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“…and new champion of the world…”
With those words, ring announcer Michael Buffer set off a crazy celebration inside the Convention Center on Saturday night. Nobody needed to hear Buffer say anything past “new” to figure out that the local kid, Lamont Peterson, had taken all the junior welterweight title belts from overdog Amir Khan.
Peterson’s win came via a wacky split decision.
Take away that wackiness, and it was a great night for D.C. All sorts of boxing royalty was in the house, which was packed and buzzing.
Before the bell for Peterson/Khan, you could see promoter/six-time-world-champ/tabloid fave Oscar De La Hoya greeting Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, an ’80s icon and longtime lightweight champion. Mancini changed boxing by permanently knocking out Duk Koo Kim in the 14th round of a nationally televised 1982 fight from Las Vegas. Kim went into a coma and died shortly thereafter, and 15-round fights, long the standard for championship bouts, were outlawed and 12-round limits were put in place.
During the main event, De La Hoya sat next to middleweight champ-for-life Bernard Hopkins ringside, and both shouted in disgust and disbelief when referee Joe Cooper, whose menu favors home cooking, deducted a second point from invader Khan for pushing in the 12th round, thereby giving the match to local Peterson.
Cooper’s rulings got a different reaction from all the D.C. fighters on the premises. Riddick Bowe, who looked much older than his 44 years, joined Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, the first black featherweight world champ and a recent inductee into the Boxing Hall of Fame, and current Great American Hope heavyweight, Seth Mitchell, in standing and screaming for the hometown boy from beside the ring. Former D.C.-based champs Sharmba Mitchell (no relation) and William Joppy were nearby and also rooting on Peterson.
The pricey seats up front were loaded with generic casino types, unseasonably tanned men with their teeth capped and hair plugged being hung onto by women whose breasts didn’t look much like God’s work.
Pakistanis with “Team Kahn” garb were all over the place, cheering on Khan, a Brit of Pakistani descent. And though they were far outnumbered by Peterson backers, the visitors held their own against the locals in the noisemaking department, and their dueling “DC”! and “Amir!” chants throughout the fight enhanced the gladiatorial vibe.
I was thinking all night about watching Lamont spar with brother Anthony Peterson when both were teenagers, and their training facility was the furnace room of Lincoln Junior High School in Columbia Heights. I talked to the Peterson brothers again after they turned pro, and they told me their goal was to bring a title fight to DC with one of them in it.
That happened on Saturday, and the whole world was watching, at least that portion that subscribes to HBO. Making the story even sweeter, Barry Hunter, the trainer who took them in as kids and was working them out back when I first met them in the junior high basement, was still working Lamont’s corner. What a story.
Even with my biases, I scored the fight 8-4 for Khan by rounds.
Lucky for me and Lamont, my scoring didn’t count. I love boxing.