Amir Khan: Britain's Floyd Mayweather?

By Peter Cameron, Sunday 7th November 2005 - He may only be three fights into his professional career, but the hype surrounding Amir Khan is already fast-approaching mass hysteria. Don King recently described him as "supersensational" and "as good as Sugar Ray Robinson". Others in the boxing fraternity have heaped similarly grand praise on the 18 year old Olympic silver medalist, and British fans are already declaring Khan as their country's own Floyd Mayweather.. With all these superlatives flying around, Khan faces the daunting task of producing performances in the ring to match the hype outside.

Realistically it is far too early to be able to accurately assess how much Khan can achieve in the paid ranks. There are too many unknowns which need to be answered before we will learn his true capabilities.

Yet the evidence which does already exist points to a great chance of a spectacular future for the boy from Bolton. A look at his exemplary amateur record gives a good indication of his huge potential. Aside from his Athens Olympics exploits, where he was denied gold by Cuban great Mario Kindelan, Khan won the Junior Olympics and European Youth Championships in 2003, and the World Junior Championships in 2004. In all three tournaments Khan was voted best boxer in any weight category. He also avenged his loss to Kindelan by beating the Cuban in his last fight as an amateur, although Kindelan looked distinctly below par that night and the fight had the air of an exhibition match about it.

Yet despite these sizeable achievements, there is no guarantee that a great amateur record automatically equates to success in the paid ranks. Former heavyweight Henry Tillman is a great example of this. As an amateur, Tillman beat Mike Tyson twice to gain a place on the US team for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, where he went on to take gold at the tender age of 23. Yet Tillman was never able to translate that ability across to the professional world, eventually being annihilated by Tyson in less than a round in 1990.

On Saturday night Khan won his third professional fight against journeyman Steve Gethin, putting on a tremendous show to stop Gethin in the third round. Khan's speed was exceptional; he frequently threw flurries of eight or nine unanswered punches within a split second. Khan would explode onto Gethin with a series of lightening combinations, then retreat just out of distance of Gethin's range. Khan was totally in control throughout and his boxing skills were exquisite.

Yet as I watched this brief, one-sided fight, I couldn't help thinking that Prince Naseem Hamed, a man Khan is constantly likened to, would have knocked Gethin clean out if he had been in that ring on Saturday night. Hamed, who has recently claimed he is considering a comeback in 2006 (a suggestion most people treat with disdain given the longevity of his absence from the ring) had phenomenal power and his early professional record is littered with not TKOs but actual KOs. Whilst Khan looks to be every bit as skillful a boxer as Hamed, he hasn't yet shown any signs of the explosive power which gave the Prince such great box office appeal. Indeed many in the crowd on Saturday night thought the referee has stopped the fight too early. Whilst Khan landed five or six unanswered shots to Gethin's head to bring about the ref's intervention, Gethin didn't look in real trouble and seemed genuinely surprised when proceedings were halted.

Comparisons with Hamed are likely to accompany Khan throughout the early stages of his career. Indeed it is Hamed's record that Khan is chasing as he bids to become Britain's youngest ever world champion. Hamed's critics point to his loss to Barrera as evidence that Hamed was never really good enough to compete against the best in the world. Yet Hamed was a truly gifted fighter with fantastic boxing ability and incredible power. He was also a wonderful entertainer. Khan will have to work very hard to step out of The Prince's shadow.

Khan was also guilty of dropping his gloves and leaving his guard low against Gethin, especially when on the attack. Whilst his limited opponents have so far been unable to exploit this defensive lapse, a good-quality counter puncher could well find some openings if Khan doesn't tighten up his guard. Duke Mackenzie, former three-weight world champion and now commentator for ITV, said that he thought Khan was possibly throwing too many punches. He suggested it might be better for Khan to plant his feet and look for a power punch to finish Gethin. This could simply be a case of Khan's amateur instincts, where the emphasis is on scoring points rather than knockouts, still controlling his actions. This was only Khan's third fight as a pro and he is still adapting to the differences of the paid ranks.

Certainly Khan's fitness and workrate look second to none. Although four-round fights never particularly test a boxer's fitness level, Khan always sets an electrifying pace and has never looked like tiring. His body is also filling out, with more defined muscle visible each time we see him. At 5 feet 10 inches, he is tall for a light welterweight, and at only 18 years of age his frame may continue to fill out over the next couple of years, perhaps pushing him towards the welter- or even middleweight divisions.

We in Britain are so keen to proclaim Khan's greatness that we tend to overlook some of the hurdles he will face in his quest to be champion. Residing in his current weight category are some amazing talents, such as pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto. Indeed it would be a great achievement for Khan to become the best in his native country, let alone world champion. 21 year old super featherweight Kevin Mitchell, recently voted Britain's best young boxer of the year, could also be a future opponent in what could prove a very tough fight for Khan. There are many mouth-watering match-ups awaiting Khan and his fans will no doubt become impatient if he is fed journeymen for the next few months. Yet it is quite right that he should be facing lesser opposition whilst he learns to adapt to the professional ranks. His management team face a tough balance of keeping his fans happy whilst not rushing him at too early a stage.

At this point in time it is too premature to say that Khan has anything other than great potential. Until he begins to face better opposition, unknowns such as his chin, power and guard will remain inconclusive. One thing is certain; Khan is hugely talented and if his career does match the potential he has shown as an amateur, he could take the boxing world by storm. Mayweather beware!

Article posted on 07.11.2005

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