After coming through another exciting battle against the brave and durable Samuel Vargas on Saturday night, Amir Khan gave us the biggest indication yet that he is beginning to understand his limitations inside the ring.
Glancing at the 119-108, 119-109, 118-110 scorecards from the Arena Birmingham fails to paint the picture of a testing fight for Khan, now 33-4, in his second fight back after a long layoff.
Knocking the Canadian-Colombian down in the second round followed the narrative we had been sold before this fight: an easy 4-6 rounds were expected as the Bolton boy cruised to a comfortable stoppage over the limited 29-year-old. However, Vargas had different ideas.
After knocking down his rival in the second, Khan got lazy with his left hand, taking a sizeable overhand right from Vargas toward the end of the same round. Khan, as we’ve seen many times before, hit the canvas with a thud, before rising to his feet to see out the remaining few seconds of the round.
Khan dropped Vargas again in the third and followed by taking his foot off the gas in the remainder of the fight, still looking susceptible to a winning punch from Vargas.
Opinions were split post-fight. A successful night for Khan? This could be argued either way. What became clear, however, in the post-fight ring interview is that Khan, perhaps, is finally seeing himself through the eyes of his adoring fans.
Khan spoke, alluding to his preference of fighting the 39-year-old Manny Pacquiao instead of Kell Brook: “The only fight that works for me over Kell Brook is Manny Pacquiao. I want him. He is my number one pick.”
I have no strong opinions on Amir Khan either way; a position often hard to admit in this world of social media interrogation into every avenue of sport stars lives. This being said: I have always loved watching him fight. From devastating KOs to Prescott and Canelo; a masterclass against Maidana; dancing legs and heart against Garcia; now shock knockdowns against Vargas, Khan has always delivered for us fans in the ring, and has always wanted to test himself against the best.
But as fans, we have seen his vulnerabilities, as well as his flaws. I’m not certain that until now Khan has joined us in this view.
A fight with Pacquaio doesn’t offer up the same risk as Khan’s other options at welterweight. Keith Thurman, Errol Spence Jr., Terence Crawford, Shawn Porter: the champions at 147-pounds would have no issues in repeatedly finding the whiskers of Khan throughout the 12 rounds.
Pac-man is still a threat, but with his recent stoppage over a shot Lucas Matthysse his only win inside the distance since 2009, Khan is eyeing up the Filipino as a fighter on a similar decline. Worldwide, the Pacquiao-Khan fight is still huge; much bigger than Brook-Khan. The UK and Matchroom are pushing Brook-Khan as the only possible fight.
If Khan stopped Vargas in the second round on Saturday night, perhaps we would have seen a different reaction post-fight. With the adrenaline pumping of a KO victory, Khan may well have called Brook into the ring to verbally agree on the domestic showdown for later this year. However, the way the fight materialised may have been the lightbulb moment for Khan in the twilight of his career.
”King” Khan can’t afford another knockout loss if he is to reap what is left in the sport for him. Fighting Pacquiao offers him a worldwide stage, a huge payday and a lowered risk of ending the fight unconscious. It may be frustrating, but Khan may finally be seeing himself through the eyes of his fans. An entertainer, if not flawed.