Amir Khan's loss on Saturday to Danny Garcia was one that surprised a lot of people, shocked some, and yet to others, didn't come as any major surprise.
After all, Khan had been in the loser's circle twice before, against Breidis Prescott and Lamont Peterson, so even though Garcia wasn't seen as an "elite" fighter, well, neither were the two guys Khan had lost to in the past.
When Khan lost to Prescott in 2008, he quickly regrouped, got rid of his team, and hired the world-renowned Freddie Roach, then considered almost universally the best trainer in boxing, and a guy who could take a talented but flawed fighter and make him something special. After all, that's what he'd done with Manny Pacquiao, once a one-handed brawler with monster power and good speed. He turned Pacquiao into a far more complete fighter, and led him to greatness.
When he lost to Peterson, he had a double-sided excuse. The referee had been biased, the commission had been biased, the judges were biased, and everyone got sick of hearing about that, but then Peterson failed a VADA drug test before their scheduled rematch, and admitted to using the testosterone pellets before their fight in December. This time, Khan really did have at least some argument for the loss not being legit.
This time, there's nothing he can really argue, and he's not trying. He admitted defeat in a press release, and isn't begging for a rematch, and isn't making a general ass of himself, which frankly he has done many times over. Khan is admirable in the ring, and with the fights he takes, but he definitely has a way of rubbing people wrong, and a lot of that is just ego. He's a very proud young man, and he's extremely (over)confident in his abilities.
But now that he's 25 years old and this losing thing has happened three times already, and none of those losses coming to someone that anyone thought going in was at the extreme top of the sport, isn't it about time for Amir Khan to seriously wonder what his future is in the sport?
I'm certainly not saying that Amir Khan is in some dire position compared to the average fighter, because he's not. Khan is great fun to watch in the ring, in part because he fights in such a risky fashion, ignoring both his weaknesses and his strengths so often, and trying to turn them the opposite direction. Khan almost dares opponents to test his fairly fragile chin (for an elite-level fighter, Khan is glass-chinned), and he gives up his natural gifts -- namely, speed and the ability to work behind a very good jab -- in order to turn himself into a warrior.
And I'm not saying Amir Khan is going to have trouble making money or finding fights, because he won't. He's well-known, his fights are good, he takes challenges constantly, and he's even got some "love him or hate him" quality, which can be a big help in marketing a fighter today.
What I wonder now is simple: How much more can Amir Khan take? Not how much more some other fighter could take in this situation. The other day I made what was intended to be a very loose comparison to Arturo Gatti, in that they both consistently displayed huge balls in the ring, but I don't know that Khan is Gatti in other ways. Gatti was an emotional guy who hated to lose, but he also seemed to accept losses in a way that a lot of fighters simply cannot, and he always came back out next time giving the same effort. Time and punishment caught up to Gatti in the ring, but his desire never, ever faded.
Khan was an Olympic silver medalist, an incredibly hyped prospect when he turned pro with Frank Warren, and before he'd ever really done anything, Golden Boy eagerly snapped him up to make him a star fighter in their stable.
More easily than some, I could see Khan's desire fading. It's never easy to lose, and even harder when you're supposed to win.
Khan handled the Prescott loss fairly well, overall. He seemed to not handle the Peterson loss well at all. And now he's at a fork in the road. He's got three directions he could go:
- He deals with this, and becomes the fighter he really can be, and that's a top-level guy. Wladimir Klitschko overcame a bad chin, too. Khan does have that level of natural talent. Whether he's smart enough is another story.
- He stays basically where he is: A good, entertaining fighter who was sold as something more than he actually is.
- He destructs, and burns out as quickly as he became a name fighter.
I really don't know what he'll do, because I don't know Khan's mental state right now. This is not the same for someone who has had the expectations, the hype, and the early fame that Amir Khan has experienced, as it is for someone like Carson Jones, who has nine losses on his record but has earned some notoriety against all odds. Same goes for someone like Gabriel Rosado, with five losses now a rising contender at 154 pounds. They haven't had the pressures and the backlash that Khan has had to endure. They weren't really expected to get where they are. Khan was expected to, quite frankly, be better than this.
Will he part with Freddie Roach? I think it's worth a consideration, at least. I'm not saying he should absolutely "fire" Freddie or just split amicably, but maybe he should. Maybe he needs something different -- not necessarily better, just different. Perhaps a call with his friend Joe Gallagher would be worth exploring. Khan has a lot of flaws, and I think that with all due respect to Freddie Roach, we can all agree that defense is not Roach's specialty, and Khan needs big time help there.
Thus far, I don't think there's any way to say that Amir Khan's professional career hasn't been a disappointment. He's a two-time world titlist at 140 pounds and has made a lot of money, but he also wasn't supposed to have lost three fights by 25, and certainly wasn't supposed to have lost to the guys he has. In every single fight Khan has lost, he was a heavy favorite. And if he doesn't make some serious adjustments, whatever they might be, I struggle to see Khan ever becoming more than he has been to date.
That will more than pay the bills. But it does not make for an elite fighter, and that's what he was supposed to be, what he was sold as, and what he has intended to be all along.
What Khan is and has been is good enough for me, to be clear. I like watching him fight. I just wonder if it's good enough for him, because that's what really matters.