WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 10: Lamont Peterson punches Amir Khan during their WBA Super Lightweight and IBF Junior Welterweight title fight at Washington Convention Center on December 10, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Amir Khan fought Lamont Peterson on his home turf because he didn't think it could produce a big-time boxing atmosphere. He was sorely mistaken.
In the moments immediately following his shocking and controversial defeat in the IBF and WBA light welterwight championship fight against Lamont Peterson at the Washington Convention Center on Saturay, Amir Khan made the following bold statement:
"There's never been boxing in D.C. the last 20 years because things like this happen," Khan said to the HBO cameras. "He was the home fighter."
Granted, people say things they later regret when they hear news they don't understand. But the line was incredibly ironic. It was Khan's decision to fight on Peterson's home turf, a move champions rarely take. He did it because he figured this wasn't a boxing town, seeing as it hadn't hosted a championship fight in 18 years (not 20). He did it because it would provide the perfect low-key atmosphere for his final title challenge before moving up to fight the Floyd Mayweathers of the world in the higher weight class.
Instead, he ran into something he didn't expect. He ran into a real fighting atmosphere and an opponent who benefited from it.
Make no mistake about it: the city showed up. The Convention Center opened a little over 9,000 seats for the event, and they were all gone in days. Some of those went to the boisterous Khan's Army, vuvuzelas and all, but most of them went to Peterson supporters. Those fans did their part as the fight was going on, cheering loudly when Peterson gained momentum and standing behind him when he lost it. Perhaps it wasn't the largest crowd in the world, but it was one of the most vocal. Just like a boxing crowd should be.
And yes, it made a huge difference for Peterson. Before the fight, HBO's Max Kellerman said that while he thought Peterson was a good fighter, he had yet to see him put on a signature performance against someone better than him. That all changed on Saturday night. Spurred on by his hometown fans, Peterson expertly switched gears mid-fight. He negated Khan's speed advantage by coming after him and pinning him to the boards, then landing body shots to slow him down. He took plenty of hits himself, but that's what happens when you employ a strategy like this. It was a brilliant plan and it was executed tremendously. It practically defined a signature performance.
All this is true even if Peterson lost. Khan's gripe about the results is somewhat legitimate. Peterson was coming in low, and to fend him off, it's hard to do anything but push him. But ultimately, that's good tactics by Peterson more than anything else. It was his only chance to prevent Khan from fighting his kind of fight, and it put him in a position to win. Whether he ultimately got that win is a separate issue.
From the city's perspective, the competitiveness of the fight really was all that was needed. Oddsmakers suggested that Peterson had no chance and that Khan would blow him away early. It nearly happened in the first round when Khan knocked Peterson down and caused him to slip. Instead, Peterson, inspired by his hometown fans, picked himself off the mat and gave Khan an incredible run for his money. Sure, maybe he needed a couple favorable calls to eventually take that money, but he put himself in that position. Credit to him for doing so.
And credit to Washington D.C. too. Peterson would surely admit it, but without this city's support, he doesn't fight like he did. D.C. showed on Saturday night that, when given the chance, it can absolutely be a suitable location for big-time boxing.
Hopefully, it won't take 18 more years for big-time boxers in the future to figure that out.