Amir Khan: The Art of Talk

Few pugilists over the years have divided opinion as much as the UK’s Amir Khan. Throughout his largely impressive career, he has been dogged with derision and doubt, as fans and pundits alike have continued to question his level of opposition, the resilience of his suspect chin, and his overall pedigree as a fighter. Throw into the mix a ‘speak-before-thinking’ mentality, and you have the recipe for a boxer everyone loves to hate.

I wrote an article on ESB some years ago, attempting to give a fair and balanced look at the controversy and opinionated views surrounding Amir, who was then based in Freddie Roach’s Wildcard Gym. Since then, Khan lost his 140lb titles to Lamont Peterson in a somewhat controversial decision, got timed and sparked by Danny Garcia within 4 rounds of a careless outing, made hard work of Carlos Molina and Julio Diaz, before looking a lot more impressive against Luis Collazo and Devon Alexander more recently.

Not a bad string of showings by any stretch of the imagination. Whilst hardly a blitz through A list opposition, it’s still a decent enough run for a guy coming off two losses. His switch to trainer Virgil Hunter last year seems to have been a wise one, as Khan now seems a lot more composed and patient. His speed is still evident, as well as his sometimes overzealous and sloppy flurries, but all in all, he looks more of a finished package than he has in his entire career previously.

Throughout the last year or two (although it seems longer), Khan has insistently called out the consensus Pound for Pound No.1, Floyd Mayweather Junior; going even so far as to try and goad the Money Man into battle using taunts and direct accusations of ducking. So far to no avail. Mayweather has categorically stated he has no immediate interest in facing Amir Khan, and has not nibbled any bait that Khan has tried to dangle for him. Coming across as desperate in some cases, “King” Khan has tried repeatedly to talk himself into a fight – so far unsuccessfully – with arguably the world’s best boxer.

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On his recent performances, many of Khan’s supporters are calling for this fight in particular, with the logic that having looked so good against Collazo and Alexander, he would be the one to finally crack the puzzle of defensive wizard Floyd Mayweather. In truth, although looking super-fast and fundamentally improved in his last two fights, it’s perhaps a step too far to call these performances world-beaters. Whilst Collazo and Alexander are not third-rate, they are certainly not top tier opposition, and could not provide a decent enough test to prepare Khan for world domination.

Now that avenue seems to be leading nowhere fast, Khan has switched his attention towards ex-stablemate and sparring partner, the Filipino icon and living legend that is Manny Pacquiao. Whilst this is blatantly another move to get another big name/payday, whilst ultimately undeserving of it in his detractors’ eyes, it could be a more viable route for Khan. A much better fight on paper than people may realise, this has all the makings of a ‘fight-of-the-year’ type of barnburner; both guys have super quick hand speed and swift foot movement. Both guys are hittable and both guys have the propensity to get reckless in the heat of battle. Pacquiao would obviously be the betting favourite, due to his wide lead in quality of opposition faced, and overall ring generalship. But if staged in the UK, it would be a Wembley stadium sell-out, a massive spectacle for the fans, and a huge sports event to even those who don’t usually follow the sport. Khan would certainly have a chance due to Pacquiao’s gradual decline since 2011 (despite looking fresh, fierce and dangerous to all comers after his domination of unheralded Chris Algieri at the tail end of last year…. although this type of win/performance would fall into the same category as Khan’s recent wins: looking good against opponents who were far from the elite).

So, in the boxing media, Khan continues to try and talk himself into a big fight. His supporters claim he is deserving, and ready for the best. His detractors highlight his lack of top-tier opponents, his unavenged losses, and his perceived arrogance when talking himself up to the press. In reality, neither of the above fights are actually likely to come off. Due to the sickening politics that continue to dictate the sport generally ruining the chance of most of the best potential match ups happening, we will probably see Khan face off against more tier-two opponents in 2015, whilst he continues to chase the big names. This could be detrimental, as it’s never a good idea to look past your opponents. Amir has been fortunate to have been managed as well as he has by Golden Boy Promotions, still being in contention for top level fights; but one more slip up against an unheralded adversary (remember the Garcia fight?) could spell the end of Khan’s big dreams in an instant.

For the record: I think the Pacquiao fight is the one that would give most fan-satisfaction. Against Mayweather, it would be a bull fight, with the matador carefully picking the bull apart, possibly even putting the bull to sleep in the later rounds. Against Pacquiao, we would be treated to a great fight, full of fireworks, shifting momentum and fast, fierce exchanges. Whilst you would have to assume Manny would take the fight on experience alone, I would still give Khan a good shot if he could stay disciplined throughout.

For now we will wait and see how articulate Khan’s art of war-talk is; and if it can land him the fights he feels he deserves.