By Terence Dooley
In boxing, sometimes you are adjudged to have lost even when you win, and Amir Khan (139lb) had one of those nights at the MEN Arena in Manchester on Saturday night when stopping Ireland's Paul McCloskey (139lb) on a technical decision after an accidental clash of heads opened up a cut on the Dungiven man's brow in round six. Referee Luis Pabon called over the ring doctor to inspect the injury and the fight was officially waved off at 2:30 of the session.
Cue cries of a contentious finish, ineptitude on the part of the officials and accusations that it was a hollow victory for Khan and his team; claims that are completely without foundation when you look at the circumstances surrounding the phoney controversy.
Grumbles over the legitimacy of the ending can be fleshed out by a speedy analysis of the night. Round one, McCloskey does very little and loses the session. 'Dudey' again does next to nothing in the second, ceding the round. Sure, Paul did a little bit better in round three but to no avail. Round four and McCloskey fails to put anything into play, giving up the stanza as a result. Five, very little from Paul – another round in the bag for Khan.
Then you have the sixth, a cut is opened and the referee calls in the ring doctor. They look at Paul, see a guy who has done nothing thus far in the fight, showed no sign that he will do anything if it progresses and who is surely six rounds down, the referee decides to pull the plug. I fail to see the controversy here.
Some will argue that Paul's injury was a minor one, that he should have been allowed to complete the round so that his cuts man, Benny King, could try to stem the flow - the wound itself was not a gusher – in order to see if McCloskey could force a dramatic KO finish against an opponent he had consistently failed to tag throughout the duration.
What exactly would have changed had we been given another three minutes of monotony? The challenger has 12 stoppage wins in 22 victories against opposition a few levels below 'King' Khan, no indication on his record, then, that he could land a bingo punch and, again, no sign in the fight itself.
As for Pabon, Eddie and Barry Hearn, representing McCloskey, felt that the ref and doctor failed to take into account the rigours of boxing, that they should have applied a little common sense and allowed their man the chance to turn things around, a chance, on the evidence of the fight itself, he did not actually have.
It is hard not to sympathise with Barry, indeed his post-fight eruption was better than the contest itself, but his ire should be directed at McCloskey rather than the officials. Had Paul managed to fight his way into the bout rather than concentrating on making himself hard to hit the officials may have given him the benefit of the doubt.
Hearn saw his man fail to shine, witnessed an unsatisfactory ending, no doubt ‘Rematch. Kerching. Now play up the controversy’ played across his formidable boxing brain. It was great to see the Matchroom boss stomping around the ring, jabbing his finger with more authority than either of the two combatants had shown in their own work and doing everything within his power to ensure that his charge remained in the Khan sweepstakes despite failing to take his initial chance.
John Breen, who coaches Paul, told Primetime's Andy Kerr that his man was working to a plan, that he was implementing a strategy in a bid to win the bout and had a right to box his own fight. Losing six consecutive rounds whilst barely landing a punch also gives the ref the discretionary power to pull a pugilist out of a thankless and losing task if he deems a injury sufficient enough to impact further on his chances and health.
There is also the issue of Khan's TD win over Marco Antonio Barrera at the same venue in 2009, a clash of heads in round one opened up a huge gash on Barrera's forehead, the Mexican was allowed to continue, cynics argued that he was allowed to go into the fifth in order to take the fight to the cards and avoid a NC. This is a valid point. Barrera, though, has a history of turning things around, his injury happened at a juncture in the fight when Amir had yet to establish dominance.
Paul's cut came at the midway point of a tussle he had shown no signs of winning. Unlike Barrera, the beaten challenger cannot argue that he was not given a chance to get into his groove. Claims that the blood would have flipped a magic switch in the Derry-born boxer, turning him into a kill crazy KO fiend, seem wide of the mark.
Crucially, Saturday's meeting was a totally different contest, simply saying, 'Barrera', and sagely nodding your head does not make for an adequate point. The only thing that both nights had in common was a certain pragmatism on behalf of the officials. Dave Parris allowed Marco to continue. Pabon decided to withdraw Paul.
WBA rule 6.1 states that the ‘physician shall give his advise to the referee but the referee is the only authorized person to stop the fight’ as well as stressing that it is down to the ref to decide if the injured fighter is in danger of further injury and is clearly losing the fight. Therefore there can be no recourse to the governing body as it was the ref’s call to make, right or wrong.
This was Paul's big chance, he must now forget the nonsensical calls for a rematch – this was a voluntary defence – and concentrate on defending his EBU belt in the hope that a world title call comes once again.
As for Khan, the titleholder came into this one with a dark cloud hanging over him. Saturday's bill was supposed to be shown on Sky PPV only for arguments over the strength in depth of the undercard to force a downgrade to Sky Spots 3. This move angered Khan's team. They went to Primetime in order to put the event on a PPV platform and had to weather a storm of criticism.
Amir himself maintains that he does not get involved in negotiations, leaving everything to his employees, yet he may have to take a firmer grip on things in future if he is to rebuild his relationship with Sky. The network is far from perfect but it is, surely, the long-term broadcaster of choice for Team Khan.
All in all, then, it is a victory that is being talked of as a PR defeat, however the 2004 Olympic silver medallist did nothing wrong. You can argue about the conduct of his team if you like with some, Alex Ariza most prominent amongst them, heavily critical of the men guiding Khan's destiny. Khan himself came, he fought and he conquered, with the help of a Tim Bradley-esque clash of noggins.
As for Bradley, Amir will have to raise his game if he takes on the Californian this summer. McCloskey used his southpaw stance, head movement and reflexes well, making Khan miss but failing to let go with counter shots of his own. Paul was clearly relying on a left or right uppercut; this is not enough when you are bidding for world honours.
Khan's amateurish, jab-free attacking approach, splayed stance and Duracell bunny eagerness will not cut it when he moves into the unification fight and would lead to a massacre if anyone were ever crazy enough to put him in with Floyd Mayweather. 'Money' has been mentioned as a potential opponent, it would be easy lolly for 'Pretty Boy' on the evidence of Saturday night's performance.
However, claims that Amir, now 25-1 (17), looked tired probably stem from the much-publicised split with Ariza and the alleged shenanigans surrounding it. People saw Khan fade simply because they want to find something, anything, with which to criticise the Bolton boxer. Given the pace set by McCloskey and the lack of shots taken, it is idle, unfounded speculation to imagine that the WBA boss was going to fold due to a lack of energy.
In short: In order to let out a cry of 'robbery' you have to have something worth stealing, McCloskey, down 60-54 on all three cards, did not have anything on his ledger when the end came. Indeed, the controversy itself seems to be the final part of the low rumblings of discontent that have followed Khan around this past week. The fight itself did not spark into life, it was a non-event, and so people blew up the ending into a massive talking point, when it clearly was not (even though I’ve just spent a fair bit talking about it).
Please send news and views to firstname.lastname@example.org