It was the unkindest cut of all for Northern Ireland's Paul McCloskey. The 31-year-old, who runs a supermarket in home town Dungiven, believed he was short-changed when he lost his WBA light-welterweight challenge to Amir Khan in Manchester last night. The bout was halted 30 seconds from the end of the sixth round after a clash of heads – deemed accidental – caused a deep wound over McCloskey's left eye.
He was far from happy, even though he had lost every round on the judges' scorecards. His manager Barry Hearn leapt into the ring screaming at the Puerto Rican referee Luis Pabon: "You are a disgrace!"
It was a controversial ending for Khan's fourth defence, for the cut, when cleaned up, was obviously not as severe as it seemed when blood first poured from it. "This was McCloskey's dream chance, the referee and doctor should hang their heads in shame," said Hearn. "I've seen 10 or 20 times worse cuts than that."
That may be so but it was hard to see how McCloskey was going to win the fight. Khan was declared the victor as the three British judges had him winning every round 60-54.
McCloskey was clearly outclassed, largely providing target practice for the fast-handed Khan's customary cluster punches, but it was not the 24-year-old champion's greatest performance before a 15,000 crowd. Khan may have been hit harder in the pocket than he was by any of the blows McCloskey landed, having himself taken another kind of cut, a financial one in the chaotic TV-or-not-TV run-in to the fight. But he did not appear as his sharpest.
McCloskey, the European champion unbeaten in 22 fights, is clean-cut and competent but he is no world-beater. He offered little in terms of aggression but he was elusive and claimed he was biding his time as he believed Khan was tiring.
"I don't know what the ref and doctor were thinking," he said. "My corner could have stopped the blood, no problem, but they weren't given the chance. Amir was knackered and I was getting stronger."
"It was easy," said Khan. "I was fighting at my own pace. If the fight had gone on longer he would have got badly hurt." Hearn is making a complaint to the Board of Control. "It is a very hollow victory for Khan," he said. "This is a brutal sport and you have to get on with it and not pull the plug as the referee did."
Khan's homecoming turned out to be little more than a flying visit. After the pre-fight rows he said he will not be returning "for a long, long time". His next bout looks certain to be a unification affair in July with Timothy Bradley, the WBC champion and an opponent of a different order.
Boxing binman Rendall Munroe, last seen losing a world title challenge in Tokyo six months ago, fought his way back into the championship picture with a unanimous 12-round decision over Andrei Isbaeu of Belarus to claim the vacant WBA international super-bantamweight title.
There was also a shock victory for Colchester's Lee Purdy, who stopped holder and heavy favourite Craig Watson of Manchester in the fifth round to become the new British welterweight champion. Watson, who had floored Khan as an amateur, was well ahead when he was caught flush on the jaw by a right hand.