Lamont Peterson: 'I'm ready to mix it up with the best guys here'

Oftentimes in boxing it is an injury, loss, suspension, lawsuit, or restructuring of a promotional, management or training team that leads a fighter into a long layoff. There are a million examples.

But it is far more unusual for a top fighter to take a long layoff when there are no major issues to keep him out of the ring and there is the potential for lucrative bouts. That leads to the case of former unified junior welterweight titleholder Lamont Peterson.

He has been a fine fighter for many years and had several significant fights, including against Danny Garcia, Amir Khan, Lucas Matthysse, Victor Ortiz and Timothy Bradley Jr. Peterson once sat out for a little more than a year because of a banned substance suspension, but his latest layoff of 16 months, the longest of his 12-year career, was not the result of any particular issue.

In his last fight, on ct. 17, 2015, Peterson came off a highly disputed majority decision loss to Garcia to eke out a majority decision win against fellow contender Felix Diaz. And then nothing.

Peterson disappeared, his name surfacing only as a possible opponent for Miguel Cotto, but nothing came of that.

Now Peterson, 33, is raring to go again. He returns to challenge secondary welterweight world titleholder David Avanesyan on Saturday night (Showtime, 9 ET) at the Cintas Center at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

In the main event, former four-division world titleholder Adrien Broner (32-2, 24 KOs), 27, will fight in front of his hometown fans when he meets good friend and former sparring partner Adrian Granados (18-4-2, 12 KOs), 27, of Chicago, in a scheduled 10-round welterweight bout.

Peterson (34-3-1, 17 KOs) said the layoff is no big deal.

"People are going to talk a lot about my layoff, but honestly that only affects people who aren't always in the gym," said Peterson, a devoted gym rat whether he has a fight scheduled or not. "I have been in the gym working hard this entire time. I've been working on my craft. I got better and you'll see on [Saturday].

"I have no concern about ring rust. It's not even a thought in my head. I would be shocked if that was a problem for me."

Barry Hunter, Peterson's trainer and father figure, said he thought the layoff might be good for Peterson in the long run. After more than a decade as a professional, there's nothing wrong with a little time off, he said.

"Sometimes having time off like Lamont had is not a bad thing." Hunter said. "It gives you space and time to work on your mental game, shore up some things you could be weak at and, of course, it lets you heal up. It's served us well and I'm happy with what I see from Lamont so far."

"Big fights are what matters to me. When you're coming up it's all about winning a title. Having fought for 12 years, it doesn't matter to me as much. The way I'm looking at is, if I get this win then I'm the No. 1 contender for (Thurman's top-tier) belt." Lamont Peterson

In Avanesyan (22-1-1, 11 KOs), of Russia, Peterson will face a little-known titleholder who had been the interim titlist but was recently elevated to a full titleholder, though Keith Thurman holds the organization's top belt.

Whatever name recognition the 28-year-old Avanesyan might have comes solely from his last fight. That was a unanimous decision win against long-faded champion Shane Mosley in defense of the interim belt last May in Glendale, Arizona, in the main event of a small pay-per-view card Mosley's company promoted.

Despite where Mosley was in his career, Avanesyan showed he might be talented enough to be a player in boxing's deepest weight class.

"Avanesyan is a good fighter. He keeps his hands up high, so even though he's there to be hit, it doesn't mean I'm going to get good clean shots," Peterson said. "It should be a good entertaining fight and a good first step at welterweight for me."

Said Hunter: "We always approach an opponent, no matter the record, like they are a world champion. We prepare for war. If anything less than that takes place, so be it. We're going to be ready. To me Avanesyan is a guy who is an obstacle in our way. If we can't go around him, we'll go right through him."

The fight against Avanesyan will also be Peterson's first as a full-fledged 147-pound welterweight, though his past two fights were technically as a welterweight, slightly over the 140-pound junior welterweight limit.

"You never know what the right time is to move up in weight, but the time is now for me to move up to welterweight and I'm happy about it. Making 140 pounds was getting tough," Peterson said. "I think it hampered my performances a bit, and that let us know it was time. I've been wanting to move up but it seemed like my opportunities were down in weight. Now I'm ready to mix it up with the best guys here."

If Peterson, of Washington, D.C., takes the belt off Avanesyan, it should position him to face other top fighters in the weight class. For one thing, he would be a mandatory challenger for the Thurman-Garcia winner.

"We want all of the top 147-pounders," Hunter said. "I always thought Lamont and Danny Garcia was a fight that warranted a rematch because it was a great fight that had a little bit of controversy around it. I still would like to see the rematch."

Peterson would like the rematch as well, but he mainly wants the victory Saturday followed by another big fight, be it against Garcia, Thurman or any of the other top names at 147 pounds.

"Big fights are what matters to me," Peterson said. "When you're coming up it's all about winning a title. Having fought for 12 years, it doesn't matter to me as much. The way I'm looking at is, if I get this win then I'm the No. 1 contender for [Thurman's] belt.

"For me, it's all about the joy of getting in the ring and competing. I want to do it at the highest level and I'm looking forward to getting big fights."