As the ramifications of Amir Khan’s loss to Danny Garcia are still to be fully understood, have we credited Khan with too much ability since the Olympic star has turned pro?
By George Ogier
When Thierry Henry left Arsenal for Barcelona in 2007 many of the club’s fans hoped that Theo Walcott would blossom into a like for like replacement for the Frenchman. Walcott was bestowed with Henry’s no. 14 shirt and it was generally accepted that we were looking at a future superstar of English football.
Five years on and Theo Walcott is indeed a mainstay of the Arsenal side and a regular for his country. However, there is an inescapable feeling that the former Southampton academy star hasn’t lived up to expectations. Perhaps those expectations were too great and Walcott just isn’t good enough to meet them.
In 2010 Chris Waddle claimed that Walcott “has no football brain”. Waddle expanded on his point by saying “I just don’t know if he studies the game, learns the game, or what. He’s at a great club where they play fantastic football week-in, week-out and I’m just surprised he’s never developed his game”.
Whilst it is undoubtedly true that Walcott has improved over the last two years I think Chris Waddle had a valid argument. What is interesting though is that it’s possible to take Waddle’s statement and substitute football for boxing. It could then be applied to another young star of British sport making just as much sense. Step forward, Amir Khan.
In the same way that Theo Walcott was expecting to eventually replace Thierry Henry at Arsenal, Amir Khan was destined to be great. His career has overlapped slightly that of Ricky Hatton, the most popular British fighter for years. Many around the sport expected Khan, after his Olympic success to replace Hatton in the hearts of British boxing fans.
As plausible an idea as it might have been originally, it just never happened. Strangely, Khan and Hatton share some of the traits that made Ricky so popular. Khan, like Hatton never takes a backward step, he also appears to be willing to fight anyone. However, that is where the similarities end.
Ricky Hatton was an incredibly accomplished boxer underneath the “ready for war” exterior. As time progresses I am not entirely sure that the same can be said of Khan. When the Bolton fighter was knocked out by Breidis Prescott it led to huge changes in the Khan camp. Many were of the opinion that a knockout like that can happen to anyone.
As Khan rebuilt his career we were treated to the spectacle of his epic contest with Marcos Maidana. Amir appeared to have put the ghost of Prescott to bed in proving that he could take a shot. Nonetheless, lessons needing learning after that fight and they were there for all to see.
The issue of performing enhancing drugs aside, Khan’s showing against Lamont Peterson in December was again full of holes as he suffered his first loss at light welterweight. Once again Amir got pulled into a brawl when he would have been better boxing at range and moving.
Questions have been asked about Amir Khan’s relationship with his trainer, Freddie Roach in the aftermath of Saturday’s Garcia fight. While there can be little doubt that Manny Pacquiao is the main focus of Roach’s attention in the Wildcard gym I think it is unfair to blame Khan’s performances on Roach.
When the ill-fated Khan v. Peterson rematch was still alive Sky’s Johnny Nelson went to interview Freddie Roach who was keen to outline his plans for Khan, “I want him [Khan] to fight more flat-footed. When he’s flat-footed and not bouncing everywhere he sees exactly what’s happening…..when he’s bouncing there’s too much activity to see what the other guy’s doing”.
Roach clearly had a system in place to iron out the deficiencies in Khan’s defence. Indeed, ahead of the Danny Garcia fight Roach made it very clear that he wanted Amir to throw punches in no more than 2s or 3s and then move out of the pocket. It was a strategy designed in part to nullify Garcia’s counters but also to ensure Khan wasn’t hanging around to get hit.
Amir began Saturday’s fight boxing to plan but perhaps buoyed by the sight of a cut over Garcia’s right eye he began to revert to type. Khan remained in the pocket for too long and began throwing combinations of four and five shots rather than two and three as instructed.
At this point everyone knows how the fight ended but surprisingly the majority of people I have spoken to seem to regard the result as a huge upset. Danny Garcia is an unbeaten world title holder who before Saturday had knocked out fourteen of twenty-three opponents. I thought it was a real pick ’em affair that I expected Khan to perhaps shade. It’s certainly no Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas.
After the Peterson fight I lamented the fact that Khan kept getting dragged into unnecessary wars. Surely a boxer with Amir’s amateur pedigree could learn to box smart and work to his strengths. I have now reached a point where I am not sure that is a viable option.
Freddie Roach put into place a plan to help Amir Khan beat Danny Garcia. After two rounds of success Khan seemed to give the impression of a man who knew better and began to fight the way he has always fought.
Nobody can question the heart of Amir Khan. He rebuilt his career after the Prescott loss. Amir then toughed it out in the ferocious battle with Maidana. Unfortunately both moments of adversity were as a direct result of Khan’s own actions. The same applies to the problems Amir faced in the Peterson fight and again on Saturday against Danny Garcia.
Amir Khan will always be an exciting boxer to watch. His unpredictability means that fans approach his bouts with a real sense of the unknown. Trainers cannot teach their fighters to have courage but bravery is not enough. A refusal to adapt and learn from mistakes will ultimately cost a boxer dearly.
Khan has said that he will be assessing his relationship with Freddie Roach as he plans for the future. Clearly upset with playing second fiddle to Manny Pacquiao, Kahn might seek to change trainers. Many fans and journalists alike have said that this might be for the best. I would suggest that Amir Khan might should look a little closer to home when searching for the root of his problems in the ring.