Few boxers face the constant scrutiny Amir Khan is subjected to. While Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao have become globally recognized crossover stars, many fans and writers had pegged Khan for such a lofty status, not withstanding his already rabid following in the United Kingdom.
On Saturday, Danny Garcia (24-0, 15 KO) stopped Khan (26-3, 18 KO) in the fourth round of their junior welterweight unification fight in what amounted to a significant upset. Naturally, given how Khan was floored multiple times, the questions regarding his suspect chin, which are omnipresent every time he fights, are again at the forefront in the post-fight discussions about Khan’s stunning defeat.
Garcia deserves full credit for his resilient performance and spectacular finish, but any discussion about Khan’s imminent demise or general legitimacy is premature.
Before getting into the specifics of Khan-Garcia, it must first be pointed out that the fight was part of an important bounce-back weekend for boxing. In light of recent steroid scandals and dubious decisions, this past weekend produced two entertaining fight cards with spectacular main events: David Haye-Dereck Chisora and, of course, Khan-Garcia.
It seems that boxing is stuck in a perpetual healing process where Band-Aids are being applied to massive flesh wounds, and it is because of fighters like Khan that boxing can, and will, continue to take steps forward.
The first reason to like Khan is because of his obvious class, and his dazzling array of skills were on display over the first two-and-a-half rounds of his fight against Garcia. Khan’s hand speed and fleet movement were evident, and he landed his straight right hand at will.
Even as Khan continuously beat Garcia to the punch, the fight featured furious exchanges, and the lingering memories of Khan having been floored and stopped in the past made every flurry and counter shot by both fighters meaningful and possibly fight-ending.
Had Khan chosen to work behind his jab and his stinging right hand, he could have likely cruised to a unanimous decision. However, it is this dilemma and paradoxical fighting style that is at the core of the enigmatic Khan. Of course, it is fair to criticize Khan for choosing to stand in the pocket with Garcia and go for the knockout. With his superior speed and skills, Khan could easily revert to being a cautious boxer whose primary focus is to protect his most glaring weakness.
“Caution,” however, doesn’t seem to enter Amir Khan’s vocabulary, and it is his aggression, heart and fighting spirit that make him such a compelling boxer.
What the Khan debate boils down to is expectations. Is Khan one day going to reach the absolute pinnacle of the sport the way Mayweather and Pacquiao have? After losing to Garcia, the easy answer is “no,” though at 25, Khan will have plenty of opportunities to make amends.
Fans and writers also need to think about how many fighters actually reach the level of Mayweather or Pacquiao. Boxers who become transcendent crossover stars or cultural icons are few and far between, and it is perfectly reasonable if Khan does not ascend to that level. If Khan falls short of being the next Pacquiao or De La Hoya, he shouldn’t be considered a failure.
The fact is that Khan will remain a championship-level fighter for years to come, and it seems perfectly plausible to expect him to have another significant title reign in (perhaps) multiple weight classes. Obviously, the precise nature of Khan’s future success is mere conjecture and up for debate, but regardless of what happens, people will be watching.
It is Khan’s combination of sublime skills and natural ability, coupled with the omnipresent threat of being knocked out that will continue to make him the principal draw in most of his fights.
Danny Garcia deserves immense credit for knocking Khan out, but it has to be noted that Khan’s aggressiveness, disproportionately large heart and slugging instinct were key factors that contributed to his demise. All of Khan’s fights carry an element of the sublime, but it is the undercurrent of collapse that makes his moments of brilliance all the more memorable.
Writers and fans should not write off Amir Khan. While he might not become an all-time great, Khan represents everything that is right with boxing: He’ll fight anyone, he’ll take less money to make significant fights, he’ll travel to his opponent’s backyard and he’s absolutely thrilling to watch.
So, while no athlete should be immune to reasonable criticism, let’s not forget to acknowledge Amir Khan’s virtues and be excited for his future prospects—even if they involve more defeats.