by David P. Greisman
It’s been five months since the controversial first fight between Amir Khan and Lamont Peterson, a bout that ended as a close split decision win for Peterson — with the two points that referee Joe Cooper had taken from Khan for pushing providing Peterson with the margin of victory.
Cooper is a Northern Virginia resident who is the chief of referees for boxing in Washington, D.C. He became a referee after transitioning from competing in kick boxing into becoming the third man in the ring for fights in that sport. He soon became a boxing referee, too, and has officiated the sweet science for about two decades.
Cooper sat down with BoxingScene.com before a show May 12 in Washington, D.C., breaking his silence about his role in the ring five months ago during Khan vs. Peterson.
BoxingScene.com: You were closest to the action during the first fight between Amir Khan and Lamont Peterson. From your eyes, what did that fight go like?
Cooper: “I thought it was a tough fight for Peterson because Amir Khan was very crafty; he moved so much in the ring. I was very shocked. I thought Amir Khan, from seeing his past history — my wife is from England, too, so I’ve seen Amir Khan fight — and I thought he would be standing still more and fighting more than he did.”
BoxingScene.com: It was interesting, because Peterson did go down twice in the first round, once on what was ruled a slip, and so it looked like Khan was going to be taking over the fight from the very beginning, but then Peterson came back. What did you see Peterson doing, or Khan not doing, to make that happen?
Cooper: “In the beginning I saw Peterson being more defensive, following Khan. Khan was more or less boxing a lot. Peterson more or less looked like he was trying to figure him out. I thought Peterson in the beginning was just following Khan. Khan was throwing good punches. That first punch he threw, Peterson was moving around, I was moving around behind Peterson, which most people didn’t see unless you looked on tape.
“Peterson pushed his leg back under my leg while I was going behind him, which caused me to trip, which the way I walk around the ring wouldn’t cause me to fall. So when he got hit, actually he really tripped as he was falling down, so he tripped, or I tripped over him, he slipped and went down. So I saw the replay later on; I called the right call on that first one. The second one he did get hit real good, which I saw, and gave him the right count.”
BoxingScene.com: In terms of the way that Peterson was able to come back, it looked like Khan wasn’t able to keep him off, except for, frankly, from pushing. Over the course of the fight, how soon did you notice the pushing going on, and to your recollection how soon did you start issuing verbal warnings to him for that?
Cooper: “I started giving verbal — in a fight of that magnitude, I normally give everybody a warning. I told Peterson to keep his head up, I told Khan to stop pushing. He pushed his head down, a combination of both, over a period of time. It wasn’t severe enough — a lot of boxers push off, move around, push off, move around — it wasn’t severe enough to go ahead in the beginning until he started actually using his elbow and pushing with his forearms. That was blatant.
“So I figured the soft warnings in the beginning — ‘Hey, stop doing it’ — instead of me calling time and doing that. I normally don’t like to break the action. Most people know how I referee. I don’t like to break the action to warn you unless something really is there. So in that match they were both getting their groove on, and I said ‘Khan, stop pushing’ verbally. He knew I was telling him that. I keep on telling him that. He could hear what I was saying.”
BoxingScene.com: When that first point was taken from Khan, why did you take it?
Cooper: “It was the seventh round. Khan had threw a hook and a push with his elbow at the same time. I’d been telling him to stop pushing the whole night through. That was the seventh round. I’d told him from I’d say the second round all the way through the seventh round. It got to the point that he wasn’t listening to me.”
BoxingScene.com: And the second point, toward the end of the fight?
Cooper: “He pushed his head down.”
BoxingScene.com: After the fight, Amir Khan pointed to so many different reasons for why he lost. And it looks like everyone involved with the commission, including the judges and yourself, have had the finger pointed at them. I know you can’t speak for other members of the commission. I know it’s been five months, but are there certain things you’d like to say in response to the criticism that’s come out?
Cooper: “Well, I know they had the hearings about me, about what happened — the IBF hearing, the D.C. boxing commission had a hearing, the council had a hearing. So everybody had a hearing about me and the fight and what happened, and from my understanding everything was not overturned. They said I went by the rules. I’m certified as an official referee. I’ve done a lot of world title fights. I’m not the new kid on the block. It was by the book. It’s in the books — it’s illegal.”
BoxingScene.com: In hindsight, do you wish that you’d given a stronger verbal warning so that people would have recognized more what you were doing?
Cooper: “I think after 50-something warnings, verbally, to him, I don’t know what more I could do.”
BoxingScene.com: What’s it like to have your reputation attacked like that, and how have you wanted to respond all this time? You haven’t spoken publicly.
Cooper: “Well, I haven’t had my reputation really attacked, because most people know how I referee. If you look up how I referee, I’m a hands-off referee. I don’t get in there and do a lot of pushing. As a matter of fact, if you look at the tape, I told Amir Khan ‘fight out, stop holding.’ When I know a guy is holding, 99 percent of the time, I’ll tell him to stop holding.
“He did break, and he did fight out. So I’m more of a hands-off — I’m more of a less a fighters’ referee. I’m not going to step in there unless I have to. You pay all the money to see them fight. You don’t come to see me pushing them around. So I like to verbally [warn].”
BoxingScene.com: I know it’s very rare that we see points taken for pushing. Why do you think that is, and what was the difference with this fight?
Cooper: “This fight it got to be blatant. The seventh round, it got to the point that nobody was paying attention to me, I felt, and it got to the point that it was very blatant when he shoved him across the ring a few times. It was evident that no one was listening.”
BoxingScene.com: Any other thoughts that you have about the aftermath of the fight five months ago?
Cooper: “I thought it was a good fight. I thought it was an awesome fight. The only thing was it looked like to me, seeing the way Khan was fighting, I’ve never seen him fight like that before, so I don’t know what was going on, why he kept on pushing. I don’t know if his hands were hurt — I don’t know.”
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]