Lamont Peterson upsets Amir Khan

WASHINGTON -- Lamont Peterson has beaten the odds his whole life, and he has defied them again in the boxing ring.

Peterson, with his hometown cheering him on, won a split decision against Amir Khan to lift a pair of junior welterweight titles in a major upset Saturday night at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center before a wild, near-sellout crowd of 8,647.

Peterson grew up with his younger brother, Anthony (who won on the undercard), on the streets near the arena, the products of a broken home until being rescued by Barry Hunter, who became the brothers' trainer, manager and father figure.

They slept in bus shelters, picked pockets and panhandled to survive.

And now Peterson has shocked the boxing world with an epic bout, a sure fight of the year candidate. But the outcome will be disputed forever because it was marred by referee Joe Cooper, who inserted himself needlessly and cost Khan the fight.

On a pair of ticky-tack point deductions -- for which there had been no hard warnings -- Cooper changed the outcome of the all-action fight. He took a point from Khan in the seventh round for pushing and then deducted another in the 12th round for pushing again, a foul call that is highly unusual.

Judges Valerie Dorsett and George Hill each had it 113-112 for Peterson, and Nelson Vazquez had it 115-110 for Khan. ESPN.com had it 114-111, for Khan, as did HBO's unofficial scorer, Harold Lederman, who had it 113-112.

"It was a long road," Peterson said. "All the hard work paid off."

Khan had ventured from England to Peterson's hometown and might regret it now after the way he was treated by Cooper.

"It was like I was against two people, the referee and Lamont himself," said Khan, dealing with the downer three days after his 25th birthday. "I was the cleaner fighter; he was so wild. The referee wasn't giving me a chance. I heard the referee give me a warning [for pushing], but there was nothing I could do. He kept coming in with his head. There hasn't been [HBO] boxing in D.C. for the last [18] years because this is what happens.

"I had to push him away 'cause his head was coming in so low. He just kept coming in with that head."

Peterson said the deductions were legitimate, but what else did you expect him to say?

"I think they should have taken points for him holding my head down," Peterson said. "He was pushing a lot, but I didn't mind it. I just didn't like the dipping down of my head."

However you scored it, it was a helluva fight, filled with nonstop action that had the crowd on its feet in the return of big-time boxing to the nation's capital for the first time since Mike Tyson's career ended at the hands of Kevin McBride in 2005 at the arena down the street, in what was then called the MCI Center.

Peterson (30-1-1, 15 KOs), 27, was getting his second title opportunity and made a career-high payday of $650,000. He earned every penny of it with his scrappy, never-say-die performance.

In 2009, Peterson lost a lopsided decision to Timothy Bradley Jr. and was knocked down in the process. He went down again against Khan (26-2, 18 KOs), who dropped him in the first round. Khan started very fast, catching Peterson with a solid overhand right early on and then wobbling him with another right before dropping him late in the round on a left-right combination near the ropes.

Peterson seemed stunned by Khan's speed, and by the second round, his left eye was swelling.

But Peterson, the mandatory challenger, never stopped coming at Khan, pressuring him relentlessly while Khan, who earned $1.1 million plus additional money from British television, punched and moved in a fast-paced fight. Both fighters landed tremendous shots as they took turns banging away on each other, including in the toe-to-toe third round.

Both of their faces showed the impact. By the fifth round, both of Peterson's eyes were swelling and Khan's left eye had a mouse under it.

Surprisingly, Peterson was much more aggressive than usual, dispensing with boxing and turning the bout into a brawl.

"Every time I pulled back, he was coming in and catching me," Peterson said. "So I said, this probably isn't the best thing to do. So I went forward and changed the game plan. I said we had three [game plans]; we won with No. 2.

"I always like to come out and box; I've always been that way ever since I was an amateur. But my coach told me to come forward, and it started to work."

After such a hotly contested fight, both sides said they were interested in a rematch. And why not? It was worth one.

"I am ready for the rematch," said Khan, whose trainer, Freddie Roach, suffered a defeat in his first corner assignment since being elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame last week. "It's one of those things. When you're in D.C., I guess you have to win convincingly.

"I knew he was going to be tough because he was fighting in his backyard, with the crowd behind him. But I was the cleaner fighter, and I landed the more precise punches with power and speed."

Khan, who was making his sixth title defense, had previously fought in an opponent's hometown, as he did when he made his American debut against Paulie Malignaggi in 2010 in New York. But he walked through Malignaggi and stopped him in the 11th round in that fight.

It wasn't that easy against Peterson, who thought he was going to get an April fight with Khan but couldn't work out the money. He gave up a $300,000-plus offer and instead took a $10,000 title eliminator against Victor Cayo in July, scoring a 12th-round knockout to become Khan's mandatory.

Peterson wound up making more than double the money of the original offer Saturday, got the fight at home and came away with two title belts.

"I stand for something. I've been taught since I was young not to fall for anything," he said of rejecting the April offer. "In the ring, I am the same way. I'm not just going to lay down for anyone."

He is more than open to a second Khan fight.

"I would definitely give him a rematch," Peterson said. "He gave me a chance, and it was a good fight. Why not?"

The sooner, the better.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.