”
“We understood then that we needed to do this,” says Anthony.
Even with the dingy surroundings at Lincoln, which has since been razed, both Petersons would capture Golden Gloves titles and various national amateur championships while fighting out of the basement there.
As kids, the brothers dreamed about fighting together for their country in the Olympics, which was once a key steppingstone to a pro career for most boxers. But both Petersons were upset during the trials for the 2004 Games.
“I hate to say it, but: We got cheated,” says Lamont.
“Highway robbery,” says Anthony.
Rather than stick around for the 2008 Olympics, they turned pro after the trials. And the Petersons decided together that Hunter, despite his background as a trainer of amateurs to that point, would be the guy calling their shots when they started fighting for pay.
“Barry’s the greatest trainer in the world, period. I really believe that,” says Lamont, admitting that managers and trainers from other fighters’ camps have tried to get him and his brother away from Hunter as they’ve risen up the pro ranks. “But even if he wasn’t the best, I couldn’t fight for anybody else. He put so much time and energy and pretty much his whole life into us.”
“Barry did it all for us,” says Anthony, “even taking away from his own kids for us. And it wasn’t just about boxing for him. It was about our life.”
The Petersons signed with Shelly Finkel Management, a top-tier firm that handles the contracts and publicity for the heavyweight Klitschko brothers and popular super-featherweight brawler Manny Pacquiao. (Finkel handles whatever’s left of Mike Tyson’s boxing career, too.)
Finkel’s relationship with mid-South promoters, the brothers say, led to the professional relocation to Memphis.
“Out there, we get to fight, fight, fight,” says Lamont. “We wouldn’t have so many fights if we’d stayed here. And people in D.C. don’t pay attention to you until you make it a little bit.”
“Look at us now: 22–0, 20–0,” says Anthony. “Things are working out.”
When not out of town preparing for fights, the brothers train at Bald Eagle Rec Center in far Southwest, where there’s a serviceable ring, every sort of punching bag, and all the gear any fighter could want.
Both Petersons say they’ve been told title shots might come as early as before this year ends, and when those opportunities come knocking, the brothers intend to be ready. On top of the sibling sparring sessions, all the push-ups and sit-ups and road work—six to 10 miles a day, six or more days a week—have them in the best shape of their careers, fit enough to model for biology books.
“Every once in a while, when I speak to a reporter or somebody from the past, they may bring up something that makes me reflect on what we had to go through to get to this point, how many years have passed,” says Hunter, who runs a construction company when he’s not in the gym. “It’s been the three of us for so long. Now, we’re close to getting what we put in all this work for. We wanted to fight our way up, all the way up to those coveted titles, and right now we’re on the verge of doing just that. I don’t really have time to sleep, not now.”
If the Petersons indeed go on to win belts, they say they plan to defend their titles at least once at the Verizon Center, on the same card.
They haven’t yet mapped out their careers beyond thatdream event.
“I think I could keep it going until I’m 31, maybe 30,” says Lamont, asked if he thinks about his exodus from boxing. “I’m not sure what I’ll do. I guess I’d stay in it, commentating, working with kids, giving back in some way.”
“I’ve got a secret plan for that,” says Anthony. “I’m not telling anybody.”
Anybody but his brother, that is.