In a shocking upset, Lamont Peterson, as much as a 9-1 shortender on some books, scored a split decision over Amir Khan after 12 grueling rounds at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Final scores, influenced by referee Joe Cooper, were 113-112, 113-112 and a completely ludicrous 110-115. Cooper deducted two points from Khan for shoving and, in doing so, created the latest in a series of weekly boxing scandals.
It should be pointed out clearly—without any of the idiotic bawling that makes following boxing a chore—that Khan held excessively, pushed Peterson down by the head repeatedly, stopped the action with several half nelsons, and, yes, pushed or shoved Peterson over 40 times. In addition, Khan even grabbed Peterson around the waist and, at one point, his thighs. Peterson committed a few infractions of his own, but nothing compared to the Greco-Roman maneuvers Khan tried to empretzel him with all night.
It took two rounds for Peterson, 140, to get comfortable against Khan, who looked sharp early, even scoring a phantom knockdown in the first. As soon as Peterson started pressuring and winning exchanges in close, however, Khan began his shoving routine, drawing his first warning from Cooper in the third round, when Peterson landed hard shots—particularly to the body—from bell to bell. Peterson started the fourth with a pair of jabs and a straight right, and Khan, 139, began shoving again, doing so, it seems, in direct proportion to Peterson’s success.
In the following round, for example, Khan dominated with clean combination punching, neat footwork, and an accurate jab. He did not shove Peterson once, an indication of his comfort level. In the sixth, however, Peterson began bullyragging him again, and out came a couple of blatant shoves. Cooper can clearly be heard telling Khan, “Last warning: stop pushing.” But Khan, Bolton, Lancashire, United Kingdom, repeated this inelegant move several times in the seventh, and Cooper deducted a point—rightly so if you care about a clean fight; an outrage if you are interested only in peddling your prejudices.
What is really strange about the whole situation is that despite having a point deducted, Khan raised his shoving tactics to a new level, pushing Peterson away repeatedly in the 9th, 11th, and 12th rounds. Cooper barked “Stop pushing!” twice in the 11th, but Khan was oblivious and turned the final round into a mosh pit as well, throwing in a headlock for good measure. Of course, it is the curious timing of the second penalty that stands out–the last round is not exactly the best time to deduct points in a close fight.
But the real issue is not that Cooper cost Khan the win, but that Khan struggled so mightily with a fighter who had not been overly impressive in the two biggest starts of his career, against Tim Bradley and Victor Ortiz. Peterson, Memphis, Tennessee via Washington, D.C., neglected his jab, waded in recklessly at times, and threw wide punches more often than congress fails to agree on a bill. Peterson fought at an accelerated pace, adding a little extra oomph to his general competence, but he is no world-beater, and seeing Khan being abused along the ropes and smacked around in the corners was surprising. Khan, 25, suffered torments when Peterson took advantage of his two biggest flaws: his bizarre habit of stopping out of the blue, putting his hands up, and allowing his opponent to hack away at him, and a complete inability to fight on the inside.
Peterson warred with zest in the middle rounds, steadily tattooing Khan to the body. When Khan played mannequin against the ropes, Peterson, 27, worked him over with hooks and uppercuts in the trenches. At these moments, Khan sought to hold, push, or grab Peterson around the neck. Now and then he would pivot out of danger, but more often than not he just stood there taking punishment, occasionally with defiance, but allowing an opponent to run off uncontested shots is not going to reflect well on the scorecards. Khan boxed well at times and landed several quick flurries, including a few punctuated by his own vicious bodyshots. Khan also rocked Peterson in the ninth with a blistering right, but his follow-up was sloppy, and Peterson survived to do his own thumping moments later.
Peterson, who improves to 30-1-1 (15), wound up winning because of the two lost points, something no real fight aficionado wants to see, but Khan was spoiling repeatedly and what he did—over and over again—is technically illegal. Not that Cooper was Kenny Bayless in the ring, but pesky as he was throughout, Cooper was consistent in what many believe was his inconsistency. When the fighters fell into a clinch, Cooper called for them to fight out of it. Correct. When it was clear that Khan was stalling and holding, Cooper ordered him to let go. Correct. When Khan blatantly shoved Peterson, Cooper admonished him. Correct. When Khan grabbed Peterson around the neck, Cooper warned him against doing so. Correct. Could the problem be that Khan held, shoved, and grabbed Peterson too much?
Now Cooper, predictably, will be vilified. But ask yourself this: What kind of a hometown referee scores a phantom knockdown against the house fighter in the first round? Or threatens the local corner with a point deduction as Cooper did to the Peterson crew prior to the start of the sixth? Cooper probably should have called a time-out to give Khan a stern warning. But would that have mattered? As noted earlier, even after Khan lost the first point, he redoubled his slam dance efforts. Whether you think what Khan did was a ring misdemeanor or a ring felony is irrelevant. The fact is, Khan was told repeatedly to stop shoving, and he refused to comply.
For years we have heard that HBO fighters and promotional darlings are protected. Now, we get a connected money fighter who loses, and we have to hear about some other kind of scheme. More than ever boxing— the only sport in the world whose rules are interpreted based solely on the biases and prejudices of its spectators—suggests a quote from William Kennedy: “We are all in a conspiracy against the next man.”
Ironically, many felt that Khan managed to survive his bout with Marcos Maidana last year because referee Joe Cortez seemed to interfere with Maidana at every turn. Even more surreal—but what boxing has been reduced to recently—Khan has now been involved in four “controversial” fights in succession: against Maidana (Cortez being Cortez); against McCloskey (quick stoppage); against Zab Judah (“low blow”); and now against Peterson. Not since Cain slew Abel, it seems, has a confrontation ended clearly. Khan coldly dismissed the complaints of the losers in each of these bouts, but when the turn of the screw went against him, he showed no class in post-fight interviews.
The deluge of tears will only get worse when Golden Boy Promotions—who own the biggest diapers in boxing—get started on their sob campaign. Khan, now 26-2 (18), loses little here, despite the weeping and gnashing, because he engaged in an exciting fight with a solid challenger and had the crowd roaring throughout.
With the win, Peterson realizes a dream that, like most dreams perhaps, must have seemed out of reach when he was a child living on the streets of Washington D.C. Not even boxing—unforgiving, unfair, unmerciful—ought to begrudge him that.