By Kieran Mulvaney
It isn’t often that a boxing press conference features a diplomat from a foreign nation talking a little historical smack on behalf of his country’s fighter. But then, it isn’t often that a boxing press conference takes place in Washington, D.C.
The nation’s capital has a proud boxing tradition – just this week, local favorite Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson appeared in his first year of eligibility on ballots for this year’s Hall of Fame class – but it has of late been ill-served in terms of major boxing events. The last significant card within the District’s limits was headlined by Mike Tyson’s career-ending capitulation against Kevin McBride; the last time HBO World Championship Boxing was in town was to broadcast Riddick Bowe wiping the canvas with Jesse Ferguson in 1993. (In hindsight, the co-main event, the first encounter between Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr., was of greater import.)
But on December 10, HBO and big-time boxing will return to the District of Columbia, with a new emerging local star, heavyweight Seth ‘Mayhem’ Mitchell, in the chief supporting bout and the District’s Lamont Peterson in the junior welterweight main event.
The man Peterson will be facing, Britain’s 140-pound world champion Amir Khan, had not been to the city until a few weeks ago, but he immediately took to it and encouraged his promoter Richard Schaefer to bring his clash with Peterson there.
“It reminded me of my home city, Bolton,” Khan told reporters at a press conference in downtown DC on Thursday, in the process almost certainly becoming the first man to equate those two particular towns. “It’s very quiet, chill. And you know when there’s a big event on, bang it’s going to be massive.”
Khan’s first visit was at the invitation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at an event to honor Muslim-American athletes, and Schaefer announced his intention to reach out to Secretary Clinton, President Obama and members of Congress to attend the fight. Of the latter, he laughed that there would be no aisle between them; they would actually have to sit together and talk, and perhaps find common ground in boxing.
It is not widely appreciated outside the region that, to residents, Washington, D.C. is a two-headed beast. There is ‘Washington,’ the political power base that much of the rest of the country loves to hate. And there is D.C., the small but vibrant city where people live. While there is a good chance that Washington will be in the house, there is a certainty that DC will be representing, and cheering on Mitchell and Peterson.
But that’s where the aforementioned diplomat, Phillip Barton, Britain’s deputy ambassador to the United States, stepped up to remind those assembled that his countryman need not be cowed:
“Amir, you may have ceded hometown advantage to Lamont, but you and indeed he should know this,” he began. “There are a lot of us Brits here in Washington, and we’ve had some notable victories over the years. In fact, we even managed to burn down the White House in 1814. So rest assured, come December 10, a large part of the support will be for you, and we’ll be cheering for another great British victory.”