When Britain's Amir Khan decided to take Saturday's fight with Lamont Peterson in Washington, it seemed a goodwill gesture toward a hard-luck fighter, a country Khan has worked diligently to court and a community that hadn't hosted a top-shelf boxing card in nearly two decades. By the end of the night, however, Khan's choice had far different ramifications. Here is what we learned from the Khan-Peterson card:
1. A referee can make all the difference in a fight
You know a referee is doing a good job when you barely notice he's there. No referee wants to be the major talking point at the end of a fight, but that's the fate that befell Joseph Cooper on Saturday night. You can make the case that Amir Khan deserved at least one point deduction: He was, it is true, using his elbows and pushing off on occasion. But Lamont Peterson seemed unconcerned and was himself coming in low with his head at times. Whatever pushing there was didn't appear to be preventing Peterson from following his game plan, and the timing of the penalties seemed arbitrary, particularly the second one. To take a point in the 12th round of a close title fight is the kind of call that a more experienced referee almost certainly would not have made. Candidly, there was confusion ringside as to what that second deduction was even for. Were Khan's transgressions really so severe as to merit losing two points, especially when that made the difference between retaining and losing his title?
2. Win or lose, Amir Khan is one of the most exciting fighters in the sport
Twelve months ago, almost to the day, Khan survived a ferocious late-rounds onslaught to defeat Marcos Maidana in what was judged the fight of the year. His contest with Peterson is at least in the conversation for the same award. Khan's fights have become thrillers because of his strengths and his flaws: When he is on top, he throws flashy combinations with devastating hand speed, and he comes firing out of the gate, looking to make an impression early. But at the same time, he is often off-balance, his combinations can become predictable, and for all his apparent levels of fitness, he has spells when, in a tough fight, he'll enter full-on retreat. Khan is more talented than he is skilled, creating an entertaining but imperfect package that makes him must-see TV.
3. Sometimes hard-luck stories have happy endings
If at least a part of you doesn't root for the Peterson brothers and their trainer/mentor Barry Hunter, your heart is made of coal. According to Anthony Peterson, when he and his brother were homeless 20 years ago, Lamont told him it would all eventually be OK; he would be world champion one day. One of the places they found to curl up and sleep at night in those days was Mount Vernon Square, directly in front of the site of the future Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where Lamont Peterson fulfilled his promise on Saturday night. The Petersons are nice, humble young men, and Hunter's affection for them is genuine and deep. A lot of people in Washington, and around the country, have been cheering Lamont's success.
4. Seth Mitchell made a major statement
D.C. was the place where Mike Tyson surrendered meekly to Kevin McBride and brought the final curtain down on his roller-coaster ring life. Six years later, a few blocks north on 7th Street NW, another black-trunk-clad American heavyweight may have truly launched his career. Nobody had stopped Timur Ibragimov before, let alone bludgeoned him into second-round defeat, and although there remain questions about Mitchell, while it would be good to see him tested against other technically proficient heavyweights, and although nobody should dare to mention his name in the same sentence as a certain pair of Ukrainian brothers, Mitchell produced a fan-friendly performance Saturday that will garner him a lot of attention and spark a lot of hopes for the future.
5. D.C. is a fight town.
OK, we knew this already, and those of us who live in the area have been saying as much, loudly, for some time. But the raucous crowd at the Convention Center underlined it. Even though the setup was far from ideal, and far too many people in the back rows had dreadful views of the ring -- if they could see it at all -- the atmosphere was always lively and loud, fans were out of their seats for what seemed the entirety of the Khan-Peterson fight, and the shouts of "D.C.! D.C.!" as Peterson started to turn the fight around were a reminder that this is a city with a lot of pride in its boxing history, and one that has reason also to be proud of its boxing present.
Kieran Mulvaney covers boxing for ESPN.com and Reuters.