The exalted Amir Khan was finally put in his place this past Saturday in his bout with Danny Garcia. Garcia was basically unknown until he got paired against a very old and shopworn Erik Morales in April. While that fight did showcase some of Garcia’s talent, it also convinced Morales to retire. Garcia should have done well against Morales because of his youth and because Garcia is a good, but not great, all-around fighter. The fight with Khan further supported that analysis as Garcia took significant punishment in the first two rounds and received a bad cut above the eye, unable to match Khan’s speed and precision.
When I first watched Amir Khan rising from his relative obscurity as a somewhat cautious fighter, developing his mostly conservative fighting style after being knocked out by Breidis Prescott, I was very optimistic about his potential. He showed impressive natural ability and seemed on his way to refining those abilities into formidable talent. At his weight, of course, I had to consider the possibility that he could rival Mayweather or Pacquiao. When he began training with Freddie Roach the possibility became more than theoretical; it was undeniable. He was fast and had technical boxing ability paired with power. It wasn’t long, though, before it began to seem as if his reputation had gone to his head.
In the fights following his recovery from his first knockout loss, Khan became increasingly sloppy with his fight plan. Putting his cautious tactics aside, Khan fought for the roar of the crowds, unleashing multi-punch combinations whether he was in good position or not. He looked good against Malignaggi and Maidana, but took punishment. It only got worse from there as he went on to other opponents, lazily firing reckless combinations against McCloskey and Judah whenever the opponent was close enough to touch. McCloskey is a very flawed fighter and stylistically helpless against a fighter like Khan. Judah, on the other hand, was getting old and had always underperformed against fighters who could come anywhere near matching his speed.
Khan’s carelessness finally caught up with him when Lamont Peterson beguiled his hometown crowd into believing he deserved a win for fighting so hard. Peterson probably shouldn’t have won that fight, especially now that we know he was likely on steroids of some kind, but he wouldn’t have if Khan had any regard for technique. The fight against Garcia led him down that same road of temptation as he wallowed in the crowd’s appreciation for his quick combinations and the ease with which he could touch Garcia’s bloody face. We already knew his chin was less than solid; I don’t know that anyone needed further evidence. Now ESPN has posted an article implying that there is some absurdity in the notion that Khan could ever be in line for a fight with Mayweather after this second knockout loss. Yet if the fight had continued on as it had in the first couple rounds, Garcia would have been vanquished in spectacular fashion and fans would be clamoring for a showdown between Khan and a top level fighter. The result of the Garcia fight could not have changed Khan’s actual abilities, except to possibly encourage him to further ignore technical fundamentals if he won, and further emulate stablemate Manny Pacquiao. Khan was never going to be Pacquiao, nor was he going to be competitive in a fight against any of the pound-for-pound best fighters. He does, however, qualify as an record-padding opponent for an elite fighter. Khan will always be near the top of his division because of his natural abilities and he can augment that status by reapplying himself to his technique. Some are going so far now as to suggest that Khan should retire, but nothing has changed. Garcia’s style happened to match up well enough with Khan’s that he could rely on raw power to get the job done, but does anyone really expect Danny Garcia to win many of his title defenses? The knockout no more makes Khan a shot fighter than it makes Garcia a pound-for-pound contender.