As mysteries go, Lamont Peterson vs. Dierry Jean on Showtime Saturday night is a simple one. Each junior welterweight has one question for which the answers will unlock what kind of fight we're likely to get, two total questions that will slide the pin tumblers into place. For Peterson, that question is: After a knockout loss to Lucas Matthysse, will he still be himself? For Jean, that question is: How ready is he for the enormous leap upward in competition?
The mystery makes the match-up a potentially competitive affair, almost certainly more competitive than the rival show on HBO the same night -- although that network's main event has the fighter operating at the highest level of anyone doing battle this weekend, junior lightweight Mikey Garcia. Which show you want to watch live depends on what you prioritize about a given bout, unfortunate though it is that you have to make a choice at all.
The choice was made for me when Peterson-Jean landed in Washington, D.C., the place Peterson and myself call home. It isn't a disappointing choice at all: Peterson's last two fights in the nation's capital had electric fight atmospheres, and the D.C. Armory figures to be shaking on its foundation again this weekend. Whether anyone leaves happy, though, goes back to that mystery. Jean is a popular upset pick, and with good reason.
Because the answers to the two central questions evade us, we can only speculate based on the available clues, and we can try to ascertain aspects outside of those riddles.
Peterson is saying that he was over the knockout loss long ago, and I'm inclined to believe him -- or at least to believe he believes that. Peterson has been through a great deal in his life and career, and while it's hard to compare "growing up homeless" to "getting steamrolled by an Argentinian beast," the track record of Peterson is to overcome adversity. He fought his ass off against Timothy Bradley after getting knocked down early, even if he wasn't able to rally for the win. Victor Ortiz dropped him, and Peterson again fought his ass off afterward despite not getting the win. After testing positive for synthetic testosterone, he resumed his boxing career with a dominant win over Kendall Holt. Peterson starts slow in his fights, but until Matthysse, he always has gotten back on track. Matthysse didn't give him a chance to, so that makes Jean his latest chance to restore everything to its right place.
Whether he's truly over it, though, we won't know until and if Jean is able to hurt him. Trainer Barry Hunter said that Peterson hasn't been gun-shy in sparring, but sparring is sparring. Once he's hurt in a real fight, it's possible -- and Jean is counting on it -- that Peterson will recoil. That doesn't strike me as the likeliest outcome; Peterson was fearless enough to fight the then-avoided Matthysse in the first place, and is fearless enough to get right back in the ring against a non-patsy. A related question might be where Peterson is physically, with a chin that has abandoned him at times, but in so far as there is a "good kind" of knockout, it's the kind that Matthysse delivered to Peterson: quick, with no prolonged beating.
Jean impressed me from the moment I first saw him, although it was years ago and against weak opposition. The weak opposition has not changed substantially coming into this fight. He has beaten a few gatekeepers or trial horses, like Lanardo Tyner or Francisco Lorenzo, and has done so with little difficulty. His substantial quickness is his greatest asset, and it wasn't until his last fight, a win over Cleotis Pendarvis, that we learned what he could do when challenged. Bleeding from a head butt, potentially losing the fight through four rounds, Jean ripped a big right hand that dropped Pendarvis and pounced on him when he got back up to force the stoppage. But the Pendarvis fight also revealed some weaknesses that hadn't revealed themselves in such a pronounced fashion before. Against a defensively sound fighter who could counter and fight off his back foot, Jean spent most of the fight lunging. With his right hand taken away from him, we saw how invisible his left hand was save for the occasional pawing or range-finding jab. On the inside, he was impotent.
Fortunately for him, he still has plenty to work with, and perhaps that win showed him what he needed to improve upon. The speed is first and foremost. He can crack a little, but I do not think of him as a puncher -- his KO record smells a bit artificial. His excessive right-handedness isn't a total liability because of all the ways he deploys it: a one-two to the head, a one-two to the body, a lead right cross, a quick uppercut or a short hooking shot to the ribs. His quickness allows him to recover from mistakes quickly. Hitting him cleanly is no easy task. He has shown no problems with his punch resistance, although naturally the lack of top opposition could explain that.
Peterson brings a height and reach advantage -- he's 5'9"/72" to Jean's 5'7"/71" -- and a work rate higher than the somewhat conservative Jean. Jean said he will pressure early, but he said the same against Pendarvis and then he didn't. He's versatile and thinks well on his feet, adjusting to what his opponents give him. He is at his best while slogging on the inside, a place where Jean has not yet shown he can excel. His body punching on the inside is especially fierce, and he moves up close reasonably well -- he's not especially quick, but he knows where he needs to get and then ges there, and we saw Pendarvis pin Jean against the ropes on occasion.
Part of me wants to call for the upset, but I'm not especially convinced that Jean's punching power is sufficient to keep even a mentally and physically fragle Peterson on the ground. If it's a boxing match, then -- and I fear both men will have trouble making contact against the other -- Peterson's higher work rate and hometown advantage is likely to trump the Canadian's ability to land enough telling blows to win over the judges. We could see spurts of real action, be it Peterson on the ground or the kind of exchanges in which Peterson frequently finds himself. The bulk of the action we get is likely to favor Peterson, who should win by a close, hard-fought decision.