On behalf of the District’s own Lamont Peterson, I called the World Boxing Association office in Panama on Friday. When no one answered, I left a pointed voicemail: “Where’s Lamont’s belt? Don’t make me come down there and get it.”
Sensing fear — or more likely folly — Gilberto Mendoza finally called back.
“We’re processing it now — he will have it soon,” Mendoza said. “Don’t worry, we recognize Lamont Peterson as our champion. Everything is now being worked out.”
Uh-huh. Sure. The new champ has heard that before.
Mendoza is the executive vice president of the WBA, a boxing sanctioning body which seems to exist for the sole purpose of further angering really strong men who have already been trained to physically incapacitate other human beings.
Mendoza’s WBA inexplicably has yet to mail one of those gaudy, gold-plated world championship belts embossed with Peterson’s name to Washington, where Peterson took both the WBA and IBF 140-pound titles from Amir Khan via a controversial split decision this past December.
You don’t need to be a fight fan or even care about sports to appreciate what happened at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center that night, when a one-time homeless kid from Southeast Washington became king of his profession.
Before an HBO audience, Peterson, once an 11-1 underdog — and an 8-1 underdog before the opening bell — walked right through Khan’s speed and flurries. He began landing hooks and uppercuts with purpose and power, stalking the champion before his enthralled hometown crowd.
It was a close fight heightened by — big surprise — bizarre officiating and scoring. But it was a great fight that had everyone talking rematch.
Now, nearly two months later, no one has signed to fight anyone.
Peterson’s camp feels as if they’ve been strong-armed into agreeing to fight Khan on his people’s terms, attorneys for Peterson and the WBA have exchanged briefs regarding the WBA demanding a rematch because of events surrounding the controversial outcome and — oh yes — the new super lightweight champion only has one of his belts because Mendoza’s belt-makers have yet to send the other.
“It’s sad that Lamont’s tremendous, heroic night is caught up in the middle of this mess,” said Andre Johnson, Peterson’s communications manager.
(Johnson later added that after The Post’s call to the WBA on Friday, Mendoza actually sent an e-mail to Peterson’s camp asking for an address where the belt could be sent.)
Why has boxing all but disappeared from the American sports consciousness? Because of unseemly stories like this, when the best little tale in Washington sports is sucked into the drainage ditch of sanctioning bodies, appeals, grandstanding promotional companies and all that the manly art of self defense is these days.
“I understand boxing has a dark side, that this is part of what it is,” says Barry Hunter, Peterson’s trainer who gave Lamont and his brother Anthony, a rising contender, shelter, food and hope in his Southeast gym when they were kids.
“But Lamont got the opportunity. He dreamed about that moment all his life; to beat the reigning champion was a total dream. Now to be disrespected on so many levels, that doesn’t feel good. I mean, we almost into February and he hasn’t received the championship belt he won.
“We there in some ways, but in other ways we’re still fighting. He’s fighting for respect, he’s fighting for his belt — I can’t believe we have to go through this thing.”
Much of the angst is brought on by Golden Boy Promotions, which co-promotes Khan and has been pushing for an immediate rematch almost since the first fight ended. When Peterson’s camp asked for time to weigh their options and enjoy the victory, Richard Schaefer, Golden Boy’s chief executive, started flexing — grieving the decision, putting pressure on Peterson’s people to agree to fight at the Staples Center for a May date already secured by HBO.
Hunter was supposed to meet with HBO officials on Jan. 9 in New York when he had to postpone the trip because his 82-year-old mother was ailing, he said. The next day, he read quotes from Khan’s manager, “as if we agreed to a rematch.”
“They said they had met with HBO and I was supposed to be there,” Hunter said. “I thought I was just meeting with HBO myself that day. I’m probably lucky I didn’t go. As Vito Corleone said, ‘At that meeting, you will be assassinated.’ I know I was going to be pressured into accepting the rematch.”
Reached Saturday morning, Schaefer said: “Look, I don’t want to say anything anymore that’s going to hurt a possible rematch between Amir and Lamont. I will either [anger] Amir or Lamont and I don’t want to do that. I want everyone on the same page. I really hope this fight happens.”
His comments came a day after he said Khan was moving on without Peterson, who is weighing rival promoter Bob Arum’s latest proposal: a four-fighter box-off, in which Peterson would fight Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao would fight WBC 140-pound champion Timothy Bradley in April, with the winners meeting up sometime in the fall. (Floyd Mayweather is out of that picture, pending his June jail sentence on a domestic-violence plea.)
The good news: By as early as next week, the champ could agree to his first defense: either Marquez, a seasoned, if shopworn, action fighter who would give Peterson a bridge to a mega-payday with Pacquiao, or Khan-Peterson II, for which he will make more than $1 million, the largest payday of his career.
I would choose Khan for financial and emotional reasons. Flashy and personable, the Englishman is still a big draw. And he and his camp’s post-fight attitude has essentially been, Lamont was lucky we gave him a shot in Washington, where he got a hometown decision. We will take away his fleeting fame just as quickly as we gave it to him.
No politics. No appeals. No corporate strong-arming — just two superb fighters, trading punches once again before a howling crowd. Once Peterson knocks out Khan, which I believe he will, maybe by then he will be recognized and treated as a champion instead of a fighter in limbo still waiting by the mailbox for his WBA belt.
For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.