Oli Goldstein is back at Bad Left Hook today to break down last night's Amir Khan vs Lamont Peterson fight, and the mistakes that Khan made leading to his loss in Washington, DC.
A number of critical factors cost Amir Khan his titles last night, from Lamont Peterson's dogged determination to win in front of his home crowd, to Joseph Cooper's over-intrusive refereeing. Yet the most telling reasons? Amir Khan's tactical naïveté, as well as his inability to learn the lessons of the Marcos Maidana fight twelve months ago this weekend.
In the aftermath of the fight, Khan blamed his loss on Cooper's willingness to deduct points for pushing - and sure, he probably did have reason to complain, with Cooper zealously punishing the Bolton man while overlooking Lamont Peterson's occasional low blows and rearing head. However, if Khan attributes his loss solely down to poor refereeing, he'll be overlooking some glaring technical faults that will only cost him further down the line.
Amir Khan cannot fight going backwards. This has been a problem all his career, and for all Freddie Roach's skills as a trainer, he hasn't been able to resolve Khan's most troublesome issue. It got him knocked out against Breidis Prescott, nearly cost him against Marcos Maidana, and finally enabled Lamont Peterson to edge out a decision last night.
This problem stems from a few other faults: namely, Khan's insistence on a high guard defence; his inability to slip and punch in counter; a tendency to run rather than move laterally; and finally, a leaky guard that just isn't tight enough. When he's on the front foot, these problems don't surface, and Khan looks like a true world beater. With his blinding hand speed and willingness to punch in combination, he can look really tremendous. However, his game largely fell down last night when Lamont Peterson was able to slip the shots and respond with his own.
After the first round, when Amir Khan looked positively brilliant, Peterson initiated a number of changes which were critical to him winning the fight. For starters, when Khan looked to launch into one of his blistering combinations, Peterson would punch with Amir, landing a few wide right hooks, a punch that Khan generally struggles to defend at the best of times. The effect of this was to make Khan more tentative. As such, the spots where he didn't throw grew larger, and Peterson was able and willing to capitalise on Khan's tentativeness.
What Amir Khan displayed last night was an inability to alter his game plan after Peterson changed the state of play. This partially falls down to a lack of ring IQ, but also a lack of technical know-how. He simply didn't know how to slip Peterson's punches or throw in counter. When Lamont launched his wide hooks, Amir would invariably retreat into a leaky shell defence, either unable or unwilling to throw straight uppercuts through the holes in Peterson's offense. Indeed, when Khan eventually hurt Lamont in round 9, that came as a consequence of one of the few times that Khan actually threw straight counters down the middle. However, for the most part, Amir would retreat into his shell defence and allow his opponent to follow him around the ring, without throwing punches.
This brings me on to Khan's movement. When he's on the front foot, he's able to throw punches and step to the side, constantly creating new angles from which he can launch combinations. However, his movement becomes incredibly basic when he's forced backwards by an opponent. This was a feature of the late rounds in the Maidana fight, and a prominent one throughout last night. Fighting in a shell defence, Khan already limits his ability to stem the flow of his opponent's offense; however, instead of moving laterally and looking to force his opponent off-balance, Khan's movement is limited to backtracking and running before resetting in his shell. This burns energy, looks bad to the judges, and meant that Peterson merely had to follow Khan around the ring before working him on the ropes. This followed a very similar pattern to that when Juan Manuel Lopez was proven to be technically insufficient on the back foot against Orlando Salido.
Finally - Khan's shell defence. Originally adopted to protect that weak chin, it appears to have become more of a hindrance than anything to Amir. It limits his ability to punch in counter; it encourages his opponent forward; but, most significantly, it is incredibly leaky. At times, Khan's arms don't appear to be tensed or tight when he's shelling up, which means that the kind of wide, looping punches which Maidana and latterly Peterson favoured were able to constantly come round the side and land; moreover, Amir doesn't seem to know how to block the uppercut. A guy as crude as Maidana could land that punch time and time again last year - it was only a matter of time, really, when someone with genuine skills like Lamont Peterson could capitalise on that glaring hole in Khan's defence.
So, what can Khan do? Well, he can either focus on fighting guys like Judah, who hang around on the outside and can't apply pressure - which he won't do - or, he'll go back to the Wild Card Gym and work on slipping punches, countering in response, and tightening up that guard. At the moment, Khan looks great against guys who fight exclusively on the outside - the likes of Malignaggi, Judah and Kotelnik, who can't keep up with his work rate or hand speed; however, when in with opponents such as Peterson or Maidana, who force Khan onto the back foot, he has no answers. Considering his awesome speed and reflexes, it's surprising that there isn't more emphasis on slipping punches and that Khan so vehemently sticks to the shell defence. His chin isn't as bad as first thought - and the Sky commentators picked up on his response to punches being worse when caught on the temple, rather than the chin - so it appears Freddie Roach will need to encourage Khan to release that shell and actually throw in counter.
These aren't unsolvable problems. However, as Khan moves toward the prime years of his career, the master trainer will need to start ironing out the flaws if Khan is to become the superstar he so craves.