Bunce on Boxing: How Peterson escaped guns and crack wars for title shot

Aged nine, Peterson was working for drug dealers and was part of a mugging crew

Of all the extreme stories about fighters' troubled backgrounds, perhaps the finest belongs to Manny Pacquiao, the world's finest boxer. Pacquiao, remember, is said to have left his family shack for the three-day journey to Manila as a stowaway on a tuna boat at the tender age of 16 when his heartless father killed little Manny's pet dog. The dog, so the tale goes, was saved from starvation by little Manny; the father, so the story goes, only butchered the dog to feed his remaining kids. Nice tale, probably total cobblers.

This Saturday in Washington DC, Amir Khan defends his two light-welterweight world titles for the sixth time when he meets local fighter Lamont Peterson. It's a difficult defence because Peterson's only loss in 31 fights was on points to Tim Bradley, another world champion at Khan's weight. However, it is Peterson's history, all of which is true, that is more disturbing than the threat he poses in the ring.

Peterson was one of six brothers and five sisters and all seems to have been relatively calm in his life until the crack wars took over the streets in his Washington DC neighbourhood in the late Eighties. Peterson was a boy of five at the time. The so-called War on Drugs, which President Nixon announced in 1971, was about to take a serious beating on the streets of the American capital.

Peterson's father had worked in a supermarket but soon his drug dependency took over and the family house, which was large and comfortable, had its water and electricity cut off. The descent was not unique on the street where Peterson lived. The father's desperation and craving put an end to anything close to a normal life. The family lived in the dark and grime of the home because the alternative was truly grim. "The streets were full of junkies and desperate men and women. I knew that it was scary out there," remembers Peterson.

The inevitable eviction took place and the doors were sealed on the home and the family were on the streets, which at the time were among the most dangerous in the world; the streets are still in the top 10 most dangerous places to live in the USA. During the next five chaotic years, Peterson's father often went to prison and as many as four of his brothers were also jailed at the same time. It was all part of the epidemic that first ruined and later started to kill off Washington DC's street people; they were all dealers or junkies or both. The Peterson family were typical and anonymous victims.

The family, or what was left of it, lived in a truck for a time. Little Lamont was soon working for dealers on corners all night, missing school completely according to records and graduating to running his own corner. He was part of a mugging crew, which is often euphemistically referred to as being a "pick-pocket". This is Washington DC in 1994 and not Fagin's London. Peterson was nine and hardened and realistic about a future he simply never had. There is no existing list of the friends he lost along the way, but he knows a lot of dead people.

"It was prison and death or death in prison," he has said. "It could have been prison for 100 years but that is the same. Too many people I knew are no longer here." He had nights in custody, which was often a way to get warm, clean and fed. As each winter came and went, Peterson forgot a little more from a childhood that vanished far too early. The memories were, after all, thin before the drugs took over.

"I never missed what I never had. All I can remember is having nothing, trusting nobody and living from night to night. People ask me now what I missed. Nothing, that's the truth; I never had anything to miss," recalls Peterson, his face and eyes quite brilliant at concealing feelings from onlookers.

He was in and out of foster homes but found it hard to resist the quick riches he found on the streets. His stays in shelters were also brief because of the same problem. Peterson had the latest trainers and the cash to live, for a 10-year-old, a ridiculous life as a tiny gangster.

He was clearly unpleasant which is difficult to reconcile with the inspirational man he is now. The tiny gangster had various scrapes with the police, which are documented, and with rival dealers, which are stored in heads for revenge or retribution at a later date. He is often vague when the darkest of his days surface.

Lamont was finally given a chance just before his 11th birthday when he pushed open a heavy door and discovered a boxing gym. He also found men inside who were prepared to help, but not forgive or accept his excuses. The street kid was suddenly surrounded by father-like figures who were not high or behind bars.

"He had to act proper from the first day – there are too many street kids out there and I can't help any of them unless they help themselves first," said Barry Hunter, the trainer at the amateur gym. As a grim reminder of the streets and bus stations where Peterson was often sleeping, he had to get treated for body and hair lice. "I would take him and his brother, Anthony, to eat and they would always order more for their family. He was sleeping in bus depots at the time."

It was a slow process to get Peterson and his boxing brother Anthony away from the streets. Hunter and his wife were prepared to become legal guardians at one point when it looked like the city would separate the brothers and put them in care.

This is not a fake tale of hardship; there was no instant redemption at the foot of a heavy bag for Peterson. Hunter will be in Peterson's corner on Saturday, still monitoring the kid he helped save.

It has been an amazing journey for Peterson. His father is now a positive part of his life again and has been clean for 16 years. Peterson, who is now 27, could finally get the Hollywood ending to his life if he beats Khan at a venue surrounded by the streets that he once called home.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn