One of the funniest and highest-paid comedians in the world, new Speakeasy host Russell Peters has a brand of humor that often mocks cultural stereotypes, an approach inspired by his own upbringing in an Indo-North American family.
Peters admits he was bullied as a child because of his ethnicity, but his quick wit—and boxing training—proved to be a powerful defense against intolerance.
With a new batch of Speakeasy episodes beginning to roll out later this month, we sparred with the outspoken comic about his best fights, favorite fighters and how Ronda Rousey would fare against men.
“Ronda Rousey is probably the best MMA fighter in the sport. I remember when Dana White said there’d never be any women in the UFC, but she’s headlining now. Hello?!?”
Is it true you got into boxing and martial arts to fight off childhood bullies?
I learned to box because I was a small lndian kid with a big mouth, and when someone would say something, I’d say something back, which always got me in trouble. I boxed for nine years and did jujitsu for three, and I still train. And I’m still a huge boxing fan.
What are your all-time best fights?
It’s pretty unanimous that Marvin Hagler vs, Tommy Hearns was one of the best fights ever. An insane fight—the best three rounds of boxing. Boxing News called it “eight minutes of mayhem.” Diego Corrales vs Jose Luis Castillo for the WBC lightweight title was an amazing fight in 2005. And I loved all the Ali-Frazier-Foreman battles.
Which fighter do you admire the most?
My favorite all-time fighter is Jack Johnson. The clips from the early 1900s are all grainy but his story alone was enough to make me a fan. He was the first black heavyweight champion, and up till then you couldn’t be champion if you were black, so he was the one that broke that color barrier. It was also illegal for a black man to date a white woman back then, and yet that’s all he ever dated. There was often a warrant out for his arrest because they’d say he was kidnapping these women.
He was so slick and cool and had an attitude that I really dug. He said things in the early 1900s that you wouldn’t say today. Like when they asked him, ‘Jack, why do you only date white women, don’t you like black women?’ He’d say, ‘I love black women, my mom is a black woman. But when I’m with a white woman, I know it really bothers you!’
Who else has caught your eye over the years?
Mike Tyson and his raw power, he really changed the game in the 1980s, but I was also a fan of Larry Holmes, because as a boxing guy, I thought he was so technically good. The heavyweight division had Ali-Frazier-Foreman around at the same time. Frazier was just a warrior, a real tough guy. You don’t really see that many genuine tough guys anymore. You see a lot of kids that get into boxing and they’re quick, maybe some have some power, but they don’t really want to get in there and bang. I love guys who like to bang.
The heavyweight division is not really the go-to category for great fights, is it?
The middleweight division’s really exciting, especially with the recent “triple-G” fight involving Gennady Golovkin, the Kazakh fighter, and this kid does bang. He recently fought David Lemieux from Canada in a unification bout, and it was a great fight, an eight-round stoppage. Now Golovkin is the IBF and WBA middleweight champ, with like 34 straight wins. I also like the Nicaraguan kid named Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, a 112-pounder, yet he’s amazing, such a beast. He looks like he’s like a teenager, he’s undefeated and is rated the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter.
We hear you also like MMA, and wasn’t it Dana White who said that there’d never be women fighting in the UFC? So what’s your take on Ronda Rousey?
Ronda is probably the best MMA fighter in the sport. Yeah, I remember when Dana White said there’d never be any women in the UFC, but she’s headlining now. Hello?!? She’s just so dominant, so focused, and it’s not like you’re going, ‘Oh, we’re going to watch these girls fight.’ She’s like a female Mike Tyson, ‘I’m gonna fuck somebody up, man!’
I have friends who’ve trained with her, and these guys are black belt jujitsu guys who’ve fought for titles, not like bum guys. It’s not like she’s training with me, she’s training with real fighters, and they were like, ‘The first time I rolled with her, I thought I’d go easy on her. But she’s as strong as a man. And I had to treat her like I was fighting a man, I had to go full bore on her.’
How would she do against a guy in the Octagon?
With a guy her size, she might be able to bang and hold her own. I mean, she spars with guys all the time, so it’s not like she’s never fought a guy. She actually has the edge, because it’s not new to her but probably new to them.