Amir Khan is exciting. He just is. Like a more together Victor Ortiz, you can really never tell what's going to happen in a Khan fight. There are no DQs or headbutts or "sucker punch" knockouts in his past, but both of them have that thing where it feels like a fight could change or even end at any second, no matter how it's been going.
Khan (29-3, 19 KO) returns to action on December 13, with Floyd Mayweather potentially in his sights for 2015. Let's take a look at where Khan is been and where he's going.
Five Best Wins
- Marcos Maidana (2010-12-11)
- Andriy Kotelnik (2009-07-18)
- Zab Judah (2011-07-23)
- Paulie Malignaggi (2010-05-15)
- Luis Collazo (2014-05-03)
I don't think there's any question that Maidana is Khan's best victory to date, for a number of reasons. Since that fight, Maidana has elevated himself (even with three losses), and has become a force at welterweight. He was good enough to get two fights with Floyd Mayweather this year, and gave Floyd some difficulties both times out.
But most notable about Khan-Maidana, for me, is that that was a fight that supposedly Khan (1) wouldn't take, and (2) would be steered away from. If his handlers tried (2), they may have been surprised that (1) was not the case. Khan fought Maidana, who seemed all wrong for him. A heavy puncher with a relentless style, Maidana was favored by Khan's critics to crack his chin and knock him out.
That didn't happen. Khan hit Maidana with a body shot in round one that floored the Argentine brawler, and it was the level of body shot that would have stopped just about anyone else. Since Maidana is akin to the Terminator, he managed to get up and continue fighting. And then, as the fight wore on, he poured on the pressure and had Khan in a ton of trouble down the stretch.
But did Khan fold? Nope. He hung in, fighting stupidly at times, and managed to pull out a decision win, which he completely deserved. It's one of the underrated great fights of recent years, I think.
As for Khan's personal best outing, I think that might still be his 2009 win over Andriy Kotelink. Working with Freddie Roach, Khan fought smart for 12 rounds, showcasing the skills and speed and ability to dictate range that could have kept him from some losses at other points in his career. Kotelnik was a good fighter, and Khan shut him down over 12 rounds.
Zab Judah was sort of a mix of the Maidana and Kotelnik wins. Like Maidana, Judah had the power to potentially hurt Khan or knock him out, and with his hand speed, that could have come from anywhere, unlike Maidana, whose approach was simple and predictable. But Khan smoked Judah, out-quicking him and beating him to the punch en route to a fifth round body shot knockout that Judah claimed was a low blow.
Malignaggi might have been at a better career point in 2010 than Judah was in 2011, but Paulie was more tailor made for Khan. Without any punching power, Paulie was going to have to out-box Khan, and unlike many of his fights, Malignaggi had no real advantages. He wasn't quicker, he wasn't the more skilled boxer to a large degree. Paulie has thrived over his career by being he's a good tactical fighter and very sound technically, with hand speed and ring IQ that help make up for the brittle hands that robbed him of power. Khan smashed him, though -- he was faster, stronger, and better.
Khan's official welterweight debut earlier this year against Collazo turned into a wipeout. Going in, many of us (myself included) felt Collazo could be a tricky test. He's a smart fighter, very crafty, a southpaw, a veteran who's been in with top guys like Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton, and Andre Berto, and he'd just come off of a knockout of Victor Ortiz. Displaying enough power to drop Ortiz repeatedly meant that Khan certainly faced some danger, what with that bad chin of his. But Khan did his job and routed Collazo, dropping the New Yorker three times. It was a totally one-sided fighter that, to me, was pretty impressive work from Khan, even if not very exciting. Collazo is no worldbeater to be sure, but he's not a chump, either. Khan had to be on his game, and he was.
When Breidis Prescott clipped Amir Khan with a left hook and Khan's legs went into a dancing spasm, it was over. Still braver than smart at the time, and possibly having bought into his own hype, Khan didn't protect himself or clinch or get out of the way when Prescott hurt him. He all but threw himself into the mouth of the lion. A right hand, another left hook, and down went Khan.
It was over then, but referee Terry O'Connor gave Amir the chance to come back. It was futile. Khan was on queer street and couldn't adjust his tactics even if he'd wanted to, which led to Prescott decking him again, this time for a full count of 10.
Khan's chin had been questioned plenty before Prescott knocked him out on September 6, 2008, but the then-unknown Colombian finished the job, unlike Willie Limond, a light puncher who had floored Khan in 2007, or Michael Gomez, a tough battler who had dropped Khan just three months prior.
Prescott wasn't known, but anyone with 17 stoppage wins in 19 fights has to be considered at least a little dangerous, and Prescott was thought to be at least a little dangerous. Looking back at it now, with the aid of knowledge and years of analysis, Prescott had just beaten Richar Abril in Florida on June 27, a little over two months before he fought Khan. It was a split decision, and even if perhaps Prescott didn't deserve the win (I've never seen the fight, I don't know), that's pretty good. Abril currently holds a lightweight world title.
It was a devastating loss for Khan, but ultimately helped him improve. He moved to trainer Freddie Roach after that, tuning up with a win in December over Oisin Fagan, and then fighting Marco Antonio Barrera in March 2009, a fight that didn't really need to happen, as Barrera was no lightweight, and was flat-out finished at that point, too. But those were important fights for Khan, who got right back into the ring and moved forward with his career. He didn't sit for six months and wallow in the Prescott loss. He was back fighting three months later, and stayed busy. Over the next couple of years, he went on a nice run and made real improvements.
He next lost in December 2011, in an incredibly controversial fight against Lamont Peterson. Peterson had hometown advantage in Washington, D.C., and referee Joe Cooper chose that night to make sure the world knew Joe Cooper. Cooper enforced boxing rules to a degree we never see. Khan lost points for pushing in rounds seven and 12, which ultimately cost him the fight. He won one card, 115-110, and lost the other two on scores of 113-112. Without those two points for pushing, he'd have won the fight.
Seven months later, Khan was back and was knocked out in round four by Danny Garcia, who had twice dropped him in round three. Khan's defenders maintain it was a lucky punch, but whatever it was, he lost. He was stopped in four rounds.
Up Next and Beyond
Khan's ultimate goal is to fight Floyd Mayweather, a bout he truly believes he can win. Amir sees Floyd slipping (he is), and believes he's got the hand speed (he does) to trouble Floyd (maybe) and to beat him. I don't think I question whether or not Khan is faster than Floyd at this point. I believe he is. But Floyd's timing is such that it's perhaps negligible. And Mayweather's as accurate as they come still.
But that's a whole other ball of wax. First up, Khan has to face Devon Alexander on December 13, and that's not a gimme. Alexander lost a year ago to Shawn Porter, and rebounded in June of this year with a win over Jesus Soto Karass. Devon has off nights and on nights. Sometimes he loses to Porter, sometimes he smokes Maidana. Sometimes he gets gifts against Matthysse and Kotelnik, sometimes he sleepwalks through a win over Randall Bailey. This wasn't as complex in reality as my initial thought. Let's move on.
Alexander is a southpaw with speed, uses the ring well when he's on his game, and has enough power to keep Khan honest, at the very least. He's not Maidana or Prescott or Judah in terms of being a danger to Khan, but he's a harder puncher than Malignaggi was, and with his speed, he could land a shot Khan doesn't see coming. That's when Khan really gets hurt, like most everyone. But Amir also doesn't recover particularly well. His brain tells him to engage. Then he gets hurt.
Khan will be favored, and probably should be. But this is pretty close to a 50-50 fight. Amir has changed trainers multiple times, made adjustments multiple times, and then he always has the same flaws. When push comes to shove, fighters are who they are, especially veterans like Amir Khan. You hope to fix what gets him in trouble, but if it happens, the natural inclinations Khan has will almost certainly remain.
If he does beat Alexander, then Khan is right in line to fight Floyd Mayweather. Mayweather-Pacquiao is reportedly a serious discussion right now, but if/when that falls apart, Khan would be next in line should he beat Alexander. He's knocking on the door of the fight he's been dreaming of landing. But he's been here before, too, and one time he lost to Lamont Peterson, and another time he chose to skip a fight with Alexander last year, which led to Marcos Maidana making a statement against Adrien Broner and getting the fight instead.
Will he get there this time? We'll find out. That was really a statement I just made.