Amir Khan - What Price Glory?

09.03.05 - By Neill Crispian: Amir Khan's decision to turn his back on amateur boxing and join the more lucrative professional ranks was a foregone conclusion. No-one who witnessed the excitement generated by the Bolton teenager during his Olympic debut would dispute this. It was always going to be a question of 'when?' not 'if'? But what was always under debate was exactly when this transition would happen.. It's looking increasingly likely that Khan will abandon his headguard next month, by signing a professional contract with Frank Warren. This follows a spat between Khan's camp and the Amateur Boxing Association in February, which resulted in him withdrawing from its championships.

The greatest fear among fight fans and boxing pundits was that Khan would be lured away from the amateur game before he was physically and psychologically ready. The professionals fight a very different game from the amateurs, as anyone who witnessed Khan's senior ABA Championships debut would attest. Khan, stepping up from lightweight to light-welterweight, was floored in the fourth round of his first bout against Manchester's Craig Watson.

Undoubtedly, the step up in weight created problems for Khan, but it's also worth noting that his oppenent had spent a lot of time sparring with professionals. And he displayed exactly the kind of ringcraft that Khan will have to adjust to as a professional boxer: tucking up, throwing hooks with bad intentions, rather than trying to spear his opponent with the jab in order to gain points. This highlights the problem with amateur boxing, as a grounding for joining the professionals. The aim is throw obvious, one-dimensional punches that catch the judges' eye, and this invariably comes in the form of flicking jabs. You don't learn the hurtful bread-and-butter of body shots, because invariably, you don't get points for throwing them

Unfortunately, as Khan discovered, sparring with pros means you learn that boxing means playing for keeps. He got tagged far more severely in that fight than at any time during his Olympic performance, and to his credit, he rose of the canvas, rallied himself and won the bout. But there is a tendency for fight fans to be unforgiving after a below-par performance, and no doubt it was whispered to Khan that he needed to make the transition to professional sooner, rather than later, before the lustre of his silver medal started to dim. An Olympic medal has a certain value as currency - look how long the BBC tolerated Audley Harrison's decision to tackle fighters who couldn't stand up in a stiff breeze, because he was a gold medal winner. It was probably whispered in Khan's ear that the time was ripe to make the transition.

What would be the advantages of remaining amateur until after Beijing? First off, and most obviously, it would give him a crack at carrying home an Olympic gold medal. Just how worthwhile this would be depends on your value system. To a hard-nosed boxing promoter, an Olympic medal enhances the marketability of a fighter. If you're high-minded, you could say that being crowned Olympic champion is a hell of an achievement. It's a glory thing, unconnected with money. But it's also important to recognise the fact that Khan only has a chance of winning Olympic Gold, nothing more. There's been a tendency, even among the most hard-headed sporting commentators, to assume that all Khan has to do is show up in Beijig, and the medal will be his. It's here that professional and amateur boxing share a common theme: fights don't always go to plan. From being plain robbed (Roy Jones, '88, Seoul, anyone?) to suffering a flash knockdown, there are no guarantees.

What would happen if Khan was knocked out of the competition early on to an unfancied opponent? His bankability as a boxing star would be severely affected. He would come home minus and medal and with severely diminished prospects as a professional fighter. And there you have, I think, the nub of it. Khan's decision to turn pro is really a matter of economics, about applying the leverage he currently has in the boxing world to generate the maximum amount of wealth for himself and his promoters. That's not a judgement, that's just telling it how it is. Yes, Khan would garner a lot of valuable experience fighting lots of wilful and talented amateur fighters, but all this will be mere diversion from his true destination - rising to the top of the professionals. It will undoubtedly be asserted that Khan at 18, is too young to make this transition. This is nonsense - Floyd Patterson abandoned the amateur ranks at the age of 17. Muhammad Ali turned professional at 18.

Whether Khan will rise to the same heights as these youthful additions to the professional ranks remains to be seen. He has undoubted technical skill, but whether he has the heart and luck to make it to the top remains to be seen. Boxing is littered with fighters who seemed to have all the right credentials, but couldn't make it to the final cut. In all this talk about what Khan might become, there is also the ghost of a fight that many fans would love to see - a re-match with Mario Kindelan. The two could have met next month, in the Four Nations versus Cuba international match in Liverpool.

Perhaps it's unfair to have a 'what-if?' hovering in the wings before a fighter's career is properly underway, but a bout against the 34-year-old Cuban double Olympic and triple world champion would be a real crowd-pleaser, and more cynically, if handled correctly, could generate a lot of cash for Khan and his money-hungry advisers. It's a shame we'll never have the opportunity to find out.

Article posted on 09.03.2005

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