- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The great American story will continue to be told Saturday night in the ring at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where Danny Garcia will face Washington’s own Lamont Peterson in a much-anticipated junior welterweight showdown.

And bringing you this latest chapter in the great American story is the most powerful man in boxing that you have never heard of who has undertaken a remarkable experiment to bring prime-time network boxing back into America’s living rooms.

Peterson is the 21st century African-American version of a Jimmy Cagney boxing film — a kid off the street who found salvation with a pair of gloves inside the ring.

But Peterson’s story is even better. He and his brother Anthony, another fighter who is a lightweight contender, were both homeless on the streets of Washington by age 10, abandoned by a mother who was overwhelmed and a father who was in prison. Enter Barry Hunter, a boxing coach who took the kids in to train them.

“I would hear about them sleeping in bus depots,” said Hunter, who has built a local boxing powerhouse with his Headbangers Gym. “I’d take them to get something to eat, and they would eat so much food, as if it was their only meal.”

Hunter took in the two boys, who found a purpose in boxing and fought their way to amateur championships and to the top of the profession.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is the great American story.

Presenting you that story Saturday night is Al Haymon — the most powerful figure in all of boxing, a former music promoter with a master’s degree in economics from Harvard who has quietly built up a boxing empire. He has managed, from behind the scenes, reportedly more than 100 fighters — including Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

Have you ever heard of WorldWide Wes, the basketball presence working for LeBron James and other NBA stars? Haymon is the boxing version, but more powerful and more influential — and he is using both in a bold experiment to put boxing back on prime-time television out of his own pocket.

With his promotion, “Premier Boxing Champions,” Haymon has bought the time Saturday night on NBC for the Peterson vs. Garcia bout, as well as a middleweight title bout between World Boxing Organization welterweight champion Peter Quillin (31-0, 22 knockouts) and challenger Andy Lee (34-2, 24 knockouts). He has also bought time for fights on CBS and Spike — a remarkable investment of money for a sport that has been declared on life support.

Peterson’s fight is the second NBC show for Premier Boxing Champions. Last month, the Keith Thurman-Robert Guerrero bout on NBC on a Saturday night drew a reported average of 3.4 million viewers, with a reported 4.2 million viewers tuning in from 10:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. for the final rounds of the fight. The overnight ratings was reportedly a 2.7, which, according to NBC, outdrew the Duke-North Carolina men’s basketball game on ESPN.

Haymon made a good investment in Peterson (33-2-1, 17 knockouts) for his second show, because he will put up a fight.

Local fans will remember his dramatic bout against Amir Khan at the D.C. Convention Center in December 2011, when he fought back to win a controversial decision. He is an old-school fighter, right there to hit and be hit ­— as we saw when he went down in the third round of his fight two years later against Lucas Matthysse.

Since then, Peterson has won his last three fights, including a 10th-round knockout of Edgar Santana at Barclays Center last August that set the stage for this bout. The undefeated Garcia (29-0, 17 knockouts) knocked out Rod Salka in two rounds on that same Barclays Center card.

Unfortunately, though Garcia, 27, is the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association 140-pound champion, and Peterson, 31, is the International Boxing Federation title holder, none of the belts are on the line. They will be fighting at a catch weight of 143 pounds — an indication of how devalued titles have become.

“In order for the fight to be done in the time we had for it to be done, that’s the weight we had to fight at,” Garcia said. “At the end of the day, I feel like this is still a fight that the fans want to see. This is still a big fight no matter with the belts or without the belts.”

Titles or not, it could be a big step forward for Peterson, who suffered a setback with the knockout loss to Matthysse nearly two years ago. Garcia defeated Matthysse in a 12-round decision in September 2013.

“At the end of the day, you should know, it makes no difference,” Peterson said of Garcia’s win over Matthysse. “You can match it up many different ways, different fighters, it never makes any sense. There’s many situations and incidents throughout boxing history tell you that that makes no difference. A boxer, you get hit good, you could get hurt and you could get knocked out. That’s just part of the game and something that I have to accept and just move on.

“I just feel like all the setbacks from the Matthysse, the losses and things like that, you learn from them,” Peterson said. “I feel like right now everything is put together at the perfect time, and I’m confident everything is right on line and in position. Everything is real great.”

When you’ve been homeless on the streets at age 10, as Lamont Peterson has, you gain a lifetime of perspective. You also gain a will to fight — and keep fighting.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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