This weekend boxing fans will be witness to the conclusion of another exercise in delaying the inevitable. Lamont Peterson will be challenging (if you can call it that) former Olympian Errol Spence Jr. Spence has been rolling through opponent after opponent since his pro debut in 2012. Admittedly, his early opponents were low risk by any standard, but when he decided to make the transition to legacy-making fights, he jumped right into the deep end, taking on Kell Brook. In that fight, Brook was thoroughly dominated for his second consecutive fight. His only previous loss, however, was a fight in which he moved up two weight classes and fought one of the best in the sport, Gennady Golovkin. Spence had always looked good, but it was the fight against Brook that really made him shine. It was a showcase both for Spence’s talent and his limitations, but it was clear that his future held big things.
One of those things arrives this weekend in the form of the perfect opponent. Lamont Peterson has enjoyed extreme devotion from his hometown fans, enough that their loyalty and enthusiasm swung the judges’ favor his way when he fought Amir Khan. He would likely have lost a rematch. I have always been a fan of his, and not just because of his boxing ability. He’s a classy, admirable guy outside the ring, and he just so happens to be a hell of an athlete who’s fun to watch. Lately, though, his ambition seems to have left him, and he’s got a list of excuses for everything that goes wrong in a fight. He’s always fallen well short of the mark against big opponents (Danny Garcia, Lucas Mathysse, Tim Bradley), but some of his less noteworthy challengers have given him trouble as well. In his two past fights he’s struggled against David Avenesyan and Felix Diaz Jr. Neither one is likely to hold a title any time soon, and while the record shows that Peterson won those fights, you wouldn’t know it to watch them.
One of the biggest reasons to see Lamont Peterson fight has always been his incredible stamina, but recently he’s seemed lazy and sluggish, and has chosen to fight less frequently. I sat in a stadium full of Lamont Peterson fans the night he fought Felix Diaz Jr., and all of us expected the decision to go against him. We all actually wanted him to lose that night, not because we weren’t fans of his, but because that’s what his performance deserved. His most recent win was more convincing but similarly disappointing. When he meets Spence this Saturday, he’ll have fought only three times since 2015. Let’s hope he got the rest he needed, because stepping back up in competition so suddenly against someone so young and talented is a good way to end your career. Lamont will come up with his formidable jab and hold Spence off for the first couple rounds, and he might move his hands enough to win one or both. If he’s in good form, he’ll throw consistently for two or three rounds and defend well, but then he’ll slow down and stop throwing. Once Spence feels comfortable letting his hands go, he’ll push Lamont to the ropes and they’ll call it.
In the heavies there’s been a lot of hubbub surrounding the showdown between Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker. Mostly because Parker has a big mouth. It’s become a real trend in boxing for untalented, uneducated Brits to essentially rant their way to a contract. I’m fine with Sky Sports using their airtime to broadcast David Haye-Tony Bellew 5, but let’s not pretend these exhibitions have anything to do with boxing. Haye, Bellew, Chisora, Fury–none of them were ever relevant, yet they felt comfortable claiming they were going to easily defeat opponents with much greater experience, even threatening to kill them, then shamelessly taking the easy way out once in the ring. Reminds me of Trump, actually. Haye-Bellew? That’s fake news. Fake boxing. It cheapens the efforts of the real athletes to allow guys like that to Paris-Hilton their way to a televised title shot. (Sure, Fury beat Klitschko, but we’ll never know how the rematch would’ve gone.)
We spent so many years suffering through a total drought in the heavyweight division (save for the Klitschkos) that it’s now possible to become a known entity with very little experience. In fact, it worked both ways, in that when we had no one else to compare them to, many fans were even critical of the Klitschkos. Tyson Fury was a sideshow when he started his campaign to get a fight with Wladimir, the biggest win on his resume over Dereck Chisora, but suddenly he was a name. The same thing has happened with Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, their considerable reputations preceding their success and being met with a stubborn but well-founded skepticism. Joseph Parker is yet another, possibly even more extreme example of the phenomenon. The difference being that Wilder and Joshua actually have proven themselves.
How Parker was chosen as the opponent, I can’t imagine. Aside from a unanimous decision over Joshua’s last opponent (who Joshua knocked out), and a much closer one over Hughie Fury, he has no credentials that would justify his selection. I guess height is now considered a talent supplement in the heavyweight division (Parker is 6’4″). Actually, that does show that we’re learning–we’ll never have to sit through another Klitschko-Haye, but I have a feeling the talent deficit for Parker will be similar. There’s no doubt that Parker is an impressive athlete, but it’s unlikely he’ll dethrone one of the best British heavyweights of all time. It’ll be a good learning experience for Joshua and should be entertaining to watch, but merely a formality. There’ll be several more to come, I’m sure, before we get what we’re really waiting to see: Wilder-Joshua. Given that both of them are young and the division is relatively vacant, their meeting seems inevitable. I’d be surprised if both don’t end up carving out a place in the history books.
In March a fight will be held to determine the mandatory challenger for Sergey Lipinets. More tantalizing is the co-feature, a bout between Viktor Postol (KO over Mathysse) and Regis Prograis. Both are up-and-coming talents looking to establish their place on the ladder. Plus, Prograis wears a werewolf mask to the ring. While neither fighter has managed a career-defining win, Postol has taken on Terence Crawford, and a win here would go a long way to getting him back to the top of the division. Expect real entertainment from this one.