The Worldwide Leader gets an honest-to-gods title fight Friday night from the DC Armory in America’s capital when Lamont Peterson (30-1-1, 15 KOs) defends his IBF junior welterweight title and what’s left of his PED-ravaged reputation against Kendall “Rated R” Holt (28-5, 16 KOs) in the main event of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights series. In the co-feature, two unbeatens lay their unblemished records on the line, as Roman Morales (14-0, 7 KOs) takes on Jesus Antonio Hernandez (10-0-3, 2 KOs) in an eight-round junior featherweight tilt.
Lamont Peterson has had quite a ride over the past year and a half. In December of 2011, he won a very controversial and perhaps referee-aided decision over Amir Khan, winning the IBF and WBA world titles at 140 and making a hell of a case for being a real player at junior welterweight. Rumors abounded about unification bouts with Timothy Bradley (who handed Peterson his only pro loss) and legacy-defining fights with Juan Manuel Marquez and who was coming up from 135 to try and take him off his perch from below (Brandon Rios came up a lot in rumors as well.)
All of that was laid savagely to rest when Peterson tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. Since last anyone looked, Peterson does not grow to ungodly sizes and turn green when someone makes him angry, the Hulk act was the smoking gun that something had gone awry in the man’s training regimen. What’s worse, Peterson copped to having used PEDs before the Khan fight as well.
All this was enough to convince the WBA to strip Lamont of his title, but the IBF let him hold his belt whilst everything got itself sorted. Now, fully 14 months after earning the belt, Peterson gets to defend it for the first time in his hometown on basic cable. How the mighty have fallen.
Kendall Holt, on the other hand, is a big puncher with a suspect chin, a guy who gives the hot knife and butter treatment to the B-level fighters and fringe contenders and comes up short against the heaviest hitters. His demolition of Julio Diaz was the 2011 Knockout of the Year for FNF and arguably for the whole sport. The beatdown Holt dispensed to a shot Tim Coleman in his last fight was more sad than spectacular—the only way it could have been worse would have been for Holt to literally rip Coleman’s heart out to go with the figurative.
The downside? Lamont Peterson is not Tim Coleman, nor is he Julio Diaz. Kendall Holt has a style that fans love—he comes forward trying to rip your head off with his right hand. As Teddy Atlas pointed out in ESPN’s own preview of this fight, Peterson knows that, and he’s going to use Holt’s aggression against him, look to counter, and “look to put a shot right on the potato”, to use Atlas’ colorful remarks.
Amir Khan can smack an opponent around and break down even a durable chin. Lamont Peterson stood up to every blow that came at him. Kendall Holt is not Amir Khan. The smart money’s on Teddy Atlas being right; either Peterson will catch Holt with a counter for a KO (Holt has been stopped three times) or else win a decision with superior boxing ability.
Meanwhile, Roman Morales has already been in a great bang against an unbeaten prospect. In the co-feature, he’ll be looking for win No. 15 and his second against a guy who is unbeaten in at least 10 pro fights. Last September, Morales came off the floor to win against Jonathan Arellano (who was 13-0-1 before losing first to Morales and then to Jesse Magdaleno to close out 2012), scoring a knockdown of his own en route to a unanimous decision. Morales may not be battle tested by the standards of a world champion, but he is more blooded than many a prospect has been on an FNF co-feature.
His opponent is feather-fisted (two knockouts in 13 pro fights) and untested (two draws in six-rounders in consecutive fights against Aaron Garcia, who came into their first contest 9-1 and left their second 9-1-2). For Jesus Antonio Hernandez, he is going to have to overcome the worst handicap in boxing; if a guy can’t punch, he can’t make his opponent respect him, and if he can’t command his opponent’s respect, then it becomes very hard for him to fight his fight in the ring. Will he fall victim to a superior puncher who has been in a real fight? Or will he display a Malignaggi-like craftiness that allows him to hide his lack of power with slick boxing ability?
Any time you have a debutante ball like this, it pays to look for an edge, and the edge in this one would seem to be with Roman Morales, whose handlers seem to have chosen a soft touch with a nice record. The narrative so common to TV debut prospects would seem to be in force here. Expect this one to go the eight-round distance, and expect Roman Morales to win.
Friday Night Fights airs February 22 at 9 PM Eastern/6 PM Pacific on ESPN2 and the WatchESPN app. MyBoxing will have a full recap of the night’s action, including any swing fights that make air, following the conclusion of the broadcast. Stay tuned—we’re the worldwide leader in covering the Worldwide Leader.
Fox Doucette is Deputy Editor at MyBoxing. His weekly column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays.