Sunday, December 11, 2011

Peterson/Khan Recap

Last night, Lamont Peterson won a close split-decision victory over titlist Amir Khan in Peterson's hometown of Washington, DC, lifting two belts in a massive upset and a beautiful fight. There was some controversy over the refereeing, and that has some validity, as I'll discuss below. But the first thing that has to be said is that it was a great fight, and a career-defining performance by Peterson, who was a massive underdog going in. I told my girlfriend before the match started that "one of my favorite fighters is on tonight, and he's going to lose." Boy, did he prove me wrong.

Unfortunately, there are questions about the referee. What I think is clear is that he didn't seem ready for a fight of this magnitude. He seemed jumpy, was often out of position, and was extremely unclear about when he was breaking the fighters. But the controversy stems from deducting two points from Khan for pushing off -- which is a foul, but one that is rarely penalized. Rarely isn't never -- Mayweather was penalized against Castillo for much the same infraction -- but it isn't common. I'm not wild about the deductions, but that comes with a ton of caveats. "Not wild" isn't the same as outraged. Khan committed a foul, he was warned about it, he kept doing it, and eventually he got penalized. Then he did it some more, and got penalized again. The point Max Kellerman made about the lack of a "hard warning" I see, but only for the first deduction (I think deduction #1 counts as the quintessential "hard warning" before deduction #2). There's no disputing that Khan was pushing off, and there was no disputing he was warned about it. This isn't a case where there was a phantom low-blow or anything like that.

The other thing this wasn't, despite Khan's incessant attempts to claim otherwise, was a fight where Peterson's infractions were ignored while Khan's were jumped on. Did Peterson come in with his head low? Yeah, sometimes, but never in a way that led to any headbutts. And plenty of times Khan was holding his head down entirely of his own volition. Those, to me, washout. And while Khan claimed he "had to" push off because Peterson's head was low is simply bogus -- Khan was pushing Peterson off because Peterson was effectively ripping him up in close. A low head doesn't require pushing.

Meanwhile, Khan was the beneficiary of a borderline knockdown call in the first round. The first time Peterson tasted canvas in the first was ruled a slip because he was caught in the referee's legs. Bad positioning by Joe Cooper, but the right call. The second time, which was scored a knockdown, Peterson's legs were tangled with Khan's. Was it a blown call? I don't think so, not the least because tangled feet are very hard to spot, but it may have been the wrong one (Max Kellerman tried to sneak in that observation in the midst of several righteous tirades by Jim Lampley, mostly without success). Take away the two point deductions, and Khan wins by UD. Take away the two deductions and the knockdown, and it's a majority draw.

And speaking of that, let's talk about the scores. The two judges who gave it to Peterson scored in 113-112, which translates to each fighter getting six rounds apiece. That sounds about right to me (I had it 114-112 Peterson, or 6-5-1). The one judge who gave the fight to Khan had it 115-110. All the points shenanigans make that deceptive, so let me break that out for you -- that's a 9-3 Khan advantage. Does anyone think Amir Khan won nine rounds in that fight? 7-5 in either direction I can absolutely see, but 9-3? Come on. (Some folks made hay about the time it took to add up the cards. I don't think that signifies anything -- I can tell you what 7 rounds to 5 adds up to in my sleep, when there are no knockdowns or point deductions. When those come into play, then I actually have to do the addition. And when it's as close as this fight was, I do the addition slowly).

Hopefully, that dispenses with the refereeing section of the discussion, because I would really we rather focus on the fight itself. The story was actually pretty simple: Khan won on his front foot, Peterson won when he could force Khan on his back foot. And how did Peterson create the latter situation? Body work. Virtually everything good Peterson did started with the same thing -- a ripping one-two combination to the body which I found myself yelling at the TV for Peterson to throw more. Those two body shots -- which always seemed to land with wicked force -- force Khan up, allowing Peterson to get in his grill and hammer him on the inside until Khan was able to scamper (or push) off. The rounds where Peterson was able to do that for any significant portion of time were the rounds Peterson won, and the rounds he won clean.

It's easy to say Peterson could have put this fight beyond doubt by being more willing to press the action in that vein in some of the slower rounds. It is true what Max was saying, that Peterson has a tendency to keep his hands in his pocket until he thinks everything is lined up perfectly, and I think it's equally true that the special moments in last night's fight occurred because Peterson was able to overcome that instinct and throw with more abandon. But I also think it doesn't give Khan enough credit. He was genuinely elusive moving around the ring, and those four punch combinations he'd stop and throw, though mostly caught on the gloves, did have the effect of stopping Peterson from coming in. It's also worth noting that in the last round, where Peterson really did get a little reckless trying to rush Khan, Khan was mostly able to pick him off and move away. While aggression is the order of the day against Khan, he's a good enough fighter to force you to be intelligent about it.

The final thing I want to say is that I absolutely understand why Khan is upset. It was a close fight that went against him, in his opponent's hometown. My conspiracy-o-tron is not buzzing too loudly, because Khan had the money behind him, which counterbalances the hometown edge, but in the heat of the moment that's going to rankle. I'm sympathetic. But I don't think he was robbed, and I think acting as if that was the story of the fight doesn't give due credit to an outstanding performance by Lamont Peterson, who turned in the fight of his life.

Congrats, champ.

* * *

I couldn't figure out where to add this in, but another congrats is due to Maryland heavyweight Seth "Mayhem" Mitchell, who made a huge impression with a second round TKO of Timor Ibragimov. Mitchell, a converted football player, looks like he may have the goods. He had been getting along on natural athleticism, and there was a question about how he would handle someone who really did know his way around the ring. Ibragimov, an amateur standout and a solid pro, was a legitimate test. And boy did Mitchell ever pass -- hammering Ibragimov (who'd never previously been stopped) with right hands until the ref stepped in at the close of round two.

Mitchell looked outstanding to me, throwing in combinations beyond the classic heavyweight 1-2, and showing a good finishing instinct when he had Ibragimov hurt. He reminds me a bit of Chris Arreola, except unlike Arreola Mitchell is in impeccable condition. I'm excited to see more. We had a great card tonight featuring "Havoc" (Peterson) and "Mayhem" (Mitchell), and I think few DC fight fans would say no to more cards featuring them in the future.

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