FROM Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, to Sharmba Mitchell, to DeMarcus Corley, D.C. fighters are slick and flashy. Their flair typically includes a bedazzling skirt rather than conventional trunks. Not so with Lamont Peterson. While D.C. born and bred, Peterson has a rawness to him that’s more like Philly. Leave the panache to his life-long trainer and father figure, Barry Hunter.

At the inaugural press conference for the January 20 Errol Spence Jr-Lamont Peterson bout, Hunter and Spence wore matching designer black leather tops, although the former is twice the latter’s age.

Hunter’s outfit included a matching platinum necklace and bracelet. At 54, he’s still got his ear to the street. But don’t be fooled by his exterior—put his cells under a microscope and you’re liable to find millions of tiny leather gloves floating around.

Hunter has been using boxing to change lives for 40 years, beginning with his own. He grew up in D.C. projects, taking up boxing to resist the lure of the streets. After a short amateur career, he studied carpentry and construction.

Living in D.C. grew increasingly dangerous. Crime was so rampant, the district became known as the “murder capital.” In 1990, then-mayor Marion Barry was videotaped smoking crack, and served a six-month jail stint. The government’s war on drugs offered abusers no real rehabilitation. The neighborhoods surrounding the White House were hit hardest.

In 1993, Hunter learned that local Lincoln Multicultural Middle School had set aside a tiny storage room for a boxing gym. They needed coaches for the program, and the students needed role models.

Hunter turned the tiny room into a boxing facility, offering free classes to neighborhood kids. They outgrew the space in two years. Hunter moved the program several miles over to the Bald Eagle Recreational Center, a larger facility that could house the 60 fighters who were now part of what he called “HeadBangers Gym.”

Lamont Peterson THE LEADER: Hunter is one of the premier coaches in world boxing

Around that time, he was introduced to 10-year-old Lamont Peterson. Lamont was one of 12 siblings. After their father was sent to prison on a drug charge, their alcoholic mother abandoned them. Lamont and younger brother Anthony roamed the streets of D.C., sometimes going weeks without a proper meal, sleeping on park benches and in doorways.

Hunter took them into his home, feeding and mentoring them. Lamont and Anthony became amateur stars. They weren’t the only ones. Hunter’s reputation as a coach, and as someone who genuinely cared, grew. The city took notice. In 2009, mayor Vincent Gray provided $5.3 million for the Arnold McKnight Boxing Annex, a 6,600-sq. ft. facility attached to the Bald Eagle Rec Center.

Today, HeadBangers is like a beefed up, east coast version of Freddie Roach’s Wildcard Gym. Walk in and you may find the Peterson brothers, Gervonta Davis, Adrien Broner, Jarrett Hurd, Robert Easter Jr. and Austin Trout all training together. The gym has produced over 100 national amateur and world champions, and saved many more from the street life.

Barry, thanks for taking the time out for this interview. Tell us about HeadBangers Promotions and what your goals are for this company?

It’s funny you mention that because Lamont [Peterson] and I just spoke about it yesterday. After he’s finished doing his business on January 20, we’re going to really go at it full steam ahead. We’ve got a lot of young fighters in the area that want and need help.

How do you plan to separate yourself from the rest of the promotional pack?

What makes HeadBangers different is that we came from ground zero. We’ve been through the struggle, through the politics, through everything that boxing can throw at you. We don’t want these up and coming fighters to go through what we had to.

We sympathise with the fighters. We know what it’s like to go out there, put your heart into everything and leave with nothing. One of the things we want to do is to prevent those sorts of things from happening. Our goal is to help our boxers professionally and set them on the right path in their personal life.

I must say that none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for Andre Johnson, Cologne Hunter and of course Lamont and his brother Anthony. They really make us go. My hat goes off to all of those guys because they do a tremendous job and make mine a whole bunch easier.

Lamont’s got a pretty big test against Errol Spence on January 20.

This is a pretty unique situation for me. I started working with Errol when he turned 17, if I’m not mistaken. We both were on the USA National Team together. Errol was one of the kids I happened to work with, along with Joseph Diaz, Jose Ramirez, Marcus Browne, and Jesse Hart, to name a few. We’ve been on many a journey together, both domestic and international.

I took a liking to Errol so much, because he reminded me of Lamont with his will to win. We never lost a fight together. We were in fights where we would have to come from behind and Errol would always find a way to pull it out.

I told Errol, if it were my choice, we would be fighting Keith Thurman or Danny Garcia. Because Errol, myself and Lamont have always been tight. So, I had to let him understand that it’s love before and love after. Boxing is what we do, not who we are. It’s a business, our job, and we intend to do our job well. But after it’s all said and done and the smoke clears, we’re friends.

What differences do you see in Errol, from the time you coached him until now?

I think he’s much more mature as a fighter. Lamont used to mentor him, so to speak. He told him certain things he needed to correct, and these are things I see have been corrected. Like slowing his game down, patience, thinking the process through and so forth. I think his coach Derrick James has done a tremendous job. Errol is a very grounded young man. The way I see it, if he stays that way, and stays on that path, he’s going to be one for the books.

How about the fight itself? Do you get the sense that a lot of folks are underrating Lamont?

Lamont has been underrated his whole career, from the amateurs to the pros. That’s a position we’re comfortable with. We’ve beaten the odds time and time again. And even before me, the few years he was living and surviving in the streets, he beat the odds. So, we’re not really worried about that.

Lamont always says that he never really got in this game so people could cheer his name. You’ll hear a lot of fighters say that they’re willing to give their life up in the ring. Of course, I hope that never happens, but Lamont honestly feels that way. To him, that’s a beautiful death.

Lamont has fought once in the last two years. Are you concerned at all about rust?

We’ve put in a lot of gym work, so I’m not really worried about rust at all. When you look at people like Lamont, guys like Floyd and other veteran fighters, they can do that. They can take that time off. A younger fighter would be affected by the inactivity even more so. When Lamont fought David Avanesyan for a world title, he’d been off about 16 months. But you couldn’t tell.

Lamont Peterson UNDERDOG: Lamont Peterson is ready to surprise everyone again

How do you see the fight versus Errol playing out?

I see it going a few different ways because of the makeup of the two guys. It could be tactical and then turn into a war. It could be tactical all the way, but I doubt it. Or it could be a war from round one to 12. It all depends on what we bring to the table and what they bring to the table. They know what they’re facing in Lamont, just like we know what’s in front of us. So, we’re not leaving anything to chance. We’ll be ready to counter any adjustments they make.

You’ve got a lot of other fighters that you work with. Robert Easter Jr, for instance, will be on the card versus Javier Fortuna.

We’re very, very high on Robert. I think if Robert stays the course and does the things he’s supposed to do and the things he’s capable of doing, Robert will be a champion for a long time. Very talented young man. And his father is always close by him, helping him to stay grounded. I’m looking forward to Robert being victorious.

My hands will be particularly full that night. We have a young kid named Keyshawn Williams that I want everyone to be on the look out for. He’s fighting that night and we expect him to be a future star anywhere around 147-154. Anthony Peterson is also scheduled to fight on that card also, and of course Lamont.

Is Easter still making 135lbs comfortably? He’s pretty tall at that weight at 5’11.

Well, his motor is still running pretty good and his metabolism is on point. He’s still able to make it, but he’s a big 135. So of course, during the night of the fight, this dude looks like a welter or super welter. It’s a huge advantage, actually. Rob is a real skilled fighter and he’s a game fighter. He can box with you, he can crack with you, so I definitely think that he’s ready for a Mikey Garcia or anyone.

Headbangers Gym is loaded with fighters like that. How is that atmosphere when you have all those guys there working together?

Mike Stafford and I started organizing these super camps ages ago. There are no egos at our gym. I know that’s hard to believe, but when we do these super camps – folks jumping on planes and flying out – everyone hangs out together. We do Thanksgiving, Christmas, everything together. Normally, when you get that many egos and personalities all in one room, somebody might even die (laughs). But in this case, everyone gets along. We have a rule: Check your ego at the door. You can pick it up when you leave, but you can’t bring it into the gym with you.

These guys have all turned into bigger names in the sport. What do you look for in a young prospect that compels you to work with them?

There’s a certain mentality that they must have. The willingness to go in there and deal with our program and regimen. I don’t want to, in any way, compare ourselves to our troops or the green berets, but I understand their mentality. They look for the few and the proud. Everyone can’t make that team. You may go through over 300 candidates and end up with maybe five or six viable ones. If you quit during your exercise, you’re probably going to quit in the ring. If you can’t get along with your corner in the gym, you’re not going to get along with them in the fight.

So, the mindset is the biggest factor to me. And at the end of the day, you’ve got to be able to fight. You don’t have to be the flashiest guy or the most skilled guy. But if you’re willing to go into the trenches; a guy who has the will and refuses to lose? Then yeah, I can work with you.

You’ve worked closely with the amateur squad in the past. Are you still a part of the national team?

The 2012 class was the last national team I was involved with directly. The thing that bothers me is that, when you look at that team in 2012, they were stacked with talent. In fact, when you look back at most of our teams on paper, many of them become world titlists and do well in the pro ranks. So, you ask yourself, what’s going on with the amateur performances? Well, you cannot have an elite squad and train them only a month or two out from the games. Then, you keep bringing in coaches in and out. Different coaches have different philosophies. So, the chemistry is way off.

Then, they went outside of the U.S. and brought in someone, paid a foreign coach to train the kids. You have coaches like myself, like Virgil Hunter, like Mike Stafford, like Freddie Roach, like Nazim Richardson, some of the greatest coaches in the sport, and they aren’t involved in USA boxing today. It’s crazy. And most of the guys I just named were once amateurs themselves, so they understand what it takes. Let them raise these guys up because these are the same guys who will coach them in the pros.

Second, Andre Ward was the last male Olympic gold medalist that we had in boxing. Articulate, a soldier, undefeated as a pro. I only saw him lose one time in the amateurs, and I believe he was sick that day. How is this dude not the spokesperson, the face of USA boxing? You’ve got all of these jewels right here in the USA and they don’t utilize them. I don’t get it.

With Floyd Mayweather retired, who will carry that torch for American boxing?

Personally, I think there are several guys capable of carrying that torch, plus there’s a legion of youth coming up. I think that if we take the muzzle off and let them fight each other, the cream will rise to the top. Then you will see that next star, the future of boxing. I was talking to Ray Leonard the other day, and I was thinking about Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler. Ray wouldn’t have been great if he didn’t have those guys, if he didn’t fight them. That’s what made boxing great. They fought each other in their primes. And they had that feeding system, that amateur system. So, guys like Pernell Whitaker were coming up right under them. We don’t have that structure now.

We also need the teachers to bring it out of them. If you’ve got your fist clenched, it’s hard to give or receive anything. In other words, the knowledge is there, but you have to be willing to learn. When I was coming up, I would pick the brains of an Eddie Futch, Emanuel Steward, Ham Johnson, who was the father and trainer of “Too Sharp” Johnson, so many of them. And I would listen to those guys, I wouldn’t try to talk over them. But now, you don’t have that same type of respect in a lot of cases. You’ve got people making up their history. And it shows in how their fighters fight. We need to return to that system of respect from old to new. And to rebuild the structure. The talent is there. Everything else must fall into place.

READ THE INCREDIBLE LAMONT PETERSON STORY… from being surrounded by drugs on the street to the torment of being accused of taking them to gain an advantage in the ring… IN THIS WEEK’S BOXING NEWS