Amir Khan: Dared to be Great

Some fighters tactically plot their careers to avoid the most dangerous fights but still receive the titles, accolades, and financial rewards that come with a successful career. Others however accept any challenge, the higher the risk the higher the adrenaline rush, titles are a goal, financial reward is merely a bonus.

I think it’s fair to say that Britain’s Amir Khan falls into the latter. At 17 years old he fought to the Olympic Final in Athens, looking blistering fast and aggressive in his tactics he quickly became a fans favourite. The final didn’t go his way, losing to Cuban veteran Mario Kindelan, an opponent he would go on to beat before turning professional.

Khan would win his first 18 professional bouts but did show vulnerabilities along the way. Being dropped by opponents many felt he shouldn’t be struggling with. It was his 19th fight that would see the flashy Brit beaten for the first time, in devastating fashion. A hungry fighter from Colombia, Breidis Prescott, would derail the career of the rising star in a fashion that some would fail to recover from. The 1st bell was like a red rag to a bull for the underdog, he’d obviously studied Khans fights, he had seen that his punch resistance wasn’t as good as his hand speed. The big punches came and didn’t stop until Khan was left, with his head resting on the corner post, unconscious. The loss wouldn’t deter Khan in his quest for a world title, for that he deserves credit.

Three fights later Amir would face and defeat Andriy Kotelnik for the WBA Super Lightweight Title, the loss to Prescott now a distant memory. His first two defences would be against respectable opponents in Dmitriy Solita and Paulie Maliganggi, however, neither man was known for their punching power. It was his third defence that many critics felt would spell disaster for the high-flying Khan. Marcos Maidana, another hard-hitting South American, boasting a record for 29 wins with only the 1 solitary defeat, only 2 of his victories went the distance, the Argentinian could punch.

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Khan didn’t hesitate in accepting the fight, he could have vacated like many ‘champions’ before him. He could have claimed he couldn’t make the weight anymore and moved up to Welterweight. He didn’t, despite many feeling he would be knocked out he accepted the fight as greatness avoids no challenger.

The fight got off to a brilliant start for the champion, a solid left hook to the underside of his opponents’ ribs would see him down and rolling in pain. It looked like the fight would be over, it’s rare that a fighter can recover from such a vicious body shot, Maidana wasn’t ready to give up the Argentinians pride wasn’t going to let him go out like that. What materialised was a fight that would go down as a classic, Khan boxed beautifully but the danger of being knocked out was always there. The tenth round almost spelled disaster for the Brit, a sustained attack would see him out on his legs, the whole world expected the fight to be stopped by the onlooking referee or for Khan to be knocked unconscious, a site we had all seen before. Khan weathered the storm, not only did he have the speed and footwork of a champion, he had the heart to match. Khan would take the fight on a points decision, proof that he could go the distance with a puncher.

Khan would successfully defend his title two more times before a cruel split decision loss to American Lamont Peterson would rob him of his title. The defeat was even harder to accept when Peterson’s sample was found to have contained increased levels of testosterone. Peterson insisted he took the synthetic testosterone pellets for medical use and that the increased testosterone played no part in beating the devastated Brit. The WBA would reinstate Khan as their champion whilst Khan called for Peterson to be banned for life. Another setback for Khan, but again he wouldn’t let it deter his quest for greatness.

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Khan’s next fight would see him attempt to add the world-renowned WBC title to his collection, in the was hard-hitting American Danny Garcia. Khan again boxed beautifully, but his weak punch resistance would cost him again. The third round would see him visit the canvas, HARD, with half a minute left in the round Garcia poured on the pressure but Khan used his ring smarts to survive. It seemed the writing was on the wall; Khan surely couldn’t last much longer when he barely had his legs under him. Two more knockdowns in round 4 would see the referee stop the fight despite Khans protest. Given the chance the tough Brit would have continued, such is his will to win.

Two losses in a row could have disheartened Khan but he is a warrior and instead opted to continue on his quest. He would fight once more at the 140lb limit, under the tutelage of a new trainer Virgil Hunter, a routine win against an outmatched Carlos Molina. Welterweight was Khans next stop, in the hope that the additional 7lbs would assist in increasing his punch resistance. Four wins in a row against decent opponents in Julio Diaz, Luis Collazo, Devon Alexander, and Chris Algieri would set Khan up for a Mega Fight with Lb for Lb king Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. This was Khan’s first fight at Middleweight and the opponent couldn’t have been harder. Alvarez was known for his hard-hitting aggressive style, a style that most felt was all wrong for Khan, again Amir wouldn’t let the feelings of others deter him in his quest for greatness.

Again Khan boxed in a way very few could match, rapid jabs sublime hand speed and an obvious game plan from master tactician Virgil Hunter.

The whole of the boxing world knew that Khan couldn’t possibly handle the power of the flame-haired Mexican, it was no secret. But, as the old saying goes, ‘You can’t hit what you can’t see’. Khans game plan was to box on the outside, it had to be, he couldn’t mix it with the big hitters. Jab, move, Jab again was the order of the day. When he did inevitably find himself on the inside his instinct had to be to circle out of there as quickly as possible, he had no business in there.

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The plan was working, the Brit was in this fight against all odds, but as we had seen many times before, his vulnerabilities could cost him at any moment. One clean shot could spell disaster. The sixth round would deliver this shot, a perfect combination of Khan’s exhaustion and the split-second timing of Canelo would see Khan, again, on the canvas. Unconscious and gasping for air Khan was done, Canelo the victor in devastating fashion. Would this deter Khan on his quest? No, as previously alluded to Khan is a warrior.

Khan would return against a lesser-known opponent in Phil Lo Greco, an opponent who spoke a good fight but failed to deliver. With 39 seconds on the timekeepers’ clock, the fight was over, Khan had responded to his devastating loss in the perfect fashion. His next outing would be back at Welterweight, a wide unanimous decision against Samuel Vargas. Khans confidence was back, another lb for lb contender was next.

Terrence ‘Bud’ Crawford stood between Khan and the WBO Welterweight title. The unbeaten American was too much for Khan, in a punch perfect performance, Bud stopped his man in the sixth round. Some say Khan quit, Khan insists he was hit with a low blow and wasn’t able to continue. The man who had been through so much and never quit was now being accused of doing just that, and it clearly hurt the pride of the Bolton man.

Khan has fought just once since that defeat, a fourth-round TKO win over Billy Dibb in Jeddah. Khan continues to call out the greats, most frequently his former teammate Manny Pacquiao is the name Khan claims he’d like to share a ring with next. Recent rumours suggest Khan was knocked out cold when sparring Manny, but will this prevent Khan in his Quest? Probably not!

David Corner
Twitter: @DavidCorner