Baltimore's Vincent Pettway and Canada's Dan Sherry, who battle for Pettway's U.S. Boxing Association junior-middleweight title at the Baltimore Arena tonight, are not total strangers.
"I sparred with Sherry five years ago," Pettway said. "Pepe Correa [now training World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis] brought him over to our Broadway gym.
"I'd already been fighting pro for a couple of years, and Sherry had just joined Ray Leonard's boxing team. I pretty much had my way with him. In the second round, Correa jumped in and stopped it. But that was then, and this is now."
Pettway (35-4, 28 KOs) has risen through the ranks to become the International Boxing Federation's No. 1 contender for Gianfranco Rosi's 154-pound crown. Labeled the mandatory challenger, Pettway is promised his title shot no later than September.
"That's why I can't look past Sherry," said Pettway. "For me, he represents Rosi. If I lose to Sherry, I've got to start climbing that ladder all over again."
Tonight's fight marks Pettway's first title defense since beating Gilbert Baptist at the Pikesville Armory 15 months ago.
A hand injury Pettway suffered last October, when he stopped Aaron Smith in the sixth round of a non-title bout, kept him out of the ring the past seven months.
Since beginning serious training seven weeks ago, Pettway has had trouble maintaining weight. In recent weeks, he has weighed as little as 148, one pound over the welterweight minimum, creating consternation for veteran manager-trainer Mack Lewis.
"With most fighters, you worry about taking weight off for a fight," said Lewis. "With Vincent, we try to fatten him up."
Sherry (21-4, nine KOs) is a natural middleweight, and has weighed as much as 168 fighting the likes of super-middleweights Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn.
He could have an 8-pound weight advantage over Pettway by fight time, and, at 5 feet 11, Sherry also will have a four-inch height advantage.
"Vince surprises you with his power," said super-middleweight Cecil Sims after a recent sparring session with Pettway. "I've fought 175-pounders who don't punch as hard. And he's got the speed to go with it. If you don't keep your hands up, he's going to catch you with combinations."
Pettway and Sherry have fought two common opponents. Pettway lost a brawl with Victor Davis in Philadelphia two years ago, when he suffered a deep eye gash and the bout was stopped. Last month, Sherry won a unanimous decision over Davis.
"I saw the fight, and the Victor Davis that Sherry beat wasn't the same animal I fought," Pettway said.
Both fighters defeated Aaron Smith, but the Washington boxer went the distance with Sherry in 1990, and Pettway stopped Smith in the sixth round last November.
Who: Vincent Pettway (35-4, 28 KOs), Baltimore, vs. Dan Sherry (21-4, 9 KOs), Hamilton, Ontario
What: For Pettway's U.S. Boxing Association junior-middleweight title
Where: Baltimore Arena
Promoter: Stuart Satosky
When: Tonight. The first preliminary bout will begin at approximately 7 p.m.
Tickets: $40 ringside, $30 reserved, $20 general admission. Call (410) 481-SEAT.