He Khan’t take the heat
James Westacott wishes it were not so
Amir Khan – remember him, the young Pakistani from Bolton who won an Olympic silver medal at Athens in 2004 at the age of 17? – steps into the ring next weekend on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather vs. Marcos Maidana (world welterweight unification) bill.
The occasion is a clash, also at welterweight, with the dangerous Luis Collazo, in the latest phase of Khan’s attempt to create a global legacy for his boxing skills. Either that, or it’s the latest stage on his quest to fight Floyd Mayweather and make enough money in one night to ensure a crazily, ostentatiously, wealthy lifestyle for the remainder of his life.
Khan originally went to the States as the next great British ‘hope’, following in the footsteps of the two previous unsuccessful holders of that title, viz. Naseem Hamed and Ricky Hatton.
He had rare speed, raw skills, good looks, an attractive persona and a large British following in his corner. Which is a lot going for him.
Sadly, he was (and remains) deficient in one respect – the ability to take a punch.
He had suffered a wobble or two previously during a string of growingly impressive victories, but in his nineteenth bout – against Briedis Prescott at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester on 6th September 2008 – he was spectacularly kayoed in just 55 seconds of the first round.
To be frank, he’s been suspect ever since.
The blunt truth is that, at the highest levels of the pro game, you can have all the physical attributes you want, all the skills, the devotion to training and the instinctive ability switch tactics to somehow find a way to win that all great boxers need, but if you’re ‘chinny’ … er, that’s it.
No matter how naturally gifted a pug you are, at the very top of boxing there’ll always be potential opponents around who can either match you, or else have the ability to ‘neutralise’ your special talents.
At which point it comes down to ‘bottle’ (as some in sport describe it) or ‘cojones’ (as Mrs Clegg does). When it comes to the strata where world titles are won, almost every contender has a pronounced will to win, so easy fights come few and far between.
The key thing about Khan, who this week told the press that his new trainer had sorted out two or three technical flaws and that fighting at welter (rather than light-welter) was really suiting him, is his deficiency in the punch-resistance department.
Every prospective opponent knows that if he can get one-punch lucky, or even just mount 90 seconds’ worth of concerted heavy hitting, at any point during a Khan fight, he has a real chance to win.
What’s more, Khan knows it too.
It’s a psychological edge that’s difficult to overcome. Ask Khan’s fellow Brits, Hamed or Hatton.
Whatever gifts of Nature a boxer possesses, punch resilience has to be amongst the armoury of any great – and I mean ‘all-time great’ – boxer. Even Muhammad Ali was denied universal devotion during his early dazzling career, until he gradually slowed and demonstrated that the strength of his chin was right up there alongside his other many qualities.
I’m sure Amir Khan loves boxing. It has made him successful and one of the world’s most recognisable sportsmen. He may even beat Collazo next weekend. However, his inability to take a punch ensures that he will never be ranked amongst the all-time greats. Deep down, he must know this. Deep down, Khan – his management, his trainer, his whole entourage -are all aware that, for the past five years minimum, he’s only been it in for the money.