After 12 back-and-forth rounds, judges George Hill and Valerie Dorsett scored it 113-112 to Peterson, while Nelson Vasquez tipped Khan at 115-110 to Khan. Both fighters are ready for a re-match after a grueling fight described as the best boxing match of the year by the US media.
“Peterson, helped by referee Joe Cooper deducting two points from Khan for pushing in the seventh and 12th rounds, scored the split-decision to win the WBA and IBF junior welterweight titles,” reported the American AP news agency.
Many among hundreds of Pakistani-Americans who came to watch the fight kissed the Pakistani flag Khan brought to the arena along with the Union Jack, the flag of his native Britain. And many left Washington’s Convention Centre with wet eyes and heavy hearts.
And as it happens in such tightly contested competitions, many disagreed with the decision to award the fight to Peterson. Comments in the US media further aggravated their feelings.
“Poor refereeing cost Amir Khan his WBA and IBF light-welterweight titles,” observed Super Sport, a popular American sports site.
“If the first point isn’t taken, Khan retains the title on a draw. If both are ignored, the 25-year-old Brit wins a unanimous decision,” observed another popular US site, Sports Illustrated.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper also called it a “controversial split decision.”
“It was like I was against him and the referee,” said Khan after the defeat. “I knew it would be tough in his hometown.” But it was Khan’s idea to fight in Washington after he attended a White House dinner for Muslim athletes on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 on a personal invitation from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Now he regrets his decision. “This is why boxing hasn’t been in Washington DC for 20 years: you get a decision like this,” he said.
A statement from Khan’s camp said: “Team Khan intends to make inquiries with the District of Columbia Boxing and Wrestling Commission, the IBF and the WBA regarding the performance of referee Joseph Cooper. “We will also be seeking clarification regarding certain ambiguities with respect to the scores of the fight.”
Khan, however, showed no stinginess in praising Peterson. “Not only has he shown that he is a tremendous fighter inside the ring, but also a great man out of the ring. We look forward to an immediate rematch with Lamont as confirmed by Lamont and his manager,” the statement said.
Peterson’s victory also is one of the best sports stories of the year. He lived parentless with his brother on the streets of Washington, not far from the arena, from age 9 to 14.
Odds makers had installed him as 7-to-1 underdog against Khan. But on Saturday night he became a world champion before a sellout crowd of 8.647 at Washington’s Convention Centre. Khan outworked Peterson on volume of punches overall, 757 to 573, as well as power punches, 466 to 406.
Khan was magnificent in the opening round and for much of the fight scored well by moving and hitting. But he was caught on the ropes too many times where Peterson outfought him on the inside. Referee Cooper took a point away from Khan for “pushing” in the seventh round and did it again in the 12th, effectively denying Khan a draw that would have enabled him to retain his titles.
Khan, who made liberal use of his elbows, was often forced to push Peterson away from him as the American ducked low and held on to avoid being tagged from a distance by Khan’s flashing hands. There was a lot of borderline hitting that could have been called low blows but the referee, who clearly looked out of his depth, failed to notice.
Peterson, looking a little like a smaller version of Mike Tyson, landed most of the big shots and tested Khan’s suspect chin to the full. Khan took it well and there was never a moment when either boxer came close to a knockout.
Khan, who turned 25 last Thursday, lost for the first time since being knocked out by Breidis Prescott in 2008.
After the defeat, Khan’s record dropped to 26-2, with 17 knockouts. Peterson, who was born in Washington, now stands at 30-1-1; 15.
The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.