5 Key Questions That Will Decide Amir Khan vs. Luis Collazo
After a year of inactivity, Amir Khan returns to the ring on Saturday night in Las Vegas for a bout against Luis Collazo that he simply must win to secure his future as a top-level fighter.
As previously discussed, Collazo is a strangely risky fight for Khan—he's an opponent who is capable of beating him but over whom victory is not so meaningful that it would guarantee the desired opportunity to face Floyd Mayweather.
In the last month the mood has gone against Khan with odds on a Collazo victory literally halving, from an opening 5-1 to a current best price of 5-2, per Oddschecker.
Khan is still the clear favourite, but the feeling out there seems to be that this will be a tougher assignment than his team might have been expecting.
Collazo, 33, is coming off what is in theory a career-best performance over Victor Ortiz, although the questions over Ortiz's commitment to the sport do leave an asterisk to that.
After the win over Ortiz in January, Showtime announcer Paulie Malignaggi, who grew up with Collazo in Brooklyn, told Sky Sports that it was no surprise, adding—"I know Luis is a quality fighter."
Amir Khan will give Collazo the perfect opportunity to show just how good he is on the big stage as they provide the chief support to Mayweather and Marcos Maidana.
Here are five key questions that will decide this fight.
1. Just How Good Is Collazo's Power?
The old adage that in boxing you are only as good as your last fight can work with you or against you. Collazo scored a second-round stoppage of a well-known fighter in his last fight against Victor Ortiz, so suddenly he's being talked up as something of a puncher.
But does that really stack up? Collazo has 18 stoppages across 35 wins, which is pretty much bang average for the welterweight division. Marcos Maidana has 31 stoppages from the same number of wins.
If you look closely you find that in fights scheduled for 10 or 12 rounds, i.e. higher-level encounters, Collazo has only two wins by stoppage—Ortiz and a 2005 win over Miguel Angel Gonzalez, a fighter who peaked 10 years previously two weight divisions lighter.
And yet, when presented with the chance in January against a talented but vulnerable fighter in Ortiz, Collazo could hardly have gotten the job done more convincingly.
In that fight, Collazo was measuring up his opponent from the opening bell and used his greater experience of southpaw versus southpaw matchups to land the tighter and ultimately decisive right hook with seconds left in the round.
Even so, Ortiz is a guy who after seemingly giving up in a 2009 fight with Maidana, said, "I'm not gonna go out on my back ... I don't know whether I deserve to be getting beat up like this."
You therefore have to question if Collazo showed true knockout power against Ortiz or if he simply landed a punch which made Vicious Victor go down and not want to get back up again.
Breidis Prescott and Danny Garcia have stopped Amir Khan early in fights, and Julio Diaz dropped him last time out but ultimately lost on points. Collazo needs to be packing power nearer to Garcia's than Diaz's to score the upset KO that many are foreseeing.
2. Has Trainer Virgil Hunter Improved Khan?
After losing to Danny Garcia in July 2012, Amir Khan changed trainers from Freddie Roach, who is best known for working with Manny Pacquiao, to Virgil Hunter, who is best known for working with Andre Ward.
Roach did a successful rebuilding job with Khan after his first pro defeat to Breidis Prescott, capturing the WBA light welterweight title against Andriy Kotelnik before adding the IBF belt by stopping Zab Judah.
However, perhaps most notably in a win over Marcos Maidana, Khan seemed to be ignoring Roach's fight plans, preferring to mix it up on the inside and putting himself at risk of counters.
That problem came to a head when Danny Garcia timed Khan and knocked him down three times on the way to a fourth-round win nearly two years ago.
Whether or not Roach was falling short or Khan was simply not listening to him, a change of trainer seemed like a reasonable idea.
Whereas Roach is respected most for his offensive work, new man Hunter is seen as a defensive expert. Even so, in the first test of the Khan-Hunter team, the Englishman tasted the canvas against Julio Diaz last year—and Diaz was not seen as a puncher at the weight.
More worryingly, Khan at times looked caught between the Roach style and whatever style Hunter had been coaching and never really appeared that fluid or convincing.
Hunter has had a year since then in which Khan has spent more time with him in the U.S. The fighter told the Daily Mail recently:
Through the last few months I've been focusing on improving myself and adding certain things to my game. Because I didn't have an opponent lined up and I wasn't fighting I had the time to look at myself and work on things I wanted to work on.
On May 3rd I'm going to put that all into practice on the biggest stage and not only beat Collazo but look to beat him in real style.
Khan will need to be better than he was against Diaz to beat Collazo, and Saturday night will be the measure of how much, if at all, he has improved with Hunter's help.
3. Is Collazo Back to His Best?
Before the Ortiz fight, Luis Collazo's career-best performance was probably the 2006 fight with Ricky Hatton when he dropped a close decision as the British light welterweight world champion tested the waters at welterweight.
In his other two fights at the top level, Collazo lost a wide decision to Shane Mosley in 2007 and another close one to the then-unbeaten Andre Berto in 2009. His most recent defeat came again by decision to Freddy Hernandez in 2011.
For the past two-and-a-half years Collazo has been fairly inactive, only boxing four times. In the Ortiz fight he came out looking fresh and rejuvenated, but with only two rounds to go on, there's only so much that can be read into that outing.
Having just turned 33, Collazo is at an age where you could write a fighter with five losses off as a has-been, but he is young enough that he could conceivably return from his wilderness years to compete at the highest level again.
Collazo would need to be at his best to stand a chance of beating Khan and—like the Collazo of the Hatton fight who came off the canvas to cause the favoured fighter problems—dogged, tough and awkward to read.
A lack of promotional backing from 2011-2013 kept the Brooklyn fighter out of the public eye, but that didn't mean he was finished, as he proved against Ortiz.
In truth, the Ortiz fight probably proved more about Victor Ortiz than Luis Collazo. We will have to wait and see if the 33-year-old is truly firing on all cylinders once more or if the Ortiz fight was just two big rounds pulled out of the fire in front of a rabid home crowd by an aged fighter.
4. Can Khan Keep His Concentration for 12 Rounds?
The Breidis Prescott fight back in 2008 proved what many had already suspected—Amir Khan does not have world-class punch resistance and can be hurt and even stopped by anyone with better-than-decent power.
In his first world title fight against Kotelnik, Khan fought a disciplined and careful fight, pretty much shutting out the underrated Ukrainian.
After another impressive win against Paulie Malignaggi, Khan looked to have turned a corner, perhaps as the similarly chinny Wladimir Klitschko had done after fighting Sam Peter.
But next against Marcos Maidana, Khan nearly let a big points advantage slip when he was badly hurt in the 10th round and came close to being stopped.
At that time Maidana was a seriously limited fighter, and a boxer of Khan's talent should simply never have offered him the opportunity to work his way into the fight. That was the precursor to what was to come and the devastating stoppage defeat to Danny Garcia.
Garcia is a first-class boxer, but even then Khan was getting caught overextended and entering into exchanges from which he should have stayed out.
There are very real questions about Khan's ability to stick to his game plan, and things only get exacerbated because his instinct once hurt is to throw back rather than to retreat.
Everybody knows that Khan is eager to put on a show against Collazo to put himself in the shop window to fight Mayweather, and that could be his downfall.
There's too much for Khan to lose by fighting an expansive fight—he needs to use his speed to land and get out of range. If his mixes it up too much or simply loses concentration he could get knocked out.
5. Will Khan Be Stronger at Welterweight?
After Khan's first KO loss he made the move from lightweight to light welterweight and made that move successfully. Now after his first KO loss at light welterweight against Garcia, Khan makes his full welterweight debut on Saturday.
Some boxing theorists believe you can't improve punch resistance, but Khan did look more resilient against Marcos Maidana as a light-welter than he had against Breidis Prescott at lightweight.
Now he hopes to repeat that trick by jumping a weight class again. It should be noted that Khan was only 22 when he moved to 140 pounds, and now, aged 27, it is not unreasonable to think he has naturally settled in to the higher weight at 147 pounds.
As well as Khan's ability to take a punch, there is his ability to land hurtful shots. There is no doubt that that extra seven pounds, well harnessed, should put extra snap in Khan's blows. A heavier frame coupled with Khan's blistering speed could be a potent force.
Luis Collazo has only been stopped once, and that came in his rookie year way back in 2002. Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton and Andre Berto were unable to repeat that trick in their fights.
As such, Khan by decision or Collazo by stoppage look the most likely outcomes to this fight. But if Khan has truly grown into the welterweight frame and can land the kind of body shots that hurt Marcos Maidana and Lamont Peterson, you could envisage a blockbuster finish for the Bolton fighter.
Khan has talked up his prospects at the higher weight, and come fight night we will learn if there was genuine room for improvement in jumping classes or if the move to welterweight was just a desperation move from a fighter unable to make the necessary adjustments to his game.
For Amir Khan and Luis Collazo, the answers to these five key questions could prove life-changing and career-defining.