Amir Khan could get a late Christmas present of his world title belts back if the role of a mystery man in a hat sat at ringside during his defeat to Lamont Peterson last month is not satisfactorily explained.
Khan and his team have closely studied the fight, which took place in Washington DC on 10 December and have identified a man who arrives at ringside, allegedly without the correct accreditation, and then somehow manages to sit next to the World Boxing Association's official supervisor.
The man in the hat, who has been variously dubbed "Hatman", "the Fixer" and "the Smiler", sits quietly for a few rounds and gently shuffles his chair closer and closer to the supervisor's table. However, it all changes as the fight opens up and "Hatman" and Michael Walsh, the WBA's supervisor on the night, are in constant discussion from round six until the end of the fight; they actually miss whole rounds as they talk. This all takes place just a few feet in front of Khan's father, Shah, his business manager, Asif Vali, and Oscar de la Hoya, his promoter – none of whom attempted to evict the man or even question his right to be at ringside.
When the fight finished the same man appeared in the ring celebrating with Peterson, whose split-decision verdict benefited from the inexperienced referee taking points from Khan for fairly innocuous fouls.
Khan lost his light-welterweight titles by just one point on two of the final scorecards and the deductions by Joe Cooper, the referee, seemed harsh to many observers. At the fight's conclusion, De La Hoya said that the judging was not the problem and that the referee was the reason that Khan had lost.
The discovery of "Hatman" has shifted the focus from Cooper to the judging because it is Walsh's job to fill in a sheet, called a master scorecard, which contains the combined scores from the three judges at ringside. At the end of each round the referee collects the scores and then hands them over to an official at ringside, who was sitting on the other side of Walsh to "Hatman".
Khan and his people have made vague claims that "Hatman" tampered with the sheets – a disturbing and serious allegation. Vali confirmed that he has asked for and had not yet seen the original slips of paper.
"I just want to know what the man is doing there and who he is?" said Vali. There appears to be no disputing the fact that "Hatman" had no right to be at ringside.
The discovery by Khan and his team could lead to both the International Boxing Federation and the WBA, both of whom have been lobbied to reverse the decision, declaring the fight a no contest. The two sanctioning bodies had agreed to look at the scoring and the referee's role in the decision and render their judgements on 18 and 19 January respectively.
However, this could change and Peterson, who pulled off a fantastic shock against enormous odds, could find himself a victim of the mystery in the coming days as the WBA has promised to take strict and prompt action.
De La Hoya's promotional partner Richard Schaefer said: "We want the verdict overturned and I would like the people involved in the fight to do the right thing."
Rough Justice: Other boxing controversies
Felix Bwalya v Paul Burke
(Commonwealth lightweight title. Lusaka, Zambia, 13 December 1997)
Burke, from Preston, dominated the fight and dropped Bwalya heavily in rounds 10, 11 and 12. In the 12th round the bell saved Bwalya even if it came nearly two minutes early and he was on the floor at the time. Burke celebrated but Bwalya was lifted up, semi-conscious and given a truly unbelievable decision. However, he collapsed and died nine days late from injuries sustained in the fight. "It was scary and crazy at the same time," Burke said.
Lennox Lewis v Evander Holyfield
(Heavyweight unification fight, New York, 13 March 1999)
After 12 often tedious but always gripping rounds a drawn verdict was returned when the judges went three different ways: one for Lewis, one for Holyfield and one a draw. The problem was Eugenia Williams, a veteran of 12 years and accountant, who had given the fifth to Holyfield when it was one of the clearest in Lewis's favour. She later watched the fight on tape and changed her mind. All hell broke out and New York's District Attorney called for an investigation into allegations, which were unfounded, that the promoter, Don King, had paid the judges. The decision stayed and Lewis narrowly won the rematch.
Juan Manuel Marquez v Manny Pacquiao
(WBO welterweight title, Las Vegas, 12 November 2011)
Marquez seemed to have won the fight without any doubt but when it was over two of the three judges went heavily in Pacquiao's favour. The decision for Pacquiao, who seemed a reluctant participant at times, kept the dream of a fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather alive; it is a bout that is expected to generate half a billion dollars, with most of that vanishing into the casino's vaults. It was a shameful and sadly predictable outcome to a quite brilliant performance from Marquez.