A Bit of Backstory
There is a lot more at stake in this bout than the "Silver Belt" (let's be honest do most people care/even know what the silver belt is?). This bout is intriguing because, for both Khan and Alexander, a loss at this point in their careers would be devastating.
Amir Khan was once the hottest prospect in boxing. The British-Pakistani boxer won an Olympic silver medal at age 17 and was adored by British fans for his blistering hand speed and fan-friendly, high volume combination punching. After a successful 18-0 start to his professional career in Europe, Khan stepped up to the world stage and found himself staring blankly at the ring lights after eating a crushing left hook from the then-unbeaten Breidis Prescott. He would eventually move up to light welterweight, beating the likes of Paulie Malinaggi, Marcos Maidana, and Zab Judah, but after controversial split decision loss to Lamont Peterson and a scary knockout in the hands of Danny Garcia, Khan moved up in weight again to try his hand at welterweight.
Like Khan, Devon Alexander was once a great prospect with a stellar 300-10 amateur record and a 2004 Olympic hopeful. Upon turning professional, he has beaten some major names in boxing, the likes Randall Bailey, Marcos Maidana, and the hard-hitting Lucas Matthysse. However, his professional career is marred by some very controversial split decisions, the Andreas Kotelnik and the aforementioned Matthysse bouts coming to mind.
Alexander has struggled with fighting top competition, losing his light welterweight belt to Timothy Bradley and his welterweight title to Shawn Porter, and desperately needs a win against a competetive opponent to stay afloat in the cutthroat 147 pound division.
Both boxers are coming off of rebound matches against fighters outside of the welterweight top 20, and must put on dominating performances in order to prove that they still belong in talks of eventual challengers for Mayweather or Pacquiao.
Styles: Strengths and Weaknesses
Amir Khan's boxing game is built around his incredible hand speed and combination punching. He will probe with a long jab, and once he's established range, blitz forward with a 3-6 punch combination.
Khan (red trunks) finds his range with his jab, and then jumps in on Maidana with a flurry
Khan is not only good at mixing body punches into his combinations; he knows how to use his flurries to camouflage his body shots. In this sequence, Khan probes with his long jab, and, upon finding his range, leans away from Maidana's return jab to load up his back foot. He then springs off that to throw a beautiful three punch combination that ends with a left hook to the body, which drops the always-durable Marcos Maidana. What is beautiful about this combination is how Khan used the pressure of his flurry to force Maidana to cover up, reducing his vision and letting Khan drop him with a liver shot that he could not see. Khan uses his initial three punch flurry to test his opponent's reaction. If his opponent backs up or turtles up, Khan will continue the combination and mix up head and body shots nicely. If the flurry doesn't cause the opponent to back up, Khan will reset with his jab and wait to time another blitz.
While Amir Khan's speed makes his combination punching game so difficult to deal with, it is also contributes to his greatest weakness: a porous defense. Khan is most open during his initial blitz after he finds his range with his jab because his footwork, though improving, is nowhere near as fast or dexterous as his hands. While Khan can throw at multiple angles, he almost always springs at his target in a straight line when he is trying to close the distance, so while his hands are difficult to predict, his body is not.
Khan (dark green trunks) rushes straight into left hook
In this fight against Danny Garcia, Khan was initially causing Garcia difficulty with his speed, but Danny began to time his dashes, and met him with a clean left hook that put him on queer street.
The best time to hit Khan is actually during his combination, because Khan's speed and willingness to throw causes him to not properly guard his chin while his hands are cycling, leading to moments in the flurry when there is no blocking hand.
Note that at no point does Khan have a single hand blocking his chin during this initial rush, allowing Garcia's hook to land flush while Khan is literally throwing from the hip.
Recently, under the tutelage of Virgil Hunter, longtime coach of gold medalist and WBA Super Middleweight champion Andre Ward, Khan seems to have added more rough tactics to his game. While in the past, Khan would keep standing and trading blows, even if he was rocked, in the most recent fight with Luis Collazo, Khan demonstrated a very crafty control game.
Multiple times, Khan (white trunks) controls Collazo with one arm and hits with the other, separating before the referee intervenes
In this sequence, Khan first throws a looping overhand right that lands across Collazo's back. However, Khan uses his right to apply pressure to Collazo's back, holding him in place for some left uppercuts and then separating for a combination that pushes his opponent to the ropes. Khan then uses a left overhook on Collazo's right arm to pull him into uppercuts that quickly drop him. Khan further uses this grappling when Collazo dives in on him; he pushes hard down on the back of Collazo's head and neck to neutralize his offense and keep him in place for more uppercuts. The key to Khan's new control tactics, once again, his speed. Whereas someone like Mayweather uses the clinch more defensively to neutralize return fire; he'll often throw a lead right hand, clinch up with his opponent to prevent them from countering, and wait for the referee to make them break, Khan uses his control offensively. He grabs hold of the opponent long enough to line them up for power shots, and is quick enough to go before the referee intervenes, giving his opponent no time to reset and recover distance before Khan is on him again.
Devon Alexander has a very different style than Amir Khan. While Khan likes to keep a high stance and presses the action with fast combination blitzes, Alexander looks most comfortable baiting his opponent into overextending and countering.
Devon (black gloves) gets his opponent (Soto) to throw first and counters before they can pull back
In this sequence you can see Devon holds his hands very low to make greater use of his head and upper body movement to duck or slip punches. He uses his exposed head to bait Soto into jabbing low, and then counters with a left hand and jumps out of range, and then counters Soto with two more snapping jabs while avoiding Soto's offense.
Devon is most comfortable when he's allowed to control the distance and the pace of the fight. He does not throw very many combinations, but he possesses a very fast, snapping jab thrown from a very unorthodox angle by his hip. This hand position allows Devon to make greater use of his upper body positioning and pull back and counter more quickly. Alexander's most effective punch is probably his right lead uppercut. Fighting as a southpaw, Devon typically faces orthodox opponents, making his lead hand much closer to his opponent than in a same stance situation. He will either set up the uppercut with a left hand, or use the uppercut to open up the guard for a left straight down the middle.
Devon (red trunks) first uses a hook uppercut to set up a left straight, then uses a jab-left combo to set up an uppercut up the middle
Devon has a tendency too lean far to his right in order to throw a long uppercut up through the opponent's guard. While this gives him a better angle to between the guard, this also makes him very susceptible to left hooks and left hook setups from an orthodox fighter.
In this sequence, you see Devon (red and black trunks) begin to flick a right jab at Shawn Porter (blue trunks) but Porter uses the opportunity to time a left hook over Devon's shoulder because his jabbing hand not close enough to block the punch, so Alexander attempts to pull back and use his right shoulder to block the hook. This puts his head directly in the path of Porter's right hand. Due to his low hand stance, Devon also struggles with opponents that are persistent at working their way on the inside. As seen with both Timothy Bradley and Shawn Porter, if you pressure Alexander and step in when he jabs and counter with a left hook, you will catch him and break his rhythm because his right hand is by his hip.
Devon struggles with his offense when Porter steps in while he jabs, and eats a big left hook in the process
What To Look For
Khan vs. Alexander will be the most closely contested matchup of Saturday's three big welterweight fights. Devon Alexander will most likely try to dictate the pace with his jab and try to clinch if he can't counter Amir Khan's darting combinations. Meanwhile, we might continue to see Khan's evolving clinch and hit game, which should cause Alexander problems.
Especially if Khan continues to perfect his muay thai elbows