WASHINGTON -- On the surface, last week's press conference at the W Hotel in Washington to promote the second fight between Lamont Peterson and Amir Khan was a genial affair fit for all ages. While a member of Khan's circle wandered the hotel's Altitude Room in a Washington Nationals hat, Peterson's three-year-old daughter Summer spent most of the subsequent media ability clamoring all over her father, offering him a bottle of water, and finally staring at the assembled media's tape recorders that hovered over her head and were pointed at the face of the new WBA and IBF junior welterweight champion.
Her father, meanwhile, was talking about the $650,000 purse he had received from December's controversial fight, which saw Khan deducted a point on two separate occasions for pushing. "She had a very good Christmas," Peterson said, indicating Summer, before revealing that what he hadn't spent on presents he had squirreled away, a reasonable choice for a man who had spent some of his youth homeless on the streets of Southeast D.C. That answer, as well as Summer's antics were the only light moments of a session that was marked by bitterness, resentment, and more than a little anger.
The wordsmiths tasked with promoting the fight have given it the tagline "No Doubt," for reasons that are almost too obvious to rehash here. For the uninitiated, the two one-point deductions given to Khan in the first fight, while technically correct calls, seemed a perfect example of selective enforcement. Further circumstantial evidence that Peterson received the benefit of a hometown decision could be found in the three judges' scorecards. Nelson Vasquez, the most experienced of the three, scored the fight 114-111 for Khan, while the other two, less experienced judges each gave Peterson the 113-112 decision.
During the press conference, Khan's manager Asif Vali began his prepared remarks with "I'd like to say it's good to be back here, but ..." And then he stopped, and you could almost see the memories come back to him. "It is good to be here, but we're here for a reason," he finished.
Regardless of the justice of the decision, there is no doubt that the controversy spoiled a very good fight, a fight marked by skill and passion that had Larry Merchant, the doyen of HBO's boxing coverage, clamoring for a rematch by the middle of round four.
But the fight's unambiguous "No Doubt" slogan merely serves to accentuate the very real cloud hanging over this rematch. Talking to both fighters, one gets a sense that each regards the fight as a fork in the road to future professional ambitions.
Peterson has much more to lose than Khan, and not only because he will be the champion when he enters the ring at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The opportunity cost of this rematch was a fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. Victory over Marquez, in turn, could have given him a chance to pursue boxing's present Holy Grail: Manny Pacquiao.
"I consider myself the People's Champ," Peterson said last Thursday with a total lack of emphasis. "The fans wanted to see this fight, and I'm willing to do it."
But a loss to Khan might see future title shots slide out of Peterson's grasp forever, especially once the controversial December decision is taken into account. The idea rankles Peterson for one simple reason: he believes he won the first fight fair and square.
"Hopefully we get a better ref," he said last Thursday, referring to the performance of Joe Cooper in the first fight. "One who knows the difference between an elbow and a forearm.
"Look at the tape. I'm not just going to sit here and say something five or six times that I can't go back and prove to you. I had a fracture right [below his right eye], from elbows. From him pulling down on my head, I had a lot of swelling on my neck. Watch the fight again; I'm not going to say anything I can't prove. He's so uncomfortable with me being so close, when his arms go past my head, he would automatically pull down and push away."
Peterson has said he didn't like the way Khan's camp immediately called for a rematch, hardly giving him a moment's celebration. He also admitted his frustration with the insistence of some fans and media that the first fight was, in so many words, illegitimate. (This process began almost as soon as the first fight ended. "Hard not to think that Khan got jobbed," were Max Kellerman's words on HBO.)
"I feel as though the media at times entertains stories like that a little bit too much, whereas you can really look at the tape from whatever angle you want and see that he was fouling, and they should have took points. Then after it was stated that the so-called mystery man clearly didn't touch any judges' scorecards, after you eliminate all these allegations, I think there should be no more controversy to the win. I think that controversy should be eliminated."
For his part, Khan sees what would be two consecutive losses to Peterson as an obstacle (thought not a fatal one due to the popularity of boxing in his native England and the revenue that their fight fans pour into Las Vegas promoters' coffers) to his desire to move up to the welterweight division. Reports in the British press had him planning to make the move before his loss in December, with bouts with Floyd Mayweather, Shane Mosley, and Victor Ortiz high on his wish list. But that was before a few words from Joe Cooper and a few strokes of two judges' pencils dethroned him.
"Not once has he said he won the fight, because he knows he didn't win that fight," Khan said last week.
As part of his plan to remove all doubt, and all judges, and all judges' pencils from the second fight, Khan says he has tweaked his style.
"When he does come inside, instead of pushing him away, maybe taking a side step or working him, standing there and fighting him. Lamont comes in very square-on, so it's very hard to get the angles, so that's maybe why I did push. But we won't be doing any of that now. I'll be hitting him. He'll be the guy walking back. I'll be a totally different Amir Khan in this fight. You'll see new things, you'll see new styles."
Peterson, for his part, has planned to use the same style that's guided him to a 30-1-1 professional record, and earned him all that money for Summer's Christmas presents, as well as a chance to complete a true rags-to-riches story.
"I'm gonna go to the body. That's what I do."