Amir Khan had his two world titles taken from him after 12 terrific rounds against Lamont Peterson – a tight fight that was finally decided by the deduction of points and not by the punches landed.
In Washington DC, over 9,000 fans paid their 25 bucks, prayed and watched in amazement as the boy from the streets of the nation's capital added his story to the list of boxing fairy tales with a split-decision win on Saturday night. Valerie Dorsett and George Hill scored it 113-112 for Peterson and Nelson Vasquez went 115-110 for Khan, who lodged a complaint with the local boxing commission because of "certain ambiguities" in the scores. Bruised and angry, Khan demanded a rematch for the WBA and IBF light-welterweight titles after a result that left him the sorest of losers. Peterson simply collapsed in the arms of Barry Hunter, the old-school trainer who plucked him from the streets.
The performance of the unknown and untested referee, Joe Cooper, and the scores of the officials dominated the post-fight and threatened to ruin what had been a genuine slugfest.
Cooper took a point off Khan in round seven for pushing down on the American's head and shoulders; Peterson was winning the round before the fairly drastic reduction and the margin was 10-8 on all three scorecards when they were presented at the end. Cooper kept on talking to Khan and in the final round, which Khan clearly won, he deducted another point for the same infringement; all three judges scored the fight 9-9 and that means, quite simply, if there had been no reductions Khan would easily have kept his title. "It's not my fault, I never took his points away," Peterson quite correctly claimed.
It is unknown whether Khan's swollen entourage of backers, advisers and trainers asked the referee for clear guidelines on what can and can't happen at the pre-fight rules meeting. Championship fights can be won and lost by the knowledge gained or ignored at such meetings, which take place after the weigh-in.
There was confusion rather than conspiracy and controversy over the tally of the scores because, on the final sheet, which inspectors at ringside compiled after each round, there was an ugly amendment in one column to the round seven score. A line had been drawn through Khan's score of "10"' and replaced by an "eight". It must have been the inspector's doing and not the judge's but, in the world's greatest conspiracy city, a raucous debate ensued.
However, Khan's promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, claimed to have seen all 36 individual scores – that's one each by the judges for the 12 completed rounds – and was satisfied that no error of calculation had assisted in Khan's downfall. "It's the referee and not the judges that I'm concerned about," De La Hoya claimed.
"I was fighting two people in there," Khan added with some justification. However, he was pushing down on Peterson's back and head and trying to keep him at a distance. Khan said it was because of Peterson's head, which is a valid claim, and Peterson and his people insisted it was just a foul.
Once the fight had started, there was a definite feeling that Khan and his people, including De La Hoya's Golden Boy promotions, had made some basic boxing mistakes by accepting Peterson, who was a voluntary defence. The bookies had Khan installed as 1-14 favourite, which was ridiculous. The fact remains, though – forget the back-tracking now – that nobody considered Peterson a real challenge. Khan, his trainer Freddie Roach, the outspoken but untested muscle-maker Alex Ariza, Khan's devoted father Shah and everybody in the Khan business needs to face the harsh truth this morning.
It was a great fight to watch as a neutral because of a knockdown or two, a comeback or three and a dozen or so warnings from Cooper to Khan for a variety of low-key infringements. Peterson was sent reeling to the canvas twice in a blistering opening, as a result of poor balance, Khan's punches and a clash with the static referee. In the end, only the second knockdown was ruled legitimate and Khan won the round 10-8 from all three judges.
Peterson rallied from round three onwards and pursued Khan, never letting more than about 12 inches separate the pair. Gradually, an incredible triumph in Peterson's amazing career began to look possible.
"I will always fight, I will always come back," Peterson insisted. There was also the feeling of shared commitment from Peterson's fans inside the arena and their combined desire to help him create a new chapter in his remarkable story.
Khan won the fight on rounds, rocked, hurt and in the first certainly dropped Peterson once and possibly twice, but disturbingly neglected the continuous warnings from Cooper for what was, it has to be said, a fairly innocuous but illegal move. It is strange that Khan committed the same foul in the final round and even stranger that the referee stopped the flow of a desperate and gripping last round to hand Khan the crucial punishment. It was not a butt or savage low blow or anything sinister. There was simply no need and when they do it all again in Las Vegas in April, Cooper will not be involved.