By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s getting close to 72 hours… and I still can’t decide how I feel.
Suffice to say, though, that the whole of Saturday’s show from Washington, D.C. has me conflicted.
First off, regardless of who actually won the fight-of-the-year-quality main event (Lamont Peterson) – and/or who actually deserved to (Amir Khan) – my forecast of a final showcase performance by Khan on the way to a super cash-out a division north was, shall we say, a bit off.
Had Michael Buffer spat "and still" rather than "and new" after what seemed an inordinate mathematical delay at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the handsome Brit with Pakistani tribal roots would still have had some serious image-reclamation work to do.
By any measure, his performance was disappointing.
And needless to say, even winning a chaotic scrap at 140 with a guy who’d gone 0-1-1 in his two biggest fights wouldn’t have been the most convincing evidence that Khan – even at 27-1 – was rightful heir to the P4P thrones now held by the Mayweathers and Pacquiaos at 147.
It was barely worthy, in fact, of court jesters Berto, Ortiz and Jones.
While he looked intermittently brilliant letting his hands go and befuddling Peterson with movement, there were far too many occasions when Khan was drawn into firefights and apparently flummoxed by his inability to render a less-skilled foe unconscious, or at least unwilling.
Those would have been pockmarks warranted for a full-throated Tuesday recap.
But unfortunately for Khan – or fortunately, maybe – those flaws aren’t nearly as relevant.
Rather, the most pungent post-fight stench still lingers from the efforts of one Joseph Cooper, whose on-again/off-again officiousness at the very least violated a cardinal rule of refereeing – to regulate, not participate – and at the very most changed the fiscal trajectory of a would-be superstar.
Though lauded by Buffer as a veteran of more than two dozen world title fights – none of which I’d ever seen, incidentally – the locally-groomed Virginia resident looked particularly overmatched in the throes of a bout with prolonged periods of grappling and jockeying for inside position.
The second of two pushing fouls on Khan has been rightly pilloried for its remarkably poor timing, though Cooper’s every bit as indictable for not simply applying in-fight context to supplement the skull-first, bore-in style that Peterson was given a pass on employing for 36 minutes.
Simply put, if you’re going to permit head and shoulders as grindstones over 12 rounds, OK.
But it’s only fair that some consistent counter-maneuvers be allowed to the guy whose torso is the target of the would-be roughhousing – in the holiday spirit of eye for an eye, or, if the New Testament is more your thing, a push for a shove.
Either way, in that simple measure of justice, Cooper was an epic fail.
And because the points taken tipped the scales from unanimous win to split loss, a Biblical one.
There was no harm on either my 113-112 or judge Nelson Vasquez’s 115-110 card for Khan, which would only have yielded wider margins had Cotton not intervened. But in the eyes of George Hill and Valerie Dorsett, each of whom scored it one point in Peterson’s favor, his foolishness loomed larger.
“There was no explanation. (Cotton) did a terrible job," trainer Freddie Roach said. “Referees shouldn't decide fights. He's not a judge. He made himself a judge (Saturday). The thing is, he decided the fight, not the judges. He took two points away for nothing and didn't give warnings.”
While it’s true Khan did himself no PPV favors with an uneven performance, it’s no less true that – given an official with a firmer grasp on the goings-on – his biggest concern in the aftermath would have been paling by comparison to Tim Bradley’s one-sided defeat of Peterson two years earlier.
With only that as an obstacle, a promoter with the acumen of Richard Schaefer/Oscar De La Hoya could have moved Khan into the welterweight ranks while dismissing a near-fall against Peterson as the valiant big-stage swan song of a determined hometown hero.
Instead, a rumored May 5 date in Las Vegas has been scuttled for preparations for an immediate rematch, and Khan’s long-term viability will be questioned as severely as it had been after he fell in 54 seconds to brash Colombian slugger Breidis Prescott three years ago.
Incidentally, Khan was a world champion only 364 days after that loss and had won eight straight against higher-end foes – including stoppages of Dmitriy Salita (TKO 1), Paul Malignaggi (TKO 11) and Zab Judah (KO 5) – while gradually edging a sturdier but less spectacular Bradley off the pedestal at 140.
If nothing else, Saturday’s result provides a temporary street-cred jolt for the California-born WBO claimant, whose own brief foray at welterweight and subsequent junior welter defeats of Devon Alexander and Joel Casamayor – not to mention a very public rejection of a fight with Khan – were greeted with the consensus apathy usually saved for moonlighting in-ring football players.
Not exactly the frenzy needed to sell a $60 high-def broadcast.
Unless, of course, Arum’s got Tom Brady and his QB coach lined up for the undercard.
If that one gets signed… count me in.
Otherwise, I’ll wait for the movie.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBA/WBC super middleweight titles – Atlantic City, N.J.
Andre Ward (WBA champion) vs. Carl Froch (WBC champion)
Ward (24-0, 13 KO): Fourth title defense; Zero knockouts in title fights (4-0, 0 KO)
Froch (28-1, 20 KO): Second title defense; Fourth fight in United States (3-0, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Former Olympic champ climbs biggest mountain as a pro.” Ward by decision
WBO featherweight title – Ciudad Obregon, Mexico
Orlando Salido (champion) vs. Weng Haya (unranked)
Salido (36-11-2, 24 KO): Second title defense; Unbeaten in Mexico since 2000 (13-0, 10 KO)
Haya (14-4, 8 KO): First title fight; Winless against plus-.500 fighters since 2007 (0-3, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Resurgent veteran continues title-level run at home.” Salido in 7
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 0-2
Overall picks record: 273-91 (75.0 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.