Peterson jumps at chance to fight Ortiz

LAS VEGAS -- When Golden Boy Promotions and HBO were putting together Saturday night's "World Championship Boxing" card (9:30 ET) they first finalized the outstanding main event, which pits junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan defending against powerful interim titlist Marcos Maidana.

When it came to constructing the co-feature, Victor Ortiz, a top junior welterweight contender who suffered a loss to Maidana in a memorable slugfest, was always penciled in.

However, finding a suitable opponent for the 23-year-old Ortiz (28-2-1, 22 KOs) was a challenge. First, they looked to former titlist Andriy Kotelnik, who turned down the fight. He was fresh from an excellent (although losing) performance in a close decision against titleholder Devon Alexander in August. South Africa's Kaizer Mabuza also was offered the fight, but he was mandatory for a belt and his handlers turned down the fight, instead preferring to fight for a vacant title.

Third on the list was Lamont Peterson. I've been following Peterson and his brother, lightweight Anthony Peterson, since shortly after they turned pro in 2004. Both had the look, drive and amateur background to perhaps both become champions. They also had a well-documented and, ultimately uplifting, story of a hard childhood. They had come from a broken home and wound up literally living on the streets of Washington, D.C., until Barry Hunter, their savior, brought them into his family. He gave them a home, brought them to the gym as teens and became their trainer and de facto father.

While their story has been uplifting, the brothers have not yet fulfilled the boxing potential so many had seen in them. Lamont, although he fought maybe the best fight of his pro career, was dominated by Timothy Bradley Jr.in a title opportunity last December, losing a surprisingly one-sided decision.

Anthony was the heavy favorite in his HBO debut against Brandon Rios in September but was disqualified in the seventh round for excessive low blows. Frankly, it looked to me like Anthony cracked under the pressure and didn't know how to deal with the fact that he was losing the fight and purposely went low to get himself DQ'd.

Anthony hasn't fought since his loss, and Lamont rebounded from his with a win against a lesser opponent, but they are both at something of a crossroads.

So when the Golden Boy and HBO search for an Ortiz opponent reached three deep, they looked to Lamont Peterson to see if he was interested.

Interested? How about so interested that Peterson (28-1, 14 KOs) and Hunter accepted the fight without knowing any terms other than the opponent and date. They hadn't asked about the money. Didn't know how many rounds it would be scheduled for (it's 10). Didn't know about options on Peterson's future fights, which would be important since he was a promotional free agent after his contract with Top Rank had expired.

The way Peterson saw it, all of that would get worked out. He just wanted to fight and put himself back in the position for a championship and big money.

"Listen, I'm really excited about this fight this weekend," Peterson said. "It should be a good fight. I'm just happy to be in a division where there's a lot of good fighters. I'm just happy to be one of those fighters to have a chance to be a great fighter."

Ultimately, all the details of the fight were worked out, and I give Peterson a lot of credit for simply taking the fight even before that, knowing what a great opportunity it would be to fight a quality opponent such as Ortiz on HBO.

Peterson and Hunter understand that if Peterson wins, he is right in the thick of things in a weight class with a lot of possibilities and money. The winner of Khan-Maidana will need an opponent down the road. Bradley and Alexander fight each other Jan. 29, and they'll also need future opponents (and Peterson says he really wants a rematch with Bradley). Zab Judah likely will face Mabuza for a vacant belt, and that winner will need an opponent.

Peterson, who is 26, said there was no hesitancy on his side to accept the fight with Ortiz, even before knowing all of the terms.

"Well, with me, you know, I just love to fight with guys," he said. "Victor, a cab driver, or, you know, a chance. If it's Manny Pacquiao or anybody, I just love to fight. So when the opportunity comes up, fighting on HBO and fighting a guy like Victor Ortiz, of course, I'm going to jump at it.

"As a professional boxer, it's my job. I look at boxing as a job and as a hobby. I feel as though there was no problem with me taking this fight. I think more fighters need to act that way where just because the person can fight doesn't mean that you're not supposed to fight them. People want to see good matchups, and if I can give it to them, then I definitely will sign the papers to fight anyone."

I love Peterson's attitude, and I'm glad he signed, and that Kotelnik and Mabuza didn't. Peterson against Ortiz is a more interesting fight to me than either of the other two. Now it's up to Peterson to show with his performance that he and Hunter made the right call.