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Amir Khan: The world-class underdog

By: Damon Sloan

Amir Khan

Amir Khan was once talked about as the next biggest star in boxing. As a junior welterweight, he pulverized opponents with his length and constant movement around the ring. And his biggest attribute is his blazing hand speed. At 5-foot-10, he was always the bigger opponent in most of his bouts at 140-pounds and he seemed unstoppable during his run there after running through fighters such as Paulie Malignaggi, Marco Antonio Barrera and Zab Judah. At one point he was the chosen one to defeat Floyd Mayweather Jr. because of his length, punching power and hand speed. He was trained by Hall of Famer Freddie Roach and worked with Manny Pacquiao. It seemed like there could be no end to Khan’s potential for greatness in the sport.

Now that both Mayweather and Pacquiao are retired (at least for the time being), the spot is searching for the next big star to fill their shoes. Certainly ‘King’ Khan is on that path to superstardom, but he’s well behind some other competitors.

The former Olympic medalist is a massively talented fighter, but he’s fallen behind some other stars in recent years and this Cinco De Mayo weekend, the biggest weekend boxing has, Khan is in unfamiliar territory as a massive underdog when he faces off against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez for the WBC World middleweight championship.

But how did we get here? How has a dominant champion with a successful Olympic pedigree who was thought to be the clear pick to be Mayweather’s final opponent become what appears to be a fill-in opponent for Canelo before he fights Gennady Golovkin in the fall?

The Beginning

Boxing came natural to Khan. The British fighter of Pakistani descent began boxing at the age of eight, but didn’t fight competitively until he was 11 years old. And he was really successful, going 101-9 in his amateur career. Then, at 17-years-old, he became the youngest British boxer to join the national Olympic team for the 2004 Games in Athens.

At just 17-years-old, Amir Khan became the youngest person to be a part of the  British boxing team and took home a silver medal.

At just 17-years-old, Amir Khan became the youngest person to be a part of the British boxing team and took home a silver medal.

Khan made his mark in Athens, making it all the way to the finals before losing to two-time gold medalist Mario Kindelan. But from that point on Khan was destined to become the biggest star in boxing to ever come out of the United Kingdom. And this is a country who has produced all-time greats like ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed, Ricky Hatton, Lennox Lewis, Joe Calzaghe and Ted ‘Kidk’ Lewis.

Khan has greatness written all over him. His combination of speed, power, length, size and picture-perfect fundamentals were unseen in other fighters.

When he turned pro in the summer of 2005, Khan had very high expectations and he was living up to it as a dominant lightweight. He was pummeling opponents with his blazing hand speed and constant movement around the ring. He was rapidly moving up in the lightweight ranks and fans wondered when he was going to fight for a world title.

Khan went 18-0 to start his career from 2005 to 2008. He knocked out 14 of his opponents and was wrecking through his British peers.

One July 14, 2007 Khan got his first taste of some gold when he won the Commonwealth Lightweight Title at the O2 Arena in London. Khan destroyed Willie Limond, who today is 39-4 and the British and Commonwealth light welterweight champion. After the eighth round, Limond’s corner has no choice but to retire their fights for excessive cuts, swelling and a broken jaw.

Khan successfully defended his Commonwealth lightweight title four times and also won the WBO Inter-Continental lightweight title by knocking Martin Kristjansen down three times in the seventh round before the bell was waived for to end the massacre.

It was only a matter of time before Khan was going to get a shot at a world championship.

The Knockout

That is until September 6, 2008.

The one flaw that halted Khan’s progress has been his chin. It was first exposed by faded contender Breidis Prescott in Manchester. The fight was supposed to be a showcase fight for Khan to lure one of the four lightweight champions to fight him later in the year. Instead, we saw Khan’s first taste of adversity.

A vicious left hook sent Khan straight down in the middle of the ring in less than 30 seconds. Khan struggled to get to his feet. He staggered back in the corner and looked rattled. The fight continued, but not for long. Prescott stormed right back at Khan and just seconds later he sent him down in the corner again with a left uppercut landed smack on the jaw, one the same exact spot.

Khan struggled even to sit up. He tied to get up, but fell forward onto his face and even after his corner team lifted him up off the mat his legs were wobbling.

His entire world got rocked in less than a minute by a guy who would go 7-7 against mediocre competition over the next six years.

How was this guy going to carry the Union Jack around the world with a world championship around his waist? He looked too human to possibly become the face of a sport about punching your opponent to a pulp.

But while it was a major blow to Khan’s rise, it did not even come close to crippling his career.

The Rebound and Rise to Prominence

Actually, Khan took that devastating loss as a reason to make big changes and that was when he truly went from a young fighter with a ton of potential to a world-class fighter.

Immediately after the fight Khan switched trainers and chose to move to Los Angeles to work with Freddie Roach at the famous Wild Card boxing gym. Khan wanted the guidance of the man who was also guiding the only other man in the world who could challenge Mayweather to be the pound-for-pound best in the world, Manny Pacquiao.

Amir Khan rebounded from his first career loss with eight-straight wins over world-class fighters and won world titles.

Amir Khan rebounded from his first career loss with eight-straight wins over world-class fighters and won world titles.

Roach helped Khan with his offensive attack by being more fluent with his jab and taking side angles instead of coming straight-forward at a powerful opponent. And he was sparing with the then WBC lightweight champion Pacquiao.

Just four months after the first defeat of his career and work with a new trainer, Roach threw Khan back in the ring against a very tough Irish challenger Oisin Fagan.

Khan made very easy work of him. He dominated Fagan before his corner threw in the towel early in the second. Khan knocked Fagan down twice in the 1st round with quick combinations of punches. It was later revealed that Fagan actually had his leg broke because his upper body was whipped back so hard by Khan.

The rebound victory set Khan up for his first major opponent: Marco Antonio Barrera, a former seven-time and three-weight world champion. Khan was ranked as the No. 1 contender in the WBO world lightweight rankings at the time. The fight ended with a win as a result of a technical decision when a cut from an accidental clash of heads. Doctors ruled Barrera could no longer continue and when it went to the scorecards, Khan had shut Barrera out. He rose to the occasion, peppered Barrera with jabs that Roach made him work on. He was more patient. He was perfect in that fight.

Khan was better than ever and moved up to junior welterweight to take on Andrea Kotelnik for the WBA title. He won the belt with a unanimous decision. Khan had arrived. He was walking into the ring as the top dog in his fights and no matter who his opponents were. He successfully defended his belt five times. He took case of Dmitry Salita in just barely over a minute. He stopped two-time champion Paulie Malignaggi, showed off his shin against the very powerful and future Mayweather opponent Marcos Maidana in a unanimous decision victory and then beat both Paul McCloskey and Zab Judah. The win over Judah gave him a second belt, the IBF junior welterweight title.

The Fall From Grace

While he was winning big fights, Amir Khan didn't patch up his weaknesses and when he fought and en elite fighter with power and speed he was rolled over.

While he was winning big fights, Amir Khan didn’t patch up his weaknesses and when he fought and en elite fighter with power and speed he was rolled over.

As he was beating everybody up, Khan began calling out Mayweather. He would constantly reiterate that he could knocks him out and give him his first loss; which a lot of spectators believes as well.

Khan had tremendous hand speed and great footwork to match Mayweather, who he was also three inches taller than. His reach was another problem that could have faced Mayweather. But Khan needed another big win over somebody before he could even be considered to challenge Mayweather. The problem was, Khan has lost sign of some great opponents. He avoided countryman Kell Brook. He was not going after Timothy Bradley either.

Even without them, he was still a money fighter with great momentum, but his success came at a cost. Khan was getting great wins and that meant he continued to move forward with his training instead of seeing if there was anything else he needed to work on. Roach is a great trainer, but he promotes a very aggressive style, leaving his defense as a vulnerability.

Khan did not take any sort of a momentum hit after a split decision loss to Lamont Peterson that was marred by inappropriate action by officials and a failed drug test by Peterson, but when he was slated to take on somebody with the speed to match his own, and power to go with it, Khan was dominated.

Danny Garcia exposed what we all knew was wrong with Khan that never actually was fixed. With Roach, Khan just played defense by offense by staying on top of his opponent and using his seed to his advantage. But Garcia has both great speed and power, just like Mayweather, and ended up obliterating Khan.

Garcia landed a hard counterpunch off a missed right and sent Khan to the floor. He got up and survived, but he was badly hurt. Only the bell saved Khan from a second knockdown in the round. Soon after, Khan got a standing eight count after he touched the canvas with his glove. And just a few moments later in the fourth round, Khan was sent down for a third rime with a swift left hook, he same punch that Prescott knocked him out with. Referee Kenny Bayless called for the fight. Khan had no chance against Garcia and he lost his status as an elite pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Garcia was the one who became a star as the expense of Khan’s jaw.

Khan had become obsessed with one fight. He hadn’t been making adjustments to his strategy and it ended very badly.

The Second Rebound

But maybe that loss is what he needed to really get his career to the next level. Immediately after that loss Khan once again changed trainers, going from Roach to defensive strategist Virgil Hunter, who trains the best boxers in the sport now, like Andre Ward.

While still remaining aggressive, Amir Khan significantly improved his defense when he started training with Virgil Hunter, becoming a much more well-rounded fighter.

While still remaining aggressive, Amir Khan significantly improved his defense when he started training with Virgil Hunter, becoming a much more well-rounded fighter.

Roach taught Khan how to be a fighter, but Hunter taught Khan how to become a great fighter with a style that is a much better fit for a guy with a vulnerable jaw. And considering the elite group of fighters have both speed and power, Khan needed to learn how to protect himself better.

Since teaming with Hunter, Khan has won five-straight fights with wins over four-straight world champions in Julio Diaz, Luis Collazo, Devon Alexander and most recently Chris Algieri.

Khan has shown more patience with Hunter and is not throwing himself into as much danger as he once did with his offensive attack. He just looks far more complete now.

And with his winning streak, Khan put himself back in the sweepstakes to get a fight against Mayweather. When Mayweather announced he would have his final fight last fall, Khan was the clear choice actually. He was thought to be a shoe-in and the contract would only be a formality.

But instead, Andre Berto got the fight out of nowhere. Mayweather choose to give a close personal friend a mass payday instead of giving Khan the deserved shot at him. Luckily, Mayweather doesn’t seem to be fully retired. Mayweather has recently said that a comeback is possible. He’s started to file trademarks on things with the number 50 in it, which would be his win total if he comes back and is victorious one more time.

But once again, Khan needs one massive win to force the issue for a fight against Mayweather.

Now Canelo

Amir Khan might seem like a filler opponent for Canelo Alvarez, but despite his massive underdog status he is one of the most dangerous fighters Canelo has ever faced.

Amir Khan might seem like a filler opponent for Canelo Alvarez, but despite his massive underdog status he is one of the most dangerous fighters Canelo has ever faced.

While Khan was jilted by Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez, a former Mayweather opponent who came closer than anybody to beating him, rose to star status in the boxing world. Alvarez took fights against anybody he possibly could to become a main event attraction while Khan was only looking for one big opponent.

At only 25-years-old, Alvarez has massive victories over Shane Mosley, Josesito Lopez, Austin Trout, Erislandy Lara, James Kirkland and Miguel Cotto; a massive resume that has made him the biggest star of the sport in the post-Mayweather/Pacquiao era.

Last November, Alvarez powered through Cotto to win the WBC World middleweight championship and set himself up for a possible super fight against Gennady Golovkin later in the year. And just proof that he is willing to fight anybody and everybody, while GGG fought the unknown Dominic Wade in his holdover fight, he’s fighting a man like Khan.

Khan is very dangerous, but still is a massive underdog as he goes up two weight classes to fight a very powerful opponent. Alvarez can potentially become the biggest Pay Per View draft in the sport if he were to beat Khan on Saturday and then GGG later in the year. That would also make him an impossible person to overlook as a potential return opponent for Mayweather, who wants to make sure he keeps his perfect record, but also understands that making well over $150 million for a fight is the top priority.

Khan can do the same too. He might be fighting a much bigger opponent with endless power in both hands who loves to throw hooks, especially left hooks, but it’s a chance to fast track himself back to the top of the boxing world where everybody was so sure he was headed.

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Damon Sloan

Staff Writer
Damon Has been an athlete his entire life. He started playing basketball when he was three-years-old and played competitively all the way through his high school years. He had a chance to pursue a collegiate basketball career but chose to focus on getting his education. Damon knew he wanted to be around sports and he was always interested in knowing statistics about players and could separate the good players from the bad. Growing up his mother called him the "stat king" because he could tell you any statistic about any player. Damon wants to be versatile in writing not just for basketball, but for football, boxing, and mixed martial arts. One thing that may separate Damon from other journalists is that he isn't just knowledgeable about basketball, but he played at a high level for years and still continues to play today, which helps him mold his knowledge of the game.

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