A week that started in confusion ended in farce on Saturday night when a tiny cut put an end to the Amir Khan and Paul McCloskey world title fight in front of more than 17,000 stunned fans at the MEN Arena, Manchester.
McCloskey, the unbeaten challenger, was led back to his corner in round six with a neat but clearly manageable cut above his left brow by referee, Luis Pabon; amazingly the fight was called off at a point when it was just about to get interesting.
As chaos erupted in the ring, when it became clear that McCloskey's night was over, and members of both camps exchanged angry looks, a former fighter named Eamonn Magee stopped the blood in about five seconds. Magee's instant handiwork only confirms that the stoppage was premature and adds credibility to the screams of outrage from McCloskey's people.
Khan handled himself with dignity by acknowledging that it was his head that caused the cut and for praising McCloskey for his tactics up until the fight's unsatisfactory end. However, even the most loyal member of McCloskey's hyped-up crew fell short of blaming Khan for the fiasco and no one has accused him of deliberately butting McCloskey.
In round six, the referee called a halt just seconds after an accidental clash of heads, and as Khan walked away dabbing with his glove at what he thought was a cut on his brow, a thin line of blood slipped down the left side of McCloskey's nose. The time was 1:56 of the round and the referee, as he is entitled to, called for the British Boxing Board of Control's doctor, Fraser Pinkney, to take a look.
However, Dr Pinkney entered the ring, which I have never seen, examined the cut and then advised the referee to call it off. Inspections by doctors always take place in a corner, with the doctor leaning over the ropes and more often than not they involve the fighter's own corner men. The break with protocol was bewildering, the stoppage ridiculous and the understandable aftermath predictably ugly.
The facts of the fight before the confusion ruined the night are simple: McCloskey lost all five completed rounds but he was making Khan miss wildly at times and, up until about 20 seconds before the end, he had barely been troubled. McCloskey did admit he was hurt in the sixth before the butt, but claimed that Khan was tired and short on ideas. Khan, understandably, insists that with or without the small nick he would have stopped McCloskey by about round 10.
There is a degree of truth in McCloskey's triple assertion, but Khan is a fantastic fighter and there were clear signs in round six that he was starting to break down McCloskey's resistance. Also, had Magee been allowed to work on the cut it would have probably opened again, forcing a proper stoppage. Boxing is a brutal sport and at this level, with this much on the line, the men deserve the right to fight; the doctor and the referee both got it wrong.
McCloskey has asked for a rematch, Khan insists he wants bigger fights in Las Vegas. The impasse is unlikely to be broken any time soon, but there will be discussions, offers will be made, alongside threats, and if the sums work there is an outside chance that a second fight could happen.
McCloskey needed five stitches – it would have been three had he gone to hospital – and Khan kept his WBA light-welterweight title; the pair wanted, the fans deserved, and British boxing needed a few more rounds on Saturday.