By Kieran Mulvaney
Going into Saturday's fight card, the talk of course was primarily of two men: Amir Khan and Lamont Peterson, the principals in the main event. Coming out of it, the talk was of three men: Khan, Peterson, and Joseph Cooper, the referee whose point deductions made the difference between Khan retaining and losing his junior welterweight world titles.
There were, of course, other factors involved, not the least of them Peterson's relentlessness, his refusal to be denied or to acknowledge that he was the underdog, his determined stalking and pressing, and in particular the hellacious body shots that he ripped to Khan's midriff in the second quarter of the fight, a tactic that turned around a fight that was in danger of slipping away from him.
But in a fight that was closely-fought, with several rounds that were hard to score, the two point deductions were a clear talking point, particularly given that, without them, Khan would have walked away with his belts still wrapped around his waist.
"It's like I was up against two people in there," complained Khan. "[Peterson] kept trying to pick me up. He kept coming in with his head, lower and lower every time. He was being effective in pressing, but I was the cleaner fighter all night. I'm ready for a rematch. I knew it would be tough in his hometown, but this is why DC hasn't had big time boxing in 20 years."
That's harsh, if understandable in the circumstances, and it would be a shame if the controversy detracted from what was a sensational night of boxing. For the second December in a row, Khan engaged in a Fight of the Year candidate, but after knocking Peterson down in the first round and deploying his dazzling hand speed to great effect in impressive combinations, Khan looked to be pulling away on the scorecards one-third of the way through the bout.
But Peterson kept stalking, kept coming forward, focused intently on landing punishing blows to Khan's body. That single-minded goal began reaping rewards in the sixth, and for the next several rounds, as Khan, seemingly slowed down by the assault, retreated to the ropes, where Peterson punctuated his body attack with uppercuts that sent the spray flying from Khan's head. Khan blocked plenty of them, but plenty made their way through to the target, and their effectiveness was highlighted by the diminishing snap in the Briton's own punches.
The defending champion appeared to stem the tide in the ninth, a sensational three minutes in which Khan twice rocked Peterson to the core with left-right combinations, and Peterson responded with a booming right hand of his own. That round seemed to drain all but the last drops of energy from both men, who spent the final few rounds fighting on fumes. Khan seemed to be getting the better of those closing rounds, but Peterson kept on coming, desperate to close the deal in front of his hometown crowd, and when Cooper deducted a point from Khan in the twelfth round (apparently for pushing, although few ringside were entirely sure), having also taken a point in the seventh, it proved to be the act that, more than any other, cost Khan his titles.
The DC crowd roared with approval when their man was declared the winner, as they had roared earlier when another local talent, heavyweight Seth Mitchell, made a major statement with an impressive second round TKO of Timur Ibragimov. But if Khan was bitter, Peterson was magnanimous in victory, savoring the moment but looking ahead already to the prospect of meeting his foe again.
"I would definitely give him a rematch. He gave me a shot at the title, so I would definitely give him a rematch."
If it proves even remotely as competitive and exciting as this encounter, it would be a rematch to savor.