by Gautham Nagesh
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Lamont Peterson shocked British junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan here on Saturday night, earning a split decision in front of a raucous crowd at the Convention Center. By edging Khan in a war Peterson not only earned himself two world titles but also firmly put Washington back on the map as a fight town and home of champions.
The final scores were 115-110 Khan and 113-112 (twice) for Peterson. I had the fight scored a draw at 113-113 with Khan winning six rounds, Peterson five and one even. Khan’s fans will blame local judging but the fight was extremely close and none of the cards were out of line. Two questionable point deductions heavily influenced the final outcome, as did a knockdown in the first by Khan.
Most notable was the large and vocal audience at the Convention Center, which was in their seats early and appeared largely satisfied despite less than ideal seating arrangement that had all spectators seated at floor level. Some of the less expensive seats had obstructed views of the ring and there were murmurs of refunds and complaints early, but the venue was positively rocking by the time ring announcer Michael Buffer proclaimed it time to rumble.
The irony is this fight should have happened one year ago in England but Peterson had the temerity to walk away from a $300,000 payday, the largest of his career, to fight Victor Cayo in an IBF eliminator for just five figures. Khan’s star has shined brightly and he must have assumed that Peterson lacked the power to give him serious trouble when he agreed to bring the fight to his foe’s backyard. So Lamont was rewarded for his patience with double the paycheck and all the benefits of home, including apparent favoritism from referee Joe Cooper.
8.647 fans packed the venue and while Khan’s Army made their voices heard, the crowd was overwhelmingly there to represent the South side of D.C. The competing calls from both sets of fans created a charged atmosphere that served as the perfect backdrop for the spellbinding twelve-round contest. Rarely do we see two world-class fighters with compelling styles meet each other in their primes and even more seldom does a fight in the U.S. without Mayweather or Pacquiao bring out a crowd of such size and enthusiasm outside of Las Vegas, LA or New York.
Khan may have fought Peterson as a stopgap while waiting for a supposed superfightwith the effective but uninspiring Tim Bradley, but in doing so he may have found the first opponent that will eventually define him as a fighter. Almost all of the sport’s greatest heroes must earn their stripes by going to war with their toughest opponent more than once and Khan should be no different. If he truly desires greatness, overcoming Lamont clearly would be a considerable step. It is highly doubtful any bout involving Bradley could reach this level of entertainment.
The verdict itself will be hotly disputed, but neither man has anything to apologize for after pouring every ounce of themselves into this battle. As expected, Khan came out like gangbusters and scored a pair of early knockdowns, though only one was scored as such by the ref. Peterson looked overwhelmed by Khan’s speed at first but he made his usual adjustment earlier than normal, finding his feet at the end of the 2nd and hurting Khan on the inside in the 3rd. Peterson continued to work the body in the 4th; his focus on going downstairs may have been the difference in the fight.
The 5th saw Khan rally by moving more and getting out quickly after firing his combinations, which troubled Peterson throughout the night. I scored the 6th even after both men landed good shots, but Khan lost a point in the 7th for excessive pushing with his forearm to even the scorecards. The decision gave Peterson new life and he responded by trapping Khan against the ropes and unloading with some heavy shots to the head and body.
Both men stood their ground and traded combinations in the 9th. Khan appeared to stumble Lamont with a right hand as Peterson’s legs looked to be failing. But Lamont steadied himself in time for the 10th and squeaked the round on my card by continuing his body work. The 11th and 12th were less hectic as the slugfest began to take its toll; I scored both for Khan but the ref’s decision to deduct another point from Khan for landing an uppercut on the break ended up as the difference in the fight.
Khan did nothing to change my mind about him or his bright future in the sport; he simply ran into a hometown fighter enjoying his shining moment and still won on many cards. He immediately blamed the ref and challenged Peterson to a rematch in Vegas or the UK. To his credit Peterson accepted the challenge immediately and was even willing to consider a trip across the pond provided terms can be agreed upon.
The real news is Peterson, whose career and status in the boxing world has exploded overnight. I thought Lamont could pull off the upset and even envisioned him winning a close fight on the cards by split decision, but lacked the courage to publicly back the kid from the streets of DC. As great as Peterson’s backstory is, I’m thrilled he will no longer be known mostly as the fighter that used to live in the bus station. Now he’s just the junior welterweight champion of the world.
It is no surprise the bout has already stoked immediate calls for a rematch, with Golden Boy chief Oscar de la Hoya indicating at the press conference that all parties have already indicated they are onboard. The fight as vaulted into contention for Fight of the Year and Peterson is a candidate for a literary treatment of his own after his remarkable rise to championship glory.
“It must have been a good fight, they’re already talking about a rematch,” quipped Lamont in shades at the press conference. He credited the crowd for driving him during the fight and proclaimed himself ready to fight Khan again tomorrow.
“I came to DC. Let’s see if he has the same balls as me,” Khan said while challenging Peterson to come to the UK for the rematch. Peterson would be foolish to agree, since as the champion he can demand the fight stay somewhere neutral like Las Vegas. But Khan did confirm that he will remain at 140 for another fight to regain his titles.
The real impact of the evening will be felt in the coming weeks as Peterson’s story gets more attention. Hopefully this will spark a real revival of interest in the professional fight game locally, specifically by increasing the quality of fighter interested in visiting Washington. Khan bitterly lashed out at the city, suggesting that the ref’s favoritism was the reason HBO had been absent for the past 18 years.
Khan’s frustration is understandable, but the almost-9,000 screaming fans that showed up Saturday night, the region’s wealth of talented prospects, and the presence of newly-crowned world champion Lamont Peterson almost certainly guarantee it won’t be another two decades before a promoter thinks about trying to stage a big-time fight card in D.C. again.