By Coach Tim Walker - The young England born Pakistani boxer, Amir Khan (22-1-0 KOs 16), has a need for speed. He likes fast cars and even faster punches. This is obvious when he displays his youthful talent in the boxing ring. He has quick hands, quick feet and punches in combinations. At only the age of 23, he possesses the WBA World Lightweight title and is noted as England's third youngest world boxing champion, ever. With all that going for him, why isn't getting respect? Why isn't he huge? The answer to that question may not be far from Khan's face. Khan's ability to take a punch has been questioned. Some have even labeled him as having a "glass chin" leaving many to think that his championship reign will be short lived..
In four of his 23 professional fights, Khan has suffered knock downs. Critics of Khan are quick to point this out. Those same critics, however, fail to mention that he showed incredible resolve in all of those fights by getting up, and winning each fight, except one. That resiliency may be viewed by some as champion material, unfortunately, many others, view it as a tell of his true position in boxing. The one fight that he didn't win was his September 2009 bought against Breides Prescott. In that fight Khan was hit near the top of the head with a sweeping left. The punch didn't look incredibly hard but it caused him to wobble around the ring uncontrollably.
What was very telling in that fight was a lack of preparation. Boxers are trained, if the training is good, to buy time if you ever get dazed by a shot. Tie up. Move away. Angle off. Do anything that gives you time to recover. The one thing you should not do if you get dazed, which is exactly what Khan did, is mix it up. After the knock down, he defended himself by punching and when your equilibrium is off, and you're facing a guy of Prescott's caliber, that is the biggest of no-nos.
In retrospect, the loss to Prescott may have been a good thing. Immediately following that loss, Khan's promoter, Frank Warren, decided that a change of guard was needed. Khan needed a specialist. Someone so astute in the art of boxing that he could mold the young Khan. Someone that would not only work to exaggerate his strong points, but would also develop his weaknesses into strengths. With the swoop of a pen Khan's trainer, Jorge Rubio, was out, and Freddie Roach was in.
Khan's next fight, his first under Roach, was against Oisin Fagan (22-5 KOs 13, at the time). Fagan knew the history of Khan and intended to exploit his fallacy. As the fight began, I noticed an immediate difference in Khan's style. Khan's hands were held high and he was going in and out. Even when he got in exchanges he was there for a couple punches and then out again. It appeared that Roach had gotten Khan back to the basics. Simple philosophies of being out of your opponent's punching range, keeping your hands high when in range, not completely opening yourself up to be countered and tightening up your offensive arsenal. This was obvious when he floored Fagan in the first round. Following an 8 count, Khan demonstrated a new found resolve by not rushing in and swinging wildly, something he would have done in the past. He was patient and executed, which resulted in a second knock down. The prior-to-Freddie version of Khan may not have demonstrated that type of patience.
Khan's next fights would all be wins. He battled veteran, former world champion, Marco Antonio Barrera to a technical decision due to cuts. Though the stoppage was controversial, Khan won every round on the score cards up to that point. Next he faced WBA World light welterweight champion, Andriy Kotelnik which resulted in a dominant unanimous decision win and Khan's first world title. His first title defense was against solid fighter, Dmitriy Salita, who he knocked down 3 times in less than half a round. Roach's philosophy seems to have settled in. So has Roach's unique ability to masterfully match his young charge with decent fighters who don't have a lot of punch.
Since taking the reigns, Roach has sought and found competitors who offer very little pop thereby decreasing the possibility of Khan being knocked out. His latest challenge is Paul Malignaggi on May 15, Madison Square Gardens, New York. Malignaggi, is a slick, slick fighter with a good name and quick hands, but isn't a heavy hitter, which makes him the type of fighter Roach has favored for Khan. Couplig that type of opponent with Khan's claims of being ready for the upper level of 140 and 147 pounders, and the apparent disdain that U.S. boxing fans carry for Khan, a loss to Malignaggi would potentially seal the deal and push him out of this market. Fans of Khan won't like that statement, but its a true assesment. Malignaggi, thought talented, is tailor-made for Khan. He prefers to box as opposed to bang, can be floored with pressure and, as mentioned before, doesn't offer a lot of pop in his punch. Considering this, if Khan is not successful and loses his title to Malignaggi, then the big money fights he craves might be off the table. He will be viewed by many as an opportunistic fighter who won a title against a less than stellar champion.
Coach Tim Walker is a contributing writer for Eastsideboxing.com and his own personal blog at boxing4life.blogspot.com welcomes comments. To suggest fighters for Monthly Stud and The Project please email firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome questions or comments.