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 Lamont Peterson versus Amir Khan
Cooper injected himself unnecessarily into the Khan-Peterson outcome

A brilliant Khan-Peterson fight
was blemished by point deductions
by an over-officious referee


   The battle between Lamont Peterson and Amir Khan should go down as one of the best 2011 has had to offer. Unfortunately, what many will take away from this match are the decisions of the third man in the ring, Joe Cooper.

   Cooper's two one-point deductions from Khan for “pushing” will forever put a cloud over Peterson’s victory and will have team Khan crying foul. The two nefarious calls by Cooper cost Khan his title by a split decision, but more importantly, detracted from an action-packed main event in Peterson’s hometown of Washington, D.C. 

  The HBO broadcast team implied some “hometown cooking” may have been at play, but I don’t believe that played a part in Cooper's decisions.  Had that been the case, he would not have credited Khan with a questionable knockdown in the first round, when Peterson's feet got tangled along the ropes.  Besides the point deductions, it seemed that referee Cooper had an unbalanced night that also disrupted other assessments during the match.


Cooper's penalties against Khan swung the outcome

  As the victor mentioned in his post fight interview, the holding behind the head by Khan and Coopers constant warnings of “keep your head up” were much more vexing than the “pushing”.  Keeping your head up is a warning that’s more less given in the amateurs for fear of a boxers head going below the opponents groin region.  The fact is it’s something heard rarely, if ever,  in the pros.  Point deductions in the professional ranks are less common across the board, but any official can enforce any violation that he/she deems necessary.  The problem in some cases -- like this title fight -- is the warnings and point deductions did not seem necessary. 

When Muhammad Ali came back from a government-imposed two-and-a-half-year layoff during his prime years, he was not as athletically gifted as the boxer who left as an undefeated champion.  Upon his return, he had picked up a few tricks that were technically against the rules, but nothing as blatant as an Andrew Golota body shot.

  One of the greatest heavyweights in history was often guilty of holding his opponents behind the head and pulling them down.  The “Thrilla in Manila” is considered by many to be one of the great bouts in heavyweight championship history.  However, if you were to dissect that match from a referees’ perspective, one could find Ali constantly guilty of grabbing Joe Frazier around the neck and pulling him down. Referee Carlos Padilla warned Ali many times about the holding, but never took a point away.  It’s a case were discretion is often the better part of valor.  Imagine how different history would have played out if Ali were disqualified in a couple of the matches in which he quite often was guilty of some minor infraction. 

Historically speaking, the best referees didn't take points unless it was absolutely necessary.  The best referees deducted points to get control of a match, but not to inhibit a boxer's tendencies -- even if those tendencies crossed the line of rules violations.  Zack Clayton, Mills Lane, and Larry Hazzard are among my favorites, and I can’t recall many point deductions from any of them.  A referee can control a match without point deductions if the boxers don’t have ill intent.

Carlos Padilla kept an admirable distance in Manila

   No harm, no foul applies in most cases of professional boxing when it comes to point deductions.  I believe Amir Khan and Lamont Peterson are “clean” boxers, meaning they play within the rules. When that’s the case, both boxers are very respectful of the referee and his wishes.

 One of the better ways to handle a “clean” boxer, without backing yourself into a corner with point deductions, is to walk to the boxers’ corner between rounds and talk to him and his trainer about the rules. Another trick of the trade is to warn the boxer during a break, which in essence is a “soft” warning.  A “soft” warning means that you have spoken to the boxers, so that they are aware that they are bending or breaking a rule, but you didn’t stop the action of the match to issue the warning.  This verbal warning can be issued during anytime of the round. 

  A referee in the amateur ranks is not supposed to talk to the boxers, other than giving the “stop,” “box,” or “break” commands.  While I was making the transition to the pros, I learned that I could start talking my way out of sticky situations and using “soft” warnings to avoid point deductions for some innocent breach of the rules. 

The best officials learn to stay calm under fire, but it’s not always an easy proposition.  Steve Smoger is one of the best from this generation at allowing the boxers to determine the outcome, without being intrusive. 

Washington, D.C. has not been known in recent years for hosting many championship bouts. In 1993, D.C. was the host of two high-profile championship bouts -- the first match between Roy Jones and Bernard Hopkins, and a heavyweight title defense by Riddick Bowe against Jesse Ferguson.  Both title fights utilized experienced officials from outside the D.C. area in Steve Smoger and Larry Hazzard, respectively.  Tennessee, another venue not considered a pro boxing hotbed, hosted the blockbuster event between Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis in 2002, importing New Jersey's Eddie Cotton to control the action.   While there is no guarantee how a match will play out, a boxing commission likes to ensure a big event with established ojudges and referees.

Referee Cooper -- who does have several title fights on his resume -- will forever be linked to the Khan-Peterson title match controversy.  When there are questionable calls, as an official, you hope it’s not a bout-changing decision.  Unfortunately, the fans got just that.

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by Harvey Dock



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 Harvey Dock was inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame (Class of '94) for his accomplishments as an amateur boxer, and has been a professional referee since 2003. He currently trains a stable of  amateur boxers.

His column here at addresses The Sweet Science from the perspective of the third man in the ring.

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