by David P. Greisman
It should be verboten to suggest that a boxer is better off with a loss.
No fighter wants defeat, not in a sport based on both prize and pride. A loss signifies that the other man was better, or that you were not good enough, or that you got screwed. A loss can cost you momentum and support, and can lessen paydays or take away the possibility of big fights in the future.
Amir Khan should not be happy that he lost a close and controversial split decision to Lamont Peterson this past Saturday in Washington, D.C. But while his earliest discontent has focused on the controversy — on the two points taken away from him for pushing, two points that allowed Peterson to edge out the victory — his passion should eventually proceed to the source of the fight’s closeness.
It was the referee’s deductions that gave Peterson the victory. But it was Peterson’s actions that made it possible.
And the fight was as much about what Peterson did as what Khan didn’t do.
These are the lessons that are taken out of losses, when excuses are discarded and explanations are discussed.
This is what Khan’s team had done after his first loss, after he’d been knocked out in less than a minute against Breidis Prescott. It wasn’t just the first loss on his record. It was also a giant question mark on his career.
So many of those questions had been answered in the three years since.
Khan had moved up from lightweight to junior welterweight, strengthening legs and a chin that were weakened by draining his 5-foot-10 frame to 135 pounds. He’d been wobbled badly in a fight with Marcos Maidana last year, but there was no shame in being hurt by an opponent whose power-punching reputation preceded him. That Khan had survived those moments was more notable.
He changed his style, no longer seeking to blow foes out with power but rather to blind them with speed. Doing that kept him at a safer distance and kept his opponents on the defensive. He could handle them better that way, and they in turn had more difficulty handling him. He threw punches with such speed and quantity that they could not see what was coming, nor did they know when the punching would stop.
Khan had improved between his loss to Prescott and his loss to Peterson, becoming one of the two best fighters in his division. He will need to do so again.
Khan’s usual strategy brought success in the opening round with Peterson, his fast flurries overwhelming Peterson and sending him straight back in retreat. Khan hadn’t caught him with the initial volley of wild furiousness, but he’d hit him with an accurate one or two at the tail end of the combination. Peterson went to the canvas twice in that first stanza, once for what the referee ruled was a slip, the other called a knockdown.
Peterson adjusted, though. Khan’s physical gifts overwhelm opponents mentally. They become discouraged, deciding that they can't deal with his combinations, his height or his speed. Peterson discarded that line of thought and came forward, going under and through the flurries and making uncomfortable a fighter who is far less effective going backward.
Peterson punched to Khan’s body to slow down his movement, pressured him against the ropes to keep him in place, and pummeled him with head shots to make Khan aware that he’d have to bring more than flash to his flurries, to add some steak to his sizzle.
Khan did adjust. He added uppercuts to his arsenal for a foe who was ducking down and coming in. He threw shorter combinations, bouncing in and out, sticking and moving.
He still couldn’t keep Peterson off him for the entire fight. He didn’t distance himself down the stretch.
Much of that credit must go to Peterson. Khan must also take some blame.
If Khan is to prove that he is so much better than other fighters, then he must become better than he was on Saturday.
There is no shame in this.
Khan has all of the tools. He has exemplary speed. He has good power. His chin did not crumble against Marcos Maidana and it did not shatter against Lamont Peterson. He has tremendous heart, fighting through frightening moments against Maidana and a grueling battle with Peterson.
Fighters hit their primes when they learn how to put all of their tools together into the most complete package possible.
Rare is the fighter who makes it deep into his professional career without surviving tough fights.
Sugar Ray Leonard said he changed as a fighter after suffering his first career loss, against Roberto Duran.
Andre Ward said that he learned lessons from his seventh pro fight, when he was knocked down and badly hurt by a lesser fighter named Darnell Boone.
Wladimir Klitschko’s dominant reign at heavyweight followed a pair of technical knockout losses to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster.
Khan bounced back from the embarrassing loss to Prescott. He fought well at times against Peterson and can look at the scorecards to see that two point deductions separated him from victory.
He can also look at the scorecards and see what he could’ve done to make sure that need not be the case again.
It should be verboten to suggest that a boxer is better off with a loss. This defeat will sting for Amir Khan.
It will eat away at him.
It should motivate him.
A loss need not leave him lesser — not when the lessons gained from it can make him even greater.
The 10 Count
1. I can’t give a fighter too much grief for words spoken in the heat of passion in the moments immediately following a loss. What I can do, however, is clear up any misconceptions brought up because of a misguided argument.
“I knew it would be tough against him in his hometown, and this is why boxing has not been in Washington, D.C. for 20 years — because you get a decision like that,” Khan was quoted as saying after the fight.
Not at all.
Khan’s issue really is with the referee who took two points from him, not with the judges whose scorecards had a close victory for Peterson because of those deductions, rather than a close victory for Khan.
But the rarity of big-time boxing in D.C. isn’t at all due to refereeing — no more than the rarity of big-time boxing in Columbus, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Jacksonville or any number of cities similar in size.
Boxing promoters bring most of their cards to casinos, rather than investing in building fan bases around the country. But they are seeing that some of the so-called lesser stars have people who are willing to pay to support them.
Nonito Donaire and a supporting cast on his undercard filled The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Adrien Broner brought thousands in Cincinnati. The Peterson brothers, Seth Mitchell and even Amir Khan attracted nearly 9,000 in Washington, D.C.
It helps to have good local talent to build around. D.C.’s last HBO card had been in 1993, when Maryland’s Riddick Bowe fought Jesse Ferguson. Its last big event had been in 2005, when Mike Tyson fought Kevin McBride, neither of whom were local.
There were been other cards in-between, but the lack of big-time boxing comes down to a combination of having the local fighters to promote and having promoters willing to promote locally.
2. With that said, if boxing promoters and the folks at Events DC want those who bought tickets Saturday to be repeat customers, they have to promise them a better value for their money than what was provided this past weekend at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
I’m not talking about the quality of the undercard — local fans like to see local fighters win, no matter the caliber of opponents. Rather, the problem was the set-up of the seating.
Nearly all of the 8,647 in attendance had seats with absolutely no elevation — just rows of chairs going as far back as the eye could see. There were no bleachers whatsoever. At least the $25 seats in the way back were positioned on a platform a few feet off the ground.
In addition, a curtained-off production area had been set up in the middle of the room, with seats placed at angles behind it, giving those seated there some of the strangest possible sight lines. They could see the ring clearly, but there was a giant black column also in their view. And, amazingly, some seats had actually been placed directly behind that column.
Some people closer to the ring were seated behind HBO’s camera and lights where the announcers stood.
I’ve been in casino arenas in rural West Virginia that were set up more intelligently.
Hopefully those who were in charge in D.C. won’t take for granted that the fans went home happy due to the Petersons and Mitchell winning. Either put fights on in better venues — the Verizon Center was booked Saturday for college basketball — or buy the same kind of equipment for your convention center that you can find at any high-school football field in America.
3. I know there has historically been a rush to name the next great American heavyweight.
And I know the desire is to make Seth Mitchell that man because he is likeable, undefeated and, unlike many of the past premature contenders, he is in-shape and athletic.
But can we at least wait until we know he’s ready?
At least Mitchell wants to wait until he knows himself.
At the post-fight press conference, Mitchell said he’d want three or four more fights before challenging either Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko, a timeline he said would mean any such bout wouldn’t take place until early 2013.
How about we see Mitchell against the last American heavyweight to be put in his position — Chris Arreola?
That’d be an interesting fight. One guy used to be a football player. The other guy used to look like a football.
4. Pawel Wolak’s sudden retirement last week was surprising — but not saddening.
Wolak’s initial announcement on Wednesday didn’t get too deep into his reasoning, but he expanded further on Facebook the following day:
“This was not a decision made overnight but a decision I know that is best for me and my family,” he said. “I will stay involved in boxing in some way, but my time inside the ring is over with 1000 percent certainty. When you fight the style in which I fight over the course of a long career, there is a point where your choices are to give less than 1010 percent, risk real mental and physical damage, go to a more boring style or just go through the motions for a paycheck. I am not willing to do any of those.”
We as boxing fans tend to be selfish. We want the exciting fighters to be with us forever, no matter the physical cost incurred. And those who no longer have “it” are put on our mental back burner as we move on to the next infatuation.
I’d rather see a good fighter go out too soon than see a once-good fighter go out too late.
So many fighters step in the ring when they don’t have it anymore. Pawel Wolak always gave his all, and by retiring this way he’ll never give us any less.
5. Dear Associated Press:
It’s an utter shame when your boxing reporting makes your organization look like the first three letters of your name.
Roy Jones Jr., per your report on his Dec. 10 win over Max Alexander, is “the only fighter to win world titles in four divisions.”
Thomas Hearns, as of March 7, 1987. Sugar Ray Leonard, as of Nov. 7, 1988. Roberto Duran, as of Feb. 24, 1989. Pernell Whitaker, as of March 4, 1995. Oscar De La Hoya, as of April 12, 1997. Leo Gamez, as of Oct. 9, 2000.
Floyd Mayweather Jr., as of April 8, 2006 (or if you feel the belt he got from Zab Judah was a sham, then his date becomes Nov. 4, 2006). Manny Pacquiao, as of March 15, 2008 (or if you don’t credit him with being lineal featherweight champion, then his date becomes June 28, 2008).
Erik Morales, as of Sept. 17, 2011. Jorge Arce, as of Nov. 26, 2011.
6. Dec. 11, 2010: Wladimir Klitschko was to face Dereck Chisora.
Dec. 8, 2010: Klitschko pulls out due to an injury.
Dec. 10, 2011: Wladimir Klitschko was to face Jean Marc Mormeck.
Dec. 5, 2010: Klitschko pulls out due to a health issue.
It’s nothing beyond coincidence — there’s no reason to doubt Klitschko’s desire and readiness — but last year’s cancellation was the first thing to come to mind when this year’s postponement was announced.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly, Mike Tyson Tribute Edition: An undefeated British boxer will not spend any time behind bars despite being found guilty of assaulting a hotel bouncer — an assault that saw him bite the bouncer’s finger.
Glenn Foot, 24, was sentenced to “a community order for six months with 100 hours unpaid work, a three month night time curfew and £1,000 compensation to be paid” to the bouncer, according to the Sunderland Echo.
Foot turned pro 15 months ago and has fought six times since then between welterweight and junior-middleweight. He is 6-0 and three knockouts, and I’m sure his opponents are all glad that their fingers are protected by gloves.
8. The saddest moment of Saturday’s post-fight press conference in Washington, D.C., unfortunately, was Riddick Bowe taking the lectern just before the proceedings got under way. He spoke about 10 words, all of which were slurred.
9. What do you think got more viewers:
- Evander Holyfield’s pay-per-view in January for his fight with Sherman Williams.
- Roy Jones Jr.’s online pay-per-view this past Saturday for his fight with Max Alexander.
- A 2 a.m. infomercial for the Clapper?
10. What do the Clapper and this present incarnation of Roy Jones Jr. have in common?
Each hears a limited amount of applause, and then soon thereafter the lights go out…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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