WASHINGTON -- Junior welterweight titleholder Lamont Peterson, out of the ring for 14 months because of a positive drug test, looked rusty on Friday night. He started very slowly and was getting tagged by Kendall Holt's powerful right hands. But, boy, oh boy, did Peterson get on track and finish fast.
He dropped Holt twice and eventually stopped him with a hail of shots for an eighth-round knockout to retain his 140-pound world title in the main event of ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" before a crowd of about 3,500 at the DC Armory, setting himself up for big business.
"I spent a lot of energy trying to get him out, but I just had to settle down and let it come to me," Peterson said. "I have to look at the tape [to see how I performed]. I always give myself a bad grade when I fight. Right now, I got the win, so I'll say I did a good job."
Peterson was making the first defense of the title he won in December 2011, also in Washington, when he won a controversial split decision against Amir Khan in a tremendous action fight.
But about 10 days before a Khan rematch was supposed to take place in May, Peterson failed a random drug test conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association -- a protocol that Peterson had asked for and Khan agreed to. Peterson tested positive for synthetic testosterone, which he claimed was for therapeutic reasons, although he never disclosed it to any commission.
So then came the layoff, the loss of the first seven-figure purse that he would have made for the rematch with Khan, and public doubts about his victory. Peterson had won two sanctioning organization titles from Khan and was even stripped of one of them.
But the 29-year-old Peterson (31-1-1, 16 KOs) put that all behind him against Holt, a former titleholder who dropped to 3-4 in his past seven fights.
Although Holt (28-6, 16 KOs), 31, of Paterson, N.J., had to lose eight pounds in two days to make the 140-pound limit at Thursday's weigh-in, he looked sharp and strong in the early going. While Peterson laid back and did very little, Holt, having been out of the ring for 11 months mainly because of right shoulder surgery, came out aggressively. He has great one-punch power and landed a tremendous right hand in the opening round, but Peterson barely flinched.
"I felt one of his shots; it hit me right on the button," Peterson said. "I didn't feel anything. Once I knew where to put my guards, I felt more comfortable in there and started coming forward."
Peterson looked very flat for the first three-plus rounds. He was backing up and getting hit with solid right hands. But he suddenly came alive in the fourth.
Peterson began to back Holt up and then landed a right hand that dropped the challenger. Holt was up at eight, and Peterson went after him. He hurt Holt as the round was ending with a left and a right at the bell.
Peterson continued to hurt Holt in the fifth round, forcing him to grab and try to survive, causing referee Tony Weeks to warn him for holding.
Peterson dominated the sixth round, teeing off on a weary Holt almost at will. He had Holt backing into the ropes and covering up. Peterson never relented, finishing the round with something like a 17-punch combination that had Holt nearly out on his feet.
With the crowd chanting "D.C.! D.C.! D.C.!" Peterson tried to finish Holt, whose right eye was swelling. He drove Holt into the ropes and pounded his body to finish the seventh round.
In the eighth, Holt looked like he had very little left when Peterson clocked him with two right hands, stunning him. Peterson opened up with a flurry of blows, and Holt was defenseless, forcing Weeks to step in to stop the crowd-pleasing fight at 1 minute, 42 seconds.
"I knew I could put it together and get him out of there," Peterson said. "I just had to be patient and wait for the time. The last time I caught him on the ropes, I just let my hands go and then stopped [him]. I knew I could finish it. I just couldn't let up."
"He looked very good," said Golden Boy Promotions chief executive Richard Schaefer, who signed Peterson a few weeks ago. "For the first three rounds, there was ring rust, and then he opened up. He was on fire. Very happy for him to come back like this."
Holt was bidding to win a 140-pound world title for the second time. He held one from 2008 to 2009, making one successful defense against Demetrius Hopkins and then lost a decision to Timothy Bradley Jr. in a unification bout, knocking Bradley down twice.
But with an overwhelming loss, Holt said he will re-evaluate his career.
"I can't pinpoint when things changed, but I stayed on my bike too long," he said. "I'd have done a better job if I had mixed it up more. Physically, I felt fine. I just wasn't pulling the trigger. Mentally, I felt fine. Emotionally, I felt fine. I just wasn't pulling the trigger.
"I'm going to go back and re-evaluate things going on in my life. The layoffs in past years have been killing me. If I can't stay busier, I'm going to have to give my career a second thought."
Peterson will now try to make up for lost time. Golden Boy is loaded at junior welterweight and welterweight. It promotes unified titleholder Danny Garcia, Khan, interim titlist Lucas Matthysse, welterweight titleholders Paulie Malignaggi and Devon Alexander, as well as top contender Marcos Maidana. And then there is welterweight titleholder and pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr., with whom Golden Boy has worked on a fight-by-fight basis since 2007.
This week, Mayweather signed a six-fight deal with Showtime/CBS and will be looking for future opponents after his May 4 fight with Robert Guerrero.
But Peterson has one specific opponent in mind.
"I would like to fight Danny Garcia," Peterson said. "I hope my promoter can make it happen. I still think I am the WBA champ, and I want to get the fight to make it happen to show who the real champion is."
Garcia won the WBA belt after Peterson was stripped and returned to Khan, whom Garcia subsequently knocked out. Garcia will defend his belts April 27 against former titlist Zab Judah.
With Garcia tied up facing Judah, Schaefer said he is interested in matching Peterson with Matthysse.
"I will discuss a May 18 fight against Lucas Matthysse from Washington," Schaefer said. "It would be spectacular."
Schaefer said he would like to pair the fight with the welterweight title bout between Alexander and mandatory challenger Kell Brook of England. That fight was supposed to take place Saturday night in Detroit but was postponed when Alexander suffered a severely strained biceps.
"That would be a big night of championship boxing," Schaefer said.
And after a long layoff and lots of uncertainty about his career, that is probably music to Peterson's ears.