What next for Amir Khan?

Amir khanby Mark Gregory- It took only 54 seconds for the unknown Breidis Prescott to emphatically confirm that the doubters were correct in thinking that Amir Khan’s chin would not stand up to a shot from a legitimate, hard punching lightweight. Having already been floored heavily and almost stopped by the light-punching former super-feather Willie Limond, and more recently by another ex-130lber Michael Gomez, there were serious questions surrounding Khan’s punch resistance ahead of his meeting with the dangerous-looking Prescott.

After being rocked by a stiff jab just seconds into the fight, a quick left hook from Prescott buckled Khan’s legs, before a straight right and another left hook dropped him heavily. Khan was on shaky legs when he rose and perhaps should have been stopped; had it been Prescott in that kind of state you have to think that the ref would have waved it off there and then. As it was, Khan was allowed to continue just long enough to take another left hook to the chin, and that was all she wrote. The unheralded Columbian had done what the bookies and the Khan hype-machine thought to be almost impossible and stopped the former Olympic silver medallist..

I, like many others, was not massively surprised to see Khan stopped in such a fashion. In fact I actually had some money on the stoppage in a treble which didn’t quite come off (thank you Alex Arthur). Given all of the press and promotion surrounding Khan, why was it that a seemingly mediocre prospect like Prescott – who had struggled to a SD in his last and only meaningful contest – knocking him out in such a fashion was not hugely unexpected?

As already hinted at, the warning signs were there. Michael Gomez floored Khan with a glancing left hook to the side of his face, not the temple or chin which are the usual danger areas. Gomez has decent though not devastating power, but at 130lbs not at lightweight, and by his own admission he was way past his prime when he fought Khan. Willie Limond was never known for his punch when competing down at super-feather, and yet he had Khan all over the place and was only one more solid shot away from beating Prescott to the prize of being the first man to defeat Amir. The questions surrounding Khan’s chin were not a case of blindly hating on an unbeaten prospect – as is often the case – but were legitimate doubts based on Khan’s reaction virtually every time he had been hit cleanly.

Given the crushing and brutal nature of his defeat, some will say it is nigh on impossible for Khan to come back from such a loss. This is compounded by the fact that the fight was shown on Sky Box Office in the UK at a cost of £14.99, which is virtually unheard of for a non-title fight between two young prospects. Who would want to pay to watch Khan now that it appears he is more hype than substance? That has to be a real worry for Khan’s promoter, Frank Warren, and for Sky who are now essentially bankrolling Khan’s career. Popular as Khan is in the UK, you can’t help but feel that some casual fans of the sport will feel that they have been lied to by the frankly ludicrous hyping of young Amir. His fights will certainly be a lot more difficult to sell now.

Having said all that, Khan is still only 21 years of age and is blessed with some exceptional natural gifts. He is lightning quick, both of hand and foot. He doesn’t possess tremendous power but stuns fighters with the speed and volume of his shots. He also holds a physical advantage over the majority of 135lb fighters with his size and reach. As Frank Warren pointed out after the fight, plenty of boxers have come back from an early career loss to win a world title. The big concern with Amir Khan, however, is not just that his chin looks to be well short of world class, but also that in his 19 fights he does not seem to have learnt how to protect it properly. There is still something very amateurish about Khan’s approach in the ring. When the bell sounded last night, rather than keeping his hands up and his chin tucked in whilst he sussed out his opponent, Khan rushed straight in and began letting his hands go and left his chin out to try. Prescott looked far more compact and picked his shots well, countering the sloppy Khan with ease. Anyone who knows anything about the sport will tell you that that is no way to approach the first round against a known puncher.

If Khan is to go on to compete at the highest level – and it is worth noting just how talent-rich the lightweight division is right now – it will require some major changes. He will need to stop looking to bang his opponents out early as he has been accustomed to; he is not a one-punch hitter and he leaves himself too open when he starts going for the KO. He will need to learn to use his speed better, and learn how to fight going backwards, something he has struggled with thus far. He will certainly have to learn to tighten up his defence, and learn how to roll with punches and use better head movement.

All of this, I feel, will require a change in Khan’s training camp. Someone like Manny Steward, Freddie Roach or Roger Mayweather would be able to hone Khan’s raw talents to a point where he is less vulnerable. He would also benefit from basing himself out in the US where he can get good quality sparring, something he doesn’t appear to have had in the UK judging by how shocked he looks whenever he gets hit in the ring. They would also make sure that he is matched tough, and that each fight is a genuine, but gradual, step up, so that when he does step in the ring with a fighter capable of beating him he will be better prepared for the challenge.

Unfortunately I fear that Khan is too comfortable in his current predicament to make such a drastic change. He has made very good money already, in spite of having had very few meaningful fights. He is surrounded by people who constantly reaffirm his misguided belief that he is already a world class fighter who can compete with the best in the division. To move to another country where very few people know who you are, and to work with a trainer who does not necessarily believe that all you need to do to win a fight is turn up, would be a huge upheaval and a genuine culture shock for Khan.

Sadly I fear that little will change for Amir. He will most likely stay with Warren and will carry on employing yes-men trainers. He will continue to pull in fairly big crowds as he goes back to fighting fringe domestic class opposition, whilst his record swells to some 30 odd fights before he risks a step up in class. We will probably hear the same rhetoric from Warren about building him up slowly for a title shot, that he is young and still learning. We will be told that fighters with obscure names and 17-6-2 records against club fighters are credible opponents. Eventually someone or other will become impatient and put him in with a fighter that he is simply not ready for and he will likely be brutally exposed again. When that happens it really will be the end for him.

Can Amir Khan still fulfil his potential and go on to win a world title? It will always be difficult when you do not have a decent chin. However, he could certainly give himself a better chance of reaching his goal by dramatically changing his style, getting better training and sparring, and making sure he is getting matched correctly. If he makes these huge changes then maybe, just maybe, Khan can come back from defeat and prove the doubters wrong. If he sticks with what he knows and stays in his comfort zone then it is difficult to see how Khan can ever go on to be anything more than a domestic level fighter, and he will always be an accident waiting to happen when he steps through the ropes against anyone with a decent punch and a bit of ambition.

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Article posted on 07.09.2008

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