Amir Khan could get a late Christmas present of his world title belts back if the role of a mystery man in a hat sitting 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 December 10, and have identified a man who arrives at ringside, allegedly without 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 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 his promoter Oscar de la Hoya -- 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 the referee 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 looks set to force big decisions from both the International Boxing Federation and the WBA, both of whom have been lobbied to reverse the decision and declare the fight a 'No Contest'.
The two sanctioning bodies have agreed to look at the scoring and the referee's role in the decision and will render their judgments on January 18 and 19 respectively.
WBA vice-president Gilberto Jesus Mendoza watched the footage yesterday, emailed to him from various sources, and afterwards said that, in the interests of "fairness", there should be an immediate rematch.
"You have to guarantee fairness, you have to guarantee that no one who isn't directly involved can sit at the table," he said.
The WBA official also criticised "poor security measures" by the local commission, in allowing the unsanctioned official to be ringside.
It emerged last night that 'Hatman' is apparently an employee of the IBF, who, according to Khan's promoters, "was not credentialed in any capacity" and "was sitting there without any authority". Richard Schaefer, CEO of De la Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, revealed that they had uncovered "shocking and astonishing" details about the man "in a black hat and a blue suit".
Although no one would confirm the man's identity yesterday, Schaefer insisted: "We know who he is, but we have been advised by our lawyers not to disclose his name.
"He works for the IBF, but was not credentialed in any capacity. He was sitting there without any authority, and was not there is any official capacity."
Khan, meanwhile, who had posted more than 30 messages on Twitter to give a detailed commentary of 'Hatman's' movements during the fight, explained yesterday: "That's the reason I went on Twitter and I put the tweets up.
"I just want another chance somewhere neutral to prove to my fans that I am the real champion. I won the fight."
Barry Hunter, Peterson's trainer, commented last night: "What has happened is a black eye on the sport and takes away from what Lamont Peterson achieved on the night. We've been in Amir's shoes before, and we took our time to get back to that level.
"Somewhere down the line we can do it again, we would love to dance with Amir again.
"It was a great fight. But we also have to look at what is best for Lamont and his career." (© Independent News Service)