Can Khan Make It To The Top?

Amir KhanBy Leo Ashworth: Many readers were no doubt surprised by the recent announcement that Olympic Silver Medallist and darling of the British press, Amir Khan, is set to face multi-weight World champion and future hall-of-famer Marco Antonio Barrera in a none title fight at Manchester’s MEN Arena on 14th March.

The reason the announcement was met with such surprise amongst the UK boxing community stems from the widely held belief that Frank Warren likes to develop his fighters, well… slowly! He is a shrewd business man first and foremost who didn’t rise to his position as the UK’s, and arguably Europe’s, premier promoter by taking huge risks. And on the face of it this fight presents a huge risk for Warren’s primary cash cow in the post Calzaghe / Hatton era for Sports Network, Warren’s promotional Empire..

This perceived risk is heightened by the fact the Khan has only had one fight since being blown away in the first round by unheralded Columbian Breidis Prescott. In a fight not particularly regarded as a “step up” for the Bolton man few were surprised when Khan’s poor defence and questionable chin were so savagely exposed by the Colombian puncher. It almost seemed that widespread questioning of Khan’s punch resistance prior to the fight gave him the urge to prove a point as he came out intent on trading with Prescott. A mistake Amir must rue to this day. Or not…

You see there is a school of thought, one to which I must confess that I subscribe, that says the primary reason that Khan is set to share the ring with the Mexican legend, is because of that very same, apparently so damaging, defeat. Allow me, if you will, to explain…

After rising to worldwide fame by clinching a Silver Medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Khan looked set for very big things indeed. Not only was he clearly an extraordinary talent, he also came across well when interviewed. Humble and engaging, the media had plenty to work with in this young man. It was soon to become apparent, however, that Khan had one flaw that would be difficult to overcome. He didn’t take a punch at all well!

For this writer this flaw first came to light shortly after Amir returned from Greece when he was floored at the 2005 ABA’s by Craig Watson. Khan went on to win the bout 21-9, but the secret was out. Khan fought once more as an amateur, avenging two previous defeats by Cuban Maestro Mario Kindelan including the Olympic Final, in a specially arranged “farewell to the amateurs” type bout in his hometown of Bolton before turning pro.

The young Amir was certainly quick out of the blocks on joining the paid ranks, racing to 9-0 before his chin was questioned again, this time following a flash knockdown by Rachid Drilzane, a Frenchman who had failed to stop any of his previous opponents. This seemed to confirm what many had long suspected and it was no surprise when Sports Network continued to match Khan against non-punchers although it must be said many were relatively skilled operators. Just like Willie Limond who Khan faced in July 2007.

This was viewed as something of a step-up for Khan as Limond was an accomplished domestic fighter, but few expected the Scot to test Amir’s chin. Never the less that is exactly what happened. Floored heavily by a crisp burst of punches in the sixth, the young star appeared to be in all kinds of trouble with some even suggesting he was allowed extra time to recover by the referee’s seemingly extended count. It must be said at this point that Khan showed remarkable resolve to come back and win the fight with Limond’s corner retiring their man on his stool after the 8th round with a broken jaw for his troubles. As I said this was a fine victory all things considered, and undoubtedly a great learning experience for Khan, but it was particularly worrying that he had been so badly hurt by a man who was by no means regarded as a puncher.

Khan went on to record further victories over domestic rivals Scott Lawton (KO 4) and Graham Earl (KO 1), former IBF Super Featherweight Champion Gairry St. Clair, and Denmark’s Martin Kristjansen in impressive, and relatively untroubled fashion before facing the noted puncher, Michael Gomez.

Regarded as very much yesterday’s man Gomez was expected to offer little resistance with many suspecting he may have taken the fight simply to line his pockets, but this certainly wasn’t the case. The Manchester man was subjected to a torrid time early on by Amir and floored in the first round, but used his experience to “hang tough” and work his way back into the fight, flooring Khan in the second. What ensued was all out warfare, and one of the most exciting fights in a British ring that year, as Gomez pressed forward only to be met by a determined Khan who yet again emerged victorious when the weight and volume of his shots finally became too much for Gomez who was stopped in the 5th.

It was now becoming apparent that Amir Khan ’s incredible gifts when on the attack, were countered by some serious defensive issues that could well derail his fledgling career. Which brings us back to Mr Prescott.

As mentioned earlier Prescott ripped up the script with his first round stoppage and whilst many casual fans were surprised, anybody who had followed Khan’s career could not have been. Most were of the opinion that this was the beginning of the end for Khan, which it may well prove to be, but in hindsight it could well be a real blessing in disguise.

I say this because it seems to me that Frank Warren probably realises that even if he were to continue matching Khan with “light” punching opponents there is still a very good chance he will be knocked down, or even out, at any point. When this happens it will almost certainly spell the end of Amir Khan, the boxer, as we know him. He will become an extremely hard sell once the suspicions raised by, and before, the Prescott defeat become commonly acknowledged facts. I think Frank has therefore decided to let the lad off the leash and try to make some big money off him while he still can. Better if he gets stopped by Barrera than by some lesser fighter for half the money etc. Does anybody seriously believe Khan would be in this fight had he still got his unbeaten record to protect? Of course like any gamble there is a very real chance this one could come off as Khan does have some tangible advantages in this fight.

For starters he will be by far the bigger man in the ring. Whilst Barrera has moved up the weight divisions from Super Bantam, Khan is more a natural Light Welterweight boiling himself down to Lightweight. As such Khan should also be the stronger of the two. Then there is the age gap. This will be the 21st fight for the 22 year old Bolton man (19-1, 15 KO’s) since turning pro in 2005 compared to the 71st for a now 35 year old Barerra (64-6, 43 KO’s) who turned over way back in 1989! This will surely mean Khan is the fresher and faster of the two. So Khan will be younger, bigger, stronger, and faster. As I said, tangible advantages.

As for Barrera, what can one say other than that this man’s career is the stuff legends are made of. Many feel, rightly so, that time is finally starting to catch up with Marco, but during this time he has also gained a considerable amount of experience and ring smarts. At Lightweight Barrera is by no means a devastating puncher. Outside of his last outing when he knocked out the woefully overmatched Sammy Ventura we have to go all the way back to 2004, and the Super Featherweight division, to find Barrera’s last stoppage victory when he stopped Mzonke Fana in 2. Age and the climb up the divisions have undoubtedly robbed Barrera of much of his power, but in my eyes his punches will still have enough pop to keep Khan honest in there. And what cannot be denied is that Barrera is one of the smartest fighters ever to grace a ring, equally adept boxing off the front or the back foot with his still fast hands, textbook counterpunches and incredibly astute boxing brain.

So on the face of it we have Khan’s superior size, strength, youth, speed, and power against the Baby Faced Assassin’s superior experience, ring smarts, and technique. Suddenly this fight doesn’t look such a huge risk for Sports Network. Especially when we factor in the fact that Barrera could age right there in the ring as so often happens and the huge rewards on offer if Khan were to pull this off. I can quite honestly see an immediate World title shot for Khan if he wins such would be the magnitude of the feat.

Well I guess it’s time to put my neck on the line with a prediction. I won’t go into an in-depth analysis of the fight here, I have taken too much of the reader’s time already. What I will say is that despite all Khan’s apparent advantages as outlined above I get the distinct feeling that at some point Barrera will get to Khan and when he does Khan’s “Achilles heel” of a chin will be his undoing.

Article posted on 30.01.2009

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