You can find plenty of faults with the way Amir Khan managed his career heading into Saturday night’s middleweight championship showdown in Las Vegas against thudding Mexican hitter Canelo Alvarez.
The past several years have been mostly a mess.
Khan spent a good deal more time trolling the Floyd Mayweathers and Manny Pacquiaos of the world than proving himself in the ring, and that put him in line for much-deserved criticism.
He passed up significant fights in lieu of less dangerous ones because he didn’t want to risk his chances of landing one of the sport’s big fish. And he developed a reputation as a guy who wanted to talk his way to the top rather than fight his way there.
Nobody in the world expected the speedy but chin-challenged Brit to jump at the opportunity to fight Canelo—one of the sport’s brightest young stars two weight classes above him. Like a bolt from the blue, however, he jumped at the chance for a big fight, even one that posed significant risks.
You couldn’t find people willing to give him a chance against Canelo.
Khan said all the right things (what do you expect?), but even within his team, there must have been a sense that this particular mountain would be too steep and jagged for the fighter to make a successful climb.
And the fight played out exactly as we anticipated.
Whether you were watching at home on television or in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, we all had pretty much the same reaction to the end.
Please, God, let him be OK.
When Canelo connected on that picture-perfect right hand in the sixth round, set up by an equally beautiful feint with the left, Khan’s jaw imploded with the force of a sledgehammer crunching a light bulb.
The Brit, whom many (including yours truly) felt was up in the fight at the time, whiplashed back. His body and head bounced off the mat, and the blow left him sprawled with glassy eyes and what must have been an impressive view of the new arena’s lights.
It didn’t take referee Kenny Bayless more than a couple of seconds to wave his hands and declare fight over, and even Canelo, a babyfaced assassin if there ever was one, eschewed his celebration to kneel down and check on his defeated opponent.
Even he was concerned—and with good cause.
It was a scary scene.
Khan dared to be great by taking on Canelo. That’s something all too rare in boxing these days, with the sport dominated by too many businessmen looking to make big bucks fighting small challenges, and he paid dearly.
But he did it.
You can call it risky, foolish or just plain stupid, but Khan rolled the dice and took a chance he probably had no business taking. He had the guts to take a chance.
He put his money where his mouth was and found the right hand of a power puncher two weight classes north of his current one and three past his best in that mouth before the fight reached the midway point.
The loss will perhaps cause him lingering effects, both physical and mental, but it should bring him absolutely zero shame. And that’s because Khan earned more respect in defeat on Saturday night than Canelo did in being the one with his hand raised.
Coming up short while reaching for the stars could be just the type of bump his career needed.
A return to welterweight seems to be the best and most logical course for his career at this point. He’s still going to be taking a big risk whenever he jumps in there with the bigger punchers in the sport, but his speed and elusiveness are better weapons against guys who don’t possess significant size advantages.
It’s very possible that this loss, and some newfound street cred for being one brave SOB, could be the thing that reinvigorates his career and catapults him toward the fights that will help make up for lost time.
An all-Brit stadium fight against Kell Brook looms large now.
Khan has spent the last couple of years telling anyone who will listen that Brook isn’t on his level, but that’s going to be particularly hard to sustain now. Not with a third (albeit forgivable) knockout now sitting on his ledger.
It’s time that business is settled.
If not Brook, a rematch with Danny Garcia, current WBC welterweight champion and one-time Khan conqueror, could be an attractive and winnable option. You can bet the revenge motive (Garcia was a big underdog at the time of their fight) would be a big factor in that bout.
Khan’s got some options here, and he has some house money to play with.
He earned that by taking a big risk and proving he’s a fighter, even if he did come up short.