The Petersons were 5 and 6, respectively, the age at which their father was jailed on drug charges, and their mother was left to care for seven children.
When they weren’t bouncing between foster care and the streets, they protected each other and have persevered under the guidance of manger and trainer Barry Hunter, to whom they were introduced by a close friend and mentor, Patrice Harris.
For money, they washed car windows or resorted to stealing from grocery stores, becoming pick pockets, swiping tips off of the tables at outdoor restaurants, or things such as stealing bicycles and selling them.
Until meeting Hunter, the Peterson siblings slept in a station wagons, alternately spending “some days on the streets, some days at the bus stops and the bus stations, and there were some days we spent at the parks,” according to Lamont Peterson.
Meanwhile, Mitchell grew up with little knowledge of his father, who separated from his mother, Jeanette Mitchell, when he was 5, and whom he met three times before the man died in 2006.
“I didn’t really hear from my father too much or see him. I believe that I saw him three times since I was five years old, and I may have spoken to him about four times. But I had a lot of people who helped me in life,” said Mitchell, a married father of two young children.
“Not having my biological father there, I had a lot of father figures and mentors, and that’s definitely helped me out throughout my life. I’m a family man at heart, and I just can’t understand how people can have children and not want to be with them all of the time.”
HEAVY BURDEN FOR MITCHELL
No U.S.-born fighter has held a heavyweight title since 2007, when Shannon Briggs briefly wore the WBO’s strap. In 2006, Hasim Rahman of Baltimore held the WBC belt while the IBF title was held by Chris Byrd.
Puerto Rican-American John Ruiz, the first Latino to win a heavyweight belt, held the WBA title from 2001-2005.
“I have to keep all of that in perspective,” said Mitchell. “This is for my family. I provide for them. It’s a big fight and this is a part of the business. I’m on this card because I’ve got 17 knockouts. If I only had five knockouts, you wouldn’t be talking to me today. I would be lying if I said there was no pressure, but I understand that I have to perform if I want to stay on this level.
“I got in this business to have the cameras in front of me and all of the media that you have to encounter and to make all of the appearances that you have to to build up the fight. But all of the time, you have to remain focused.”
Vitali is riding an 11-fight winning streak that includes nine stoppages and is the WBC titleholder, while Wladimir owns the WBA, WBO and IBF belts and currently is riding a winning streak of 14 consecutive bouts, with 10 knockouts during that time.
“I definitely believe in my heart and my mind that my trainer and I, Andre Hunter, that we’re ready for this big step. I read a couple of Timur’s quotes saying that he’s got too much experience for me,” said Mitchell.
“I’m excited about the fight, and I’m excited about fighting in front of the fans. Timur Ibragimov is my opponent and my stiffest test. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was excited about it.”