By Jacob Roberts: Last Saturday Amir Khan gained his first win for nearly 18 months with a TKO victory against overmatched Carlos Molina. It was a must win fight for Khan, who’s reputation was in tatters after successive defeats in the last year. Forced into a rebuilding process, he is now remoulding his style with the help of new trainer Virgil Hunter.
Known for his teaching of defensive technique, Hunter has shaped the career of unified Super Middleweight champion Andre Ward. Ward’s defensive style can adjust to whichever opponent he is facing, something that Khan has failed to do.
After working with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach for several years, Khan has all the offensive tools needed to be a top fighter. However, his lack of punch resistance means he has to learn and develop a new defensive style to protect his chin.
Without criticising Khan’s previous handlers, Hunter believed that the training Khan was doing were inappropriate for boxing. He thinks that Khan’s upper body was not proportionate to his lower half, and he was “flabbergasted” when he found out that Khan had never done any neck strengthening in his life.
Hunter has great belief in Khan’s ability saying, “Offensively, he’s second to none, and that’s putting it mildly”.
It is the ring intelligence that Hunter wants to improve. The knowledge of what punches to throw and when, and what parts of the ring he should fight in.
Another obstacle for Hunter is changing the mentality of Khan. He has to reign in the red mist that descends when Khan gets tagged. To teach him to be calm when under pressure without taking away that fighting spirit which every fighter needs.
I don’t believe that Khan has a glass jaw, but against a puncher like Garcia it is hardly a granite one. He showed in the Maidana fight that he can take a shellacking and has the heart of a champion.
Hunter likens him to a wild cat, “He’s a leopard. He’s got all the weaponry of a leopard. He’s got the instincts and attributes of a leopard. But sometimes they’re in a hurry, and they think that because I’m a leopard that the opponent is supposed to stand there while I grab them, kill them and eat them”. “You have to learn the terrain, you have to practice your stealth, you have to know when to show your head and when not to show your head. And when you bite you have to know where to bite and how hard”.
I was an interested observer on Saturday to see what changes Hunter had implemented. Khan’s style was often compared to that of an amateur where he bounced around on his toes constantly. I noticed in the first few seconds that he was more settled in his movement, that his feet were more firmly planted giving him better balance and a more solid base to throw punches.
Also, it was apparent that he was throwing more single shots than usual. Khan is renowned for throwing five or six punch combinations at blazing speed, but it seemed that he was picking his punches in a more scientific fashion. Remember, Garcia dropped him after he leapt in with a combination throwing a lazy right. I did not see evidence of this in the Molina fight.
He used the pivot movement more than in his previous fights. As he countered with these single shots, he used pivots to move to areas where Molina could not hit him. This is something that Ward often uses to great effect.
Whether these small changes add up to something more substantial is yet to be seen. A rematch with Garcia in 2013 would reveal whether Khan has succeeded in developing a new style that can evade punishment