It was announced last week that Amir Khan will fight in Britain for the first time since April 2011 when he takes on Julio Diaz in Sheffield on April 27th. But contrary to the fight’s tag-line “Return of the King”, this will be anything but a coronation for a man who is struggling to stamp his authority on the boxing world.
Bolton-born boxer Khan has flattered to deceive since he burst onto the scene at the 2004 Olympics. He won a silver medal, Britain’s only boxing medal of the Games, at just 17, and was quickly tipped for big success. But since turning professional in 2008, Khan has been defeated on three separate occasions and has not lived up to the potential he showed from such a young age.
Against Colombian Breidis Prescott in August 2008, Khan suffered a shock knockout defeat within 54 seconds. Questions were asked about his brittle defence and inability to withstand a punch. But Khan recovered and by 2011 was the WBA and IBF light-welterweight champion after defeating highly-rated American Zab Judah in Las Vegas. It looked like Khan was on for the big-time, being tipped for mega-fights against Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquaio. The Prescott defeat was consigned to the past, a one-off mistake.
Then things started to go wrong. Khan lost, again surprisingly, to Lamont Peterson in Washington DC in 2011, although the defeat was more than a little controversial. Khan was twice docked points for seemingly innocuous offences and video evidence after the fight suggested that a mysterious man at ringside had interfered with the score-cards; a rematch was scheduled but soon thereafter Peterson tested positive for the banned substance synthetic testosterone. Against Peterson, Khan had been unlucky.
But there were no excuses for his next defeat to Danny Garcia. Khan entered the fight as the 1-7 favourite but was caught cold by a searing left-hook that penetrated his defences. It was this third defeat more than anything that left Khan out in the wilderness as he looks to take control of the welterweight division.
Since then Khan has made changes. He dispensed with trainer Freddie Roach in favour of Virgil Hunter, who has been tasked with working on Khan’s defensive problems and containing his tendency to react with emotion, rather than the mental awareness to step away, when caught. In none of his three defeats was Khan ever comprehensively out-boxed; rather he was caught by individual blows that could easily have been avoidable.
Khan is already on the comeback trail having defeated Carlos Molina last December. Diaz should not create any major problems for Khan; at 33 he is well past his prime and having fought predominately in the lightweight division he is not naturally a welterweight. But then Peterson, Garcia and Prescott should never have caused Khan a problem either.
There is now no room to manoeuvre for Khan. His career is on a knife-edge and, at the age of 27, he cannot afford to be defeated again. He is still a very capable boxer but he has been forced to climb the ladder all over again. Should he miss a rung this time, he may well never get to the top.
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