Boxing: The Greatest - British Boxers: Amir Khan
With 40 professional fights, two world titles and an Olympic silver medal, Amir Khan is without doubt one of Britain’s most decorated, exciting and talented fighters.
Bursting onto the scene at the 2004 Olympics, Khan fell just short of being Britain’s golden boy, taking silver, as Britain’s youngest ever boxing medallist.
Despite Audley Harrison’s gold medal in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics, boxing’s funding was set to be cut prior to Khan’s efforts. As it happened, Khan’s silver paved the way for the likes of Anthony Joshua, Josh Taylor and Nicola Adams in the years to come.
An overnight star, Khan’s final amateur fight against Olympic rival Mario Kindelan, nearly a year after his defeat in the gold medal fight, attracted more than 6,000,000 viewers on ITV.
Promoter Frank Warren was selective with Khan’s opponents as he found his feet as a professional which garnered criticism. But Warren was all too aware Khan, Britain’s most exciting prospect for many a year, needed managing carefully.
Harrison signed a lucrative deal to kick-off his professional career, but after 19 straight wins, came up short at Commonwealth level.
Like his Olympic predecessor, Khan too was in danger of falling short when fighting for the Commonwealth title, taking on Willie Limond aged just 20. The Scot knocked Khan down in the sixth round, and the fight could well have been stopped, Khan getting back to his feet before taking a knee mid-count. The suspect chin that would cause other stoppages throughout his career was exposed for the first time.
But the Boltonian showed the heart that made him a world champion. He survived the round and came out firing in the seventh, forcing a knockdown of his own. Limond made it one more round before being pulled out by his corner, and Khan had a belt around his waist.
Nearing a title shot, Khan faced Michael Gomez and once again, the chin was exposed. For all his talent and his willingness to put on a show, there were defensive frailties in Khan’s game. It proved to be a tougher test than it should have been for Khan, who hit the canvas once again. But his resilience counted for more than his chin, and ‘King’ emerged victorious. A title shot had to wait, however, with Warren admitting that Khan wasn’t quite ready.
But at the age of 21, Khan was hitting the big time. Not quite at world level, Khan’s next fight would be broadcast on pay-per-view, with a surprising choice of opponent in Breidis Prescott.
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Some way below Khan’s level, but a powerful puncher – as Khan would experience – it took Khan out of his comfort zone. He hadn’t looked comfortable when under the gun on more than one occasion as a professional, but had enough about him to fight back strongly, letting his class shine through.
There’d be no fighting back this time, though.
Khan had claimed he’d worked on his defence with new coach Marco Rubio. What exactly they worked on will forever remain a mystery…
Prescott was wild and hit hard. Not a great match-up for Khan, who was unsettled by an early jab. A wicked left hook rocked Khan.
A right-left followed and he crumpled to the canvas. He bounced back to his feet, almost to convince himself he was alright, but the fight was over at that point. Instead of regaining his legs, Khan reacted the only way he knew how. He swung for Prescott, but a pinpoint left to his chin left Khan unable to stand.
The chink in the armour had been blown wide open. Khan’s career as a future world champion had been totally derailed. You can have the fastest hands, the slickest movement and the biggest heart, but it’s tough to train a chin. If it’s not there, it’s not there.
How could Khan live with the best if he was unable to take one of their punches? The best he could do was learn not to get hit, and despite a session with Floyd Mayweather’s dad, Floyd Sr, which by all accounts proved useful for Khan, he never made the permanent switch.
It’s hard not to imagine what Khan could have been. Would he have been better defensively? Almost certainly. Would he have been as exciting? Almost certainly not.
But after an extremely busy five years, Khan had to – figuratively and literally – climb off the canvas.
On the comeback trail, Khan replaced Rubio with world-renowned Freddie Roach. Training alongside P4P king Manny Pacquiao, Khan’s next fight came against Oisin Fagan, which was stopped inside two rounds.
Despite his tender age, it was now or never for Khan. He could afford no further setbacks in his quest to be world champion, and took on the legendary Marco Antonio Barrera.
It might not have been the Barrera of the early 2000s who schooled Naseem Hamed and endured the trilogy with Erik Morales, and he may have been better suited to fighting 5lb lighter, but this was Khan’s biggest test. A true pick’em fight that Khan simply could not lose. Trainer Roach admitted himself that the loser of the fight was finished.
Now aged 35 with 72 fights to his name, the Mexican was ranked #1 by the WBO.
But the work with Roach had paid off. Not the wild gun-slinging style, Khan gave Barrera his due respect. An early clash of heads hampered Barrera, but Khan looked sharp throughout, keeping out of range, and beating the veteran to the punch every time. Khan took all five rounds in a technical decision. Redemption.
Then came Andreas Kotelnik.
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The inexperience of Khan’s early days seemed to be behind him. Roach had brought out a maturity in Khan. Stepping up to a busy light-welterweight division, Khan snatched the Ukrainian’s WBA title, hardly losing a round (one judge even gave Khan all 12).
Less than 12 months after that dark night in Manchester, Khan had reached the summit in the very same arena. King Khan. King of the world.
A first-round TKO win followed against Dmitry Salita before the American adventure began.
Khan fought Paulie Malignaggi in Madison Square Garden, and while the American would go on to take the WBA welterweight title two years later, his best days at 140lb were behind him. Khan outclassed the former (and future) world champion.
Next up came another massive test, perhaps bigger than Barrera. While the Bolton man was favoured to win, Maidana’s reputation as a big puncher preceded him.
And not 30 seconds into his maiden Las Vegas bout, he was hit by a massive right. Another followed, but Khan’s chin held firm, and at the end of a testing opening round, a vicious liver shot floored Maidana, who barely saw the round out.
From there, the pair engaged in an all-out firefight. It was the fight of the year, and every question of Khan was answered. He showed tremendous heart and stamina, and more pertinently, his chin held up. Maidana threw the kitchen sink at him – but for the knockdown and fifth-round point deduction, he could well have been up on all three scorecards – but Khan came through.
Paul McCloskey was lined up as Khan’s homecoming opponent; a much easier test after the war with the Argentine Maidana.
Fans derided Khan’s move to pay-per-view so early in his career, and with a lack of supporting cast for the fight with the Irishman, Sky Sports Box Office pulled out on the eve of the event. The distraction – if it at all distracted Khan – didn’t change the expected outcome, and a controversial doctor stoppage saw Khan make a fourth title defence with a summer unification on the cards.
The desired fight with Timothy Bradley didn’t materialise, and Zab Judah was put forward. The Brit was a big favourite, despite facing a three-weight world champion, and outclassed the American. A shot around the belt-line sent Judah down in what was a tame defence of his IBF title. Khan, after the years spent training with Roach and sparring with Pacquiao, was around the peak of his powers. The WBA and IBF light-welterweight champion.
Though Khan has often received criticism throughout his career – more criticism than a boxer of his calibre deserved at times – one thing he'd earn praise for was taking the big fights. After having the early parts of his career carefully handled, Khan at his best would take on all comers. Now a world star, Khan chased a superfight with Floyd Mayweather, who dismissed the notion out of hand.
Instead, Khan took on Lamont Peterson. The Brit, a big favourite again, found the fight tougher than he’d have expected. Peterson was tough and caused problems, but the fight and aftermath was mired in controversy. Two points were deducted from Khan for pushing – many felt harshly, though Khan did receive multiple warnings. Peterson hit the canvas twice in the first round, with only one knockdown ruled legitimate by the referee.
Khan lost a razor-close split decision, and to rub salt into the wound, after the WBA had ordered a rematch, Peterson failed a drugs test. The WBA reinstated Khan as champion, but the IBF did not. Scant consolation for Khan, whose defeat to Prescott was no longer the only blotch on his record.
Khan, looking to prove he was still the king, and that the Peterson loss was not a true reflection of his abilities, took on Danny Garcia.
It would be unfair to call Garcia up and coming considering he was an unbeaten world champion, but he didn’t have the most stellar record at the time. He was a big underdog, and Khan would be his biggest scalp by some distance.
And he looked like falling short. Like so many who’d fallen before him, Garcia couldn’t live with Khan’s speed.
But how fragile a boxer’s career can be.
Khan was set to be 30-27 up on the cards when in the closing moments of the third round, a big left hook to the neck floored Khan. He didn’t know it at the time, but at the age of 25, Khan’s life as an elite-level fighter would last three more minutes. In fact, had the third round lasted five more seconds, Khan wouldn’t have come out for the fourth.
Garcia picked up where he left off when the bell rang. The 60 seconds had neither cleared Khan’s head nor steadied his legs. Garcia managed another knockdown, and the rest of the final round was almost in slow motion, spectators awaiting the inevitable.
Only the incredible heart we’d seen for so many years in so many fights kept Khan upright for as long as he was. It was actually one of the tamer shots that finally put Khan down for a third and final time as the punch resistance simply evaporated.
Still shy of his 26th birthday, Khan still had plenty left in the tank, but with 29 fights, including the battles with Maidana and Peterson, and the knockouts at the hands of Garcia and Prescott, there were miles on the clock.
Khan ditched Roach who’d brought him so much success, opting to work with Virgil Hunter, who trained Andre Ward and turned him into a more defensively-sound boxer.
Khan then recorded five straight wins, against Carlos Molina, Julio Diaz (his final fight at light-welterweight), Luis Collazo, Devon Alexander and Chris Algieri, with four going the distance. And while Khan was still fighting to a high level, a world title fight with Mayweather never materialised.
His next title shot would come after a year-long absence against Canelo Alvarez for the WBC, Ring magazine and lineal middleweight titles, skipping over welterweight and light-middleweight (though the fight was only 1lb over the light-middleweight limit of 154lb).
Due to the nature of the knockout, it’s easy to forget that Khan was actually holding his own against Canelo, even up on one scorecard before the stoppage.
But it was such a devastating knockout.
So devastating, it remains one of the most memorable, if infamous, moments of Khan’s career, reminiscent of Ricky Hatton’s defeat to Pacquiao – eyes open, but lifeless.
So devastating, Canelo walked over to Khan as soon as the fight was waved off to make sure he was okay.
After a two-year absence, Khan recorded wins against Phil Lo Greco and Samuel Vargas, before what would be his penultimate money fight against one of the world’s top pound-for-pound boxers in Terence Crawford. He might have held his own against Canelo, but this was a Khan well past his best. Crawford totally outclassed Khan, with his corner throwing the towel in as Khan took a timeout for a low blow.
After a win against Billy Dib, Khan had one last chance to fight long-time rival Kell Brook. After more than two-and-a-half years out of the ring, it would be Khan’s final money fight.
It was clear to see it meant more to Brook than Khan throughout the build-up and even the fight itself. It’s the one fight you could argue Khan had ducked; not out of fear for Brook, but pragmatism.
World title fights may have been hard to come by after the Garcia loss, and while a peak Khan you’d expect to beat a peak Brook, a loss to the South Yorkshireman means no fights with Canelo or Crawford, while the Brook fight would always be waiting, even with losses to elite fighters.
It was a resounding defeat for Khan, who admitted the same love for the sport he had when he was younger just wasn’t there – which was apparent in the later years of his career – but he fought the only way he really knew how, putting on one last show for the fans.
While Khan may be remembered as much for his losses as his wins, it shouldn’t be forgotten just how good Khan was at his peak.
One of Britain’s most talented and exciting boxers, who ducked nobody.
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