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Peterson keeps perspective while handling spotlight

6/17/2006 - Boxing

He's 21 years old and can talk the fur off a mink. He's street tough, city slick and cool under pressure. Add in the fact that he's a pro athlete with the upside of a thick bank account, and you can imagine that Anthony Peterson is living the good life.

You know the type I'm talking about. Big Man On Campus kind of stuff. Like Matt Leinart's senior year at USC, Bode Miller's pre-Olympic party days, or any sure-thing NBA draft pick who is choosing which seven-button suit to wear ... eye-candy glamour girls and VIP invites.

Sounds great, but that's just not Anthony.

"I have to irritate myself to fight the way I fight," Peterson says.

At 17-0 with 14 knockouts, he clearly has irritated himself very well. Peterson deprives himself of anything that would bring him comfort or pleasure.

"No women, no nothing, just boxing," he says. "I'm not here to enjoy the fruits right now. If I get one whiff, it's all over."

He's not just spinning some public image. He's living it. How many athletes in with his resumé abstain from sex? How many athletes with his advantages don't party, prance or punk?

Since turning pro 20 months ago, Anthony Peterson and his brother, Lamont, have simply worked. They've worked hard while on the fast track to boxing stardom. Managed by Shelly Finkel and promoted by Brian Young, they have impressed time and time again in the spotlight of nationally televised fight cards. Lamont is an unbeaten junior welterweight prospect, while Anthony, the power puncher of the boxing brothers, plies his trade five pounds lighter.

"Everything is coming so fast," Anthony said. "I didn't expect to be here this quickly, but it's here and there's no need to say I'm not ready. I'll step up my game."

That's bad news for Adan Hernandez. Hernandez is the opponent for Anthony's first 12-round main event this week on "Friday Night Fights" in Memphis (ESPN2, 10 ET). It's on the eve of the Jermain Taylor-Winky Wright middleweight title fight in the mid-South river city. That means plenty of boxing's elites will be ringside to see Anthony take a step forward. A step that would never have come if it weren't for trainer Barry Hunter.

The story of the Peterson brothers has been well-documented and featured by ESPN. As children in Washington, D.C., their family was broken up. A father whose time was occupied by drug dealing and prison led to a house with no electricity and no water.

Seven brothers and five sisters had to fend for themselves. Lamont and Anthony paired up and hit the streets for a better life. They slept in abandoned cars, parks and bus stations. They begged for shelter and prayed for their family to reunite. Anthony would go to affluent Georgetown to pickpocket. If stealing meant surviving, then stealing was what he would do.

Enter Barry Hunter. Boxing didn't just save their lives, it gave them new life. They went to Barry's gym. Discipline and love came along with skill and knowledge. The messy life on the streets suddenly became clear and structured. A bright future had never even existed. For so long, simply existing was all that existed.

"I always forgive people. I am in no more of a position to tell people they are wrong. I made mistakes. I can always forgive," Anthony told ESPN.com.

And forgive he has. Their father came back into their lives, even if it's at a distance. The splintered family has made it a point to find each other more often. The brothers say ESPN's summer 2005 airing of an emotional feature piece about their childhood had a lot to do with healing the wounds.

"Now we get together the last week of every month as a family," Anthony said. "We go bowling or have a meal, just something to be together."

In the future, a Peterson family reunion might include watching the brothers fight for a world title.

"I respect all fighters," Anthony said, "but if some of these guys I watch can be world champions, then there is no doubt I can. I will fight anybody at 135 pounds. No warm-up fights. I want to fight the guys with the belts."

He is fighting for a minor lightweight title this week. He does so with every intention of breaking down Hernandez for a knockout win.

"I envision the most hurtful, vicious thing happening to someone I love, to my family," Anthony said, "and then I take it out on the guy in the ring with me."

That's pure Anthony Peterson. It isn't likely Leinart was thinking of that in the Rose Bowl, and doubtful that Bode was revving himself up quite so much in the Italian Alps. Maybe there is something to this self-deprivation. Come Friday night, we will see the results.

Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."