Paul McCloskey sunk back into his chair, placed a towel over his head and wept. This was, essentially, the final act of a shambolic promotion which had a suitably shambolic — and unjust — ending.
It somehow seemed painfully right that when the white cotton was removed only his sweat and tears where within the fibres.
The blood from his cut above the nose which allowed Puerto Rican referee Luis Pabon to end his World title dream on Saturday night had all been left in the ring.
“I’m numb, I’m in shock how can something like that happen,” sighed McCloskey as he stared across his dressing room in Manchester’s MEN Arena which was high on injustice and a sense that the dark forces within the politics of boxing had been at work.
McCloskey, whose defensive skills were a joy to watch, was warming to his task in the sixth round; the game plan was entering phase two as he more than survived the early blitz when a clash of heads — with Khan largely at fault — opened up the wound.
Suddenly, as the referee examined the damage, he was surprisingly joined in the ring by the doctor and together they shamefully brought an end to the Dungiven man’s challenge, 30 seconds before the end of the round.
The result went to the scorecards and with all three judges having WBA light-welterweight champion Khan winning every round he took the contest 60-54.
This was of little surprise as he was landing the greater volume of punches, but the McCloskey corner had anticipated as much and they were awaiting the second half of the fight for the challenger to grab the initiative.
It was not to be and you had to wonder just why there was such an urgency to end the fight as the doctor in McCloskey’s dressing room confirmed the cut only required seven stitches.
Indeed, Eamonn Magee had stopped the bleeding within moments of the fight being called off, which led to promoter Barry Hearn and coach John Breen berating the referee.
So a cut of inconsequential proportions ended a World title fight event which had initially been on Sky Box Office, was pushed to Sky Sports 3 due to an average undercard and was then axed by Sky due to a fall-out with the promoters before ending up on little known channel Primetime with Khan losing a reported £1.2m in purse money.
McCloskey’s mind was in sheer turmoil as he searched for answers in a whirlpool of emotion while his team vented their anger at the various media outlets.
To add insult to injury word came through from Hearn that Khan had claimed on Five Live — which the champion later confirmed at the post-fight press conference — that McCloskey wanted a way out of the battle at the time of the stoppage.
More bewilderment enveloped McCloskey’s face, more agony burned through his brain though there was a rare moment of relief, a reminder of why he had put himself through ten weeks of training, when son Cian took a step forward to make sure his dad was alright and to wonder when they would be going home.
A light moment amid the darkness.
As the 31-year-old southpaw started to untie his boots the sense of being cheated of the opportunity to give his all, to reach for out and grab the WBA World light-welterweight title belt was all to evident as he revealed how he felt the champion weakening.
“He was so tired in there, his legs were gone. I could feel, a fighter knows. Of course he won the early rounds, but we knew that and I knew I was still strong. I knew I was going to get to him. He’s tight at the weight and I could see that,” said McCloskey, whose 6,000-strong ‘Dudey Army’ among the 16,000 roared him on from start to finish.
As he made his way back to the dressing room many English fans reached out to him to acknowledge the bitterly unsatisfactory ending, while echoing in the background came the chants of “cheat, cheat.”
McCloskey added: “I knew the fight was coming into my territory they say that guy has a chance to become the top pound for pound fighter in the world, you must be joking. He talks the talks and it’s all hype — it’s all blown up his own backside so he can’t keep it out.
“I was behind, but it was the first time I have boxed to instructions in a while. I was told to be slick, to move and make him miss and that’s what I did and after the second round I could see he was tiring. And when we were in close he kept pushing me down because he can’t fight in close.
“Our plan was to go the later rounds but I never got that chance. I would love to get in there again with him but people who fight me once never want to fight me again. I made him look silly. They took me as an easy option but it didn’t work out that way.”
It certainly didn’t. While McCloskey did not return home to Dungiven with the WBA belt, he can surely look ahead to another world title shot.
“I have no doubt that my style can beat anybody and I know that I have what it takes to become world champion.”