- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Nothing inside a boxing ring ever will be as vicious as what junior lightweight titleholder Robbie Peden of Australia has already survived.
He still needs to take a deep breath before he can talk about that chilling night in July 1999, when he suffered severe injuries as the result of a horrific home invasion assault. But Peden is a survivor.
A little more than six years since taking a brutal beating by a deranged man wielding a baseball bat, Peden (25-2, 14 KOs) is set for the biggest moment of his professional life -- a junior lightweight title unification fight against Marco Antonio Barrera (60-4, 42 KOs) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET).
Win or lose, overcoming the assault -- physically and mentally -- shows the kind of champion's heart that Peden has.
"I was pretty messed up, pretty traumatized," Peden, 31, admitted. "The injuries probably took six months to heal up, but they healed. Emotionally it got me. I needed therapy to help me sleep again."
Peden resorted to buying a gun for protection and kept a bat by his bed. He also began placing a rolled up towel by his door so anyone attempting to open it would be slowed down, giving Peden time to awaken.
"It's got to be a scary thing," promoter Dan Goossen said. "Robbie told me he couldn't sleep at night for months, and I presume years, quite frankly."
Peden was in his Brisbane home when the intruder broke in and began beating him while he was asleep in his bed.
He was hit more than 30 times during the assault.
He was beaten into unconsciousness.
He suffered a multitude of injuries from being hit all over his body.
It took two hours and more than 50 stitches to close deep gashes in his face. Peden also had a broken knee cap, broken fingers and numerous bruises and cuts.
"It's just a part of my life," Peden said after recounting the incident. "I'm just happy to be alive and able to do what I do. I'm living life to the fullest. You can't dwell on negatives too much."
The intruder, Elton Lloyd Davis, was charged with attempted murder and eventually went to prison. It turned out that Davis and Peden had squabbled over a woman, and Davis was apparently seeking revenge.
"I went to a function and met a girl. He got a little bit angry at me because I got the girl," Peden said. "So he came to my place. "
Peden's voice trailed off before going into some of the gory details. Then he summed it up: "I got hit over a girl."
"The guy went to prison but pleaded down and got three or four years," Peden added. "That's the last I heard of him. I've moved on to bigger and better things."
Indeed, he has. The son of an Aboriginal mother and a Scottish father, Peden became just the third Australian of Aboriginal descent to win a world title in almost 40 years, joining super middleweight Anthony Mundine (2003) and bantamweight Lionel Rose (1968).
After the assault, Peden pushed himself hard and returned to the ring about five months later.
"I'm surprised that he was able to get back in the ring so quickly," Goossen said. "But he had that determination. It shows you what kind of mental toughness Robbie has -- that he was able to resume a career that entails getting hit. But it also allowed him to hit someone else. You have to believe that he was still mentally recuperating while his career was proceeding.
"I've scratched my head and asked, 'How the hell did you live through this? How the hell did you come back so strong?' But he's that kind of person. He's pretty much beyond it now, thankfully. As far as he's concerned, he's past it."
The trek to the title and an even more significant fight with Barrera -- with whom Peden has sparred close to 200 rounds -- was difficult.
Peden, a two-time Olympian (1992 and '96) for Australia, had his ups and downs since the assault. The downs were his two losses, an upset points defeat to John Brown in 2000 and a 10th-round TKO loss to current featherweight king Juan Manuel Marquez in 2002.
Peden, nicknamed "The Bomber," appeared close to losing again when he met Nate Campbell in a March 2003 junior lightweight elimination fight. Campbell had hurt Peden badly with a body shot that doubled him over. Although Peden didn't go down, he was in agonizing pain from the punch and Campbell began taunting him, going so far as to drop his hands to his side and stick out his chin.
Peden gathered himself and used the opening to flatten the cocky Campbell with a left hook for a fifth-round knockout.
"I was behind and he stuck out his chin to mock me and I knocked him out," Peden said. "I took the fight on five weeks' notice and I had underestimated Nate Campbell. He caused a few problems. But he gave me the opportunity [when he stuck his chin out] so what more could I do but knock him out?"
This past February, Peden faced Campbell in a rematch in Australia for the title that Erik Morales vacated. It was a dominant performance, Peden cut Campbell over both eyes and was doling out punishment until the referee stopped it in the eighth round.
In his first defense, Peden isn't taking an easy record-padding opponent. He went straight for Barrera, regarded as one of the top few fighters in the world, pound-for-pound.
"This is my first defense and I want to keep my belt," Peden said. "He's been the best and now I want my turn. But there is no pressure. None at all. I've been fighting for 22 years. It's not like this is new to me. I know I am up against a legend, but sooner or later the legend's time will come."
Goossen, who has worked with Peden for most of his career, believes nothing will stop him. He's not just predicting a victory, but that Peden will knock out Barrera.
"All you have to do is look at the attack and see what he overcame," Goossen said. "How is anything in the ring going to deter his determination and desire to overcome anything the opponent has to offer?"
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
Six years after being beaten with a baseball bat, Robbie Peden aims to take Marco Antonio Barrera's junior lightweight belt Saturday.