by Paul Magno
When Amir Khan crashed to the canvas against crude Colombian puncher, Breidis Prescott in 2008, it became painfully obvious that the UK’s Olympic silver medalist needed to make some fundamental changes in his approach to the sport.
Khan made all the right moves after that fifty-four second KO shocker. He hired trainer, Freddie Roach, moved his training camps to the US, and fought a couple of transitional bouts before stepping up in class and grabbing for his first world title.
Too quick and athletic for defending WBA jr. welterweight titlist, Andriy Kotelnik, Khan took the belt via easy unanimous decision. The mega-orthodox boxer from the Ukraine never got a real chance to put up much of a fight and simply couldn’t deal with a Khan in full motion, minus the glaring technical flaws from his pre-Roach days. While hardly dominant, Khan’s performance was decisive and the product of a 22-year-old phenom who looked to, finally, be developing into the multi-dimensional star his talents always suggested.
After a first round blow-out of club-level, Dmitriy Salita, Khan made his US debut at Madison Square Garden, battering and eventually stopping former champ, Paulie Malignaggi in eleven rounds. Billed as his toughest fight to date, Khan passed the test with flying colors and cracked the Top 5 in a loaded 140 lb. class. As impressive as he executed, though, the truth was that Khan had the edge in speed, size, and strength and Malignaggi, despite always putting in an honest effort, was a fighter on the decline who had not decisively beaten a top jr. welterweight in over three years. Any questions remaining about Khan were supposed to be answered next by heavy-handed Argentine slugger, Marcos Maidana, the complete antithesis of Malignaggi.
Labeled by some as a Fight of the Year candidate, Khan took an early advantage, based mostly on his massive edge in speed (plus a monstrous body shot that dropped Maidana in the first) and then desperately held on to the points lead as Maidana began to hurt him late in the fight.
Instead of answering questions, the Maidana win only brought out more doubts as Khan showed his defensive repertoire to still consist of two attributes: foot speed and desperation. As the Argentine’s wide punches began to land on a slowed-down Khan, the fighter from Bolton had no answer other than to run down the clock and survive the last three rounds. If not for the early points lead, Khan would’ve been forced to open up later in the bout and, likely, would’ve been stopped.
A clumsy technical decision win over southpaw, Paul McCloskey followed, highlighted by Khan’s obvious discomfort with having to adapt and deal with the awkward Irishman.
Now, Amir Khan faces a legitimately tough test this Saturday in IBF jr. welterweight titlist, Zab Judah– a fighter who doesn’t fall too far behind Khan in any area, and actually exceeds him in some.
In Judah, Khan will see the amalgamation of his last three opponents, the perfect mix of their strong points and attributes that gave him the most trouble. Judah is a southpaw who can move as well as Malignaggi and hit nearly as hard as Maidana. Factor in more than a decade at the elite level of the sport, plus an apparent new-found dedication to his craft, and the Brooklyn-born four-time world champ becomes a truly dangerous foe, especially if he can avoid his trademark lapses in concentration.
As for Khan, we know what he has– Supreme hand and foot speed, thudding power, and world class athleticism. What we don’t know is whether he will finally put all the pieces together at the same time or if he will continue to wear the label of a top fighter who is still less than the sum of his parts.
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