The Transformation of Amir Khan
16.03.09 - By John Wight, photo by David Martin Warr - DKP -- One of the most exciting and compelling aspects to the sport of boxing is the manner in which one fight can completely change a fighter’s fortunes, turning a journeyman into a contender and vice versa.
Article posted on 16.03.2009
Last Saturday night’s ‘Coming Of Age’ Frank Warren extravaganza was one of the most eagerly anticipated promotions in this country for a long time. At last, after his crushing defeat by Breidis Prescott, and after having spent the time since based in LA under the tutelage of renowned trainer, Freddie Roach, we were about to see once and for all if Amir had made the considerable improvements required if he was to be taken seriously as championship contender. Standing in his way was Marco Antonio Barrera, a ring legend deserving of every inch of the miles of column inches that have been devoted to his praise in a career stretching back 20 years – years in which he has crowned world champion a stupendous 7 times at three different weights over 72 professional fights..
Was Khan about to be found out again just two fights after being nailed by Prescott? Had the months spent under the guidance of Freddie Roach, sparring with the likes of Manny Pacquiao, wrought the improvements required to make him a genuine contender to a last live up to the hype? As for Barrera, did he still have it in him at the age of 35 to beat a younger, stronger fighter on the way to winning another world title? Would the step up in weight prove his downfall? How would he deal with Khan’s power?
All these questions and more loomed large as the time of the fight approached. And with Freddie Roach’s pronouncement in the days leading up that if his fighter lost to Barrera he was finished, watching Khan make his way to the ring on fight night was akin to watching a young man staring into the abyss.
Yes, it was a huge test for the young man from Bolton, by far the biggest of his career thus far, and it was one he passed in impressive fashion. The way he used his jab to wear down his opponent, moving in with crushing left-right combinations, before moving out and side to side with his hands up, was like watching a different fighter than the one we were used to and, if honest, the one most of us were expecting to see again. In the past Khan would throw his jab out more in hope than anything else, on the way to lurching in with a wild right hand, chin in the air and off balance as he relied on a big shot to see him through. In boxing terms he was a one-trick pony, easy to pick off by any top fighter, and who’d been in trouble with limited fighters like Scotland’s Willie Limond and the mercurial Michael Gomez.
Freddie Roach has done a remarkable job in turning Khan from a young fighter with power and potential, but no craft, into a world class boxer. Yes, sparring with the likes of Pacquiao on a daily basis has borne fruit, as has Roach’s unsurpassed ability to deconstruct a fighter and provide the blueprint required to improve said fighter beyond recognition. He never screams at his fighters; instead Roach talks to them in a way and with such knowledge that to listen is to realise that when it comes to boxing, this man has a Phd, MA, BA, and MBA all rolled into one. This is reflected in his record in training world champions. Admittedly, Roach gets them at the stage when they’ve already either achieved world championship status or are on the cusp of doing so. But then his particular genius is in making the adjustments in already world class fighters that at the very top level make all the difference. Roach did come in for some criticism in the days leading up to the fight for his public statement to the effect that if Khan failed to overcome Barrera his career was finished. It obviously added more pressure to Khan as he entered the ring, yet perhaps this is exactly as his trainer intended. After all, he’s the man who’d spent the last six weeks getting him ready, and consequently he no doubt knew what Khan required psychologically to get him properly focused on the job at hand.
Regardless of the fight, there will still be those who continue to be circumspect where Amir Khan is concerned. He fought an old Barrera, they will say. If it hadn’t been for the nasty cut that Barrera sustained then Barrera would have won eventually, and so on.
But even though Barrera did sustain a nasty cut, Khan exploited it clinically, refusing to rush in with those uncontrolled flurries of punches he was prone to resorting to in the past; instead taking his time, picking the Mexican apart with jabs and right hands, utilising angles and neat footwork to keep him off balance, never allowing Barrera to get set in order to throw meaningful combinations of his own. No, make no mistake, Amir Khan is a fighter transformed. However, whether or not he yet has enough to overcome the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez is another story. Personally, I think he needs to revisit Prescott in order to wipe his one and only defeat, and humiliation, from his record before thinking about a world title shot.
In the meantime he should take comfort from knowing that, now, finally he is on his way.
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