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A capital moment for D.C. boxing

It has been a good few weeks for boxing in the nation's capital.

On Nov. 26, featherweight Gary Russell Jr., arguably the best prospect Washington, D.C., has produced in many years, scored a devastating first-round knockout against Heriberto Ruiz on HBO.

On Tuesday, former flyweight champion Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson, arguably the best fighter to ever come out of Washington, was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

And on Saturday, the District will stage its first major fight card since Mike Tyson ended his career in surrender to Kevin McBride in 2005, when junior welterweight champion Amir Khan defends against D.C.'s own Lamont Peterson on HBO's "World Championship Boxing."

"It has been a loooong, long time," said Barry Hunter, trainer and mentor to Peterson and his brother Anthony (who also will be fighting on Saturday's card), of the return of big-time boxing to the District of Columbia. "When they first came to us with the idea of a fight here in D.C., of course we jumped on it."

That Hunter and the Peterson brothers will be able to showcase their talents in front of a hometown crowd owes a great deal to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She hosted an event in September for Muslim American athletes to which Khan, who spends much of his time residing in Los Angeles and training at Freddie Roach's Wild Card Gym, was invited. Khan, somewhat taken aback to be recognized on the D.C. street as he took in the sights, took a fancy to the shining city on the Potomac, and asked his promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, if his mooted title defense against Peterson could be staged there, notwithstanding the fact that it would be ceding home-field advantage to his opponent.

"I always said when I was young, I always wanted to fight in all the states, all different cities in the world," said Khan, whose previous U.S. fights have been in Las Vegas and New York, in the final prefight news conference on Thursday.

Washington, D.C., considers itself, with some justification, "a real fight town." Sugar Ray Leonard moved to the city at age 3 and for much of his professional career lived in the Maryland suburbs; former heavyweight champ Riddick Bowe is another transplant to the area; and D.C. can boast recent champions Sharmba Mitchell, Keith Holmes and William Joppy, as well as a thriving club scene. (Local boxer Jimmy Lange, from Season 1 of "The Contender," frequently packs the house when he fights at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va.) In recognition thereof, Saturday's card is filled with local talent, headlined not just by the Peterson brothers, but also by heavyweight Seth Mitchell (who fights Timur Ibragimov in the co-main event) and popular middleweight Fernando Guerrero from Salisbury, Md.

Bernard Hopkins, the former middleweight and light heavyweight champion who fought Roy Jones Jr. at RFK Stadium in 1993 -- the last time HBO broadcast a fight from the nation's capital -- threw down a challenge to those local fighters to make the most of the chance with which they were being presented.

"D.C. is one of those towns where boxing needs to be back in the area," Hopkins said. "It's a fight town. Everybody on this stage here has an opportunity to prove why -- not only Golden Boy, but other companies and other boxing matches at this level, or HBO or any major network -- can come and know that D.C. now is a place to show boxing. Everybody on this stage needs to try and outshine each other, to create the buzz, not just after the fight but the next morning, in the newspapers and on the Internet. That'll bring everybody back into town for the big fights."