Virginia-based referee Joseph Cooper deducted a point from Khan in the seventh and 12th rounds for pushing off. They proved decisive in a fight that came down to a razor-thin margin.
Nelson Vasquez scored the fight 115-110 to Khan, but fellow judges George Hill and Valerie Dorsett each gave the fight to Peterson, 113-112.
“I’m not the kind of guy who falls for anything. I stand for something,” said Peterson, who ran his record to 30-1-1. “A lot of people looked at me as an underdog in this fight. They never gave me a chance to win.”
Khan (26-2, 18 knockouts) disputed the decision, saying between Peterson and the deductions by Cooper “it was like I was against two people in there.” He added: “I’m ready for a rematch. I’m here, and I’ll take it. This is why boxing hasn’t been in D.C. for 20 years because you get a decision like this.”
When Khan knocked down Peterson in the first round, the former champion appeared the superior fighter by a long shot and well on his way to an easy win. Peterson, however, withstood the early barrage and countered with combinations that had Khan retreating at times. Peterson landed one such offensive in the sixth, forcing Khan into the ropes while covering up in self-defense.
“I followed my game plan,” Peterson said. “It’s a 12-round fight, not a three-round fight. I didn’t get worried when I got knocked down in the first round.”
Then in the seventh, Peterson was at it again. The pluck of his underdog opponent confounded Khan to the point that the referee pulled the fighters apart before announcing the point deduction. Finally, in the 12th, Peterson got the crowd into the fight one last time, and he advanced repeatedly to chants of “D.C., D.C., D.C.” that only grew as the judges’ results were revealed.
“He kept trying to pick me up, and he was wild,” Khan said. “He was coming with his head lower and lower every time. I had to push him away because I was trying to stay away from his head. It was so low. He was being effective in pressuring, and I was the cleaner fighter all night.”
The victory continued a storybook ascent for Peterson, who became the IBF’s top contender after overcoming poverty and homelessness as a youth on the streets of the District. Not only did Peterson show he belongs in the same circles as the British champion, but he now is positioned to enter the conversation perhaps among the top pound-for-pound fighters.