- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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When Timothy Bradley Jr. and Lamont Peterson were teenagers and among the best amateur fighters in the United States, they got to know each other well. They traveled to the same tournaments and were roommates when they were on the junior national team, so they spent a lot of time together.
They would go their separate ways and, in 2004, embark on professional careers. As pros, they have found nothing but success as each has fashioned an undefeated record.
Bradley (24-0, 11 KOs) claimed a junior welterweight world title in England when he outboxed hometown fighter Junior Witter to take his belt last year. He has made three impressive defenses, including outpointing Kendall Holt in an April unification fight, to emerge as the No. 1 fighter at 140 pounds, now that Manny Pacquiao has left the division.
Peterson (27-0, 13 KOs), of Washington, D.C., claimed an interim title when he stopped France's Willy Blain in the seventh round in April, setting up a mandatory showdown with his old roommate.
They'll meet on Saturday night (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/PT) at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa in Rancho Mirage, Calif., in a fight matching two of the best young American fighters.
"We've traveled together and are friends and know each other pretty well, but it's part of the business," Bradley said. "I had to take this [mandatory] fight. I didn't really want to take this fight, but I had to. Once we get in the ring, our friendship is out the door."
Although both men are focused on winning, they have a lot of respect for each other, which stems from their amateur days.
"Lamont Peterson is a great fighter. I grew up with him in the amateurs," said Bradley, 26, who will have the hometown advantage for his second consecutive fight because the casino is just a few miles from his home in Palm Springs. "I know him very well and he knows me very well. I'm just looking forward to the fight. I'm hungry and I'm willing to show the world what I have. We're both undefeated, which makes for a great fight. We both have speed and power, and we both have boxing ability, so it's going to be a great fight.
"But at the end of the day, it's my job to teach Lamont Peterson how to lose, and that's what I'm going to do."
Said the 25-year-old Peterson: "We do have a lot history together. We met when we were like 14, 15 years old. We always had a good time hanging out together. I want to see him do well in his career, and I'm sure he wants the same for me. But at the end of the day, we have to get in the ring and someone has to lose. Someone's career is going to go backwards."
Barry Hunter rescued the homeless Peterson and his brother, lightweight contender Anthony Peterson, from the Washington, D.C., streets when they were kids. Now the trainer and manager (and father figure) to both men is confident Lamont will win the fight.
"We are elated to have this opportunity," Hunter said. "Timmy is a friend, but nevertheless, the path to a world title is through him, and that's the path we're going to take. I'm very confident we're going to walk out of the ring with a world title."
Junior bantamweight champion Vic Darchinyan will open Showtime's telecast. The big puncher from Australia will defend his 115-pound titles against interim titlist Tomas Rojas (31-11-1, 22 KOs) of Mexico. Darchinyan (32-2-1, 26 KOs) lost a decision when he attempted to win a bantamweight belt from then-titlist Joseph Agbeko in July.
Bradley has moved more quickly than Peterson as a professional, and really gained attention after he showed great heart and determination in surviving two knockdowns against Holt to hang on for a unanimous decision in their unification bout. Bradley, who was forced to vacate one of the belts, then met former unified lightweight titleholder Nate Campbell in August.
Bradley dominated and was awarded a third-round TKO victory. However, Campbell protested, saying that the serious cut to his left eye, which forced the stoppage, had been caused by an accidental head-butt. The California commission reviewed the tape and agreed, changing the result to a no-contest.
"I'm way over that," Bradley said. "Things happened and you just have to move on. My biggest focus right now is on [Saturday]. As far as it goes with Campbell, I'm over that. I've been over that for months, so I'm moving on to the next challenge, and that's Lamont Peterson.
"Lamont is laid-back and quiet. Those are the guys that I fear the most. He's always thinking. I know they've been breaking down my videos and studying me and that they'll come in with a game plan."
Peterson, a taller fighter with speed and technical skills, presents Bradley with a much different style than that of Campbell, a shorter puncher who prefers to mix it up.
Bradley is aware of what Peterson brings to the fight.
"Boxing is about style, and styles make fights," Bradley said. "He could give me problems, but we're going to see. He's a much taller opponent with a lot longer reach, but that's not going to keep me off of him. I'm coming in there to get him, and we'll see how long he lasts."
Although Bradley has racked up some strong victories in the past two years, he would like to get more credit from the public and media.
"You can basically look at my résumé and see that in less than one year I won two world titles," he said. "I'm still young. I've fought on the road, like a veteran, and I won on the road. People don't understand how much pressure there is on a fighter when he fights on the road. I beat Junior Witter on the road to win the world title and didn't get much credit for that. On the road, that just shows you how determined I am to be great. At the end of the day, after I beat Lamont Peterson, people are going to start realizing that: 'I'm going to stop betting against this guy and I'm going to get on the bandwagon.'"
Peterson, of course, aims to derail Bradley's plans and take over his position. And he has no fear of fighting in his opponent's hometown.
"A lot of guys fight someone they know they can beat," Peterson said. "But with me, it's about fighting the best. If a fight comes up, you take it. I'm fighting the No. 1 at 140 pounds. I don't have to worry about going through the other guys. If I win this, I'm No. 1.
"Timothy can box, and I know he can bang. I know I can box, and I know I can bang. It could be an all-out war or it could be a chess match. I'm ready for either one."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.