It was a weird, kamikaze type fight from the get-go. A welterweight whirlwind with a fine-china chin, (and yes, he is chinny) going in with a destructive light-middleweight banger. Of course there was the odd contrarian here and there – there always is – the occasional chancer who claimed that Khan could befuddle Alvarez, dart in and out and side to side, pick him off and stay untouched for twelve rounds. But the vast majority believed that at some stage Amir would be poleaxed.
Saturday’s result thus proved the only thing about this fight that wasn’t bizarre. In the aftermath, as Khan gets to grips with the anguish of his third KO defeat, helped no doubt, by the $6million addition to his bank balance, it is nice to see he has received plaudits. He sure copped a lot of criticism in the past.
The reaction seems broadly divided into two camps. Those outside the sport, the more casual observers have derided Amir and made memes and jokes at his expense. Those inside boxing have lauded his courage, but how far is either response justified?
In one sense, his newly acquired support is merited. There is no doubt that doing what he did, in going in with a far bigger, more powerful man took guts. Alvarez apparently held a 20lb advantage on the night.
There is no doubt either that before the heat-seeker right hand that launched him into oblivion, Amir had made a decent fist of things, the first three rounds in particular. Not that he really troubled Canelo or had him worried, not that he was able to chip away at the ginger Mexican’s steely calm, but he held his own and fought in the only way it was possible for him to survive.
But Khan, despite his quality, has never been a chess-master. For all his greasy speed he’s never boxed with his brains, has never been a thinking fighter, a tactician, one who can adapt in the midst of battle and adjust to his opponent’s adjustments. And he has always been prone to lapses, ask Willy Limond or Julio Diaz. That’s ok, his vulnerability is part of what makes him such an exciting fighter to watch, but it’s one thing getting tagged by a 132lb Scotsman for the Commonwealth lightweight title, another altogether to risk yourself with Canelo.
Really, what the hell was he thinking?
The writing was on the wall from the moment the bout was signed and virtually everybody knew it, apart, it seems from Amir. On the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo, against a Mexican darling, in a room packed with 16,000 Mexicans, Amir’s role in the production was to get flattened and send everybody home happy. He duly obliged.
Not that he turned up to lose. He would never do that and Khan genuinely believed he could somehow upset the odds, but somebody close to him, someone with his best interests at heart should have had a word in his ear and said, “stop Amir, this is mental.”
“Dare to be great!” cried promoters De La Hoya and Hopkins. Come on! You don’t dare to be great by jumping two weight divisions to box in circus fights. You dare to be great by taking on and beating the best in your weight class. If Amir truly dares to be great, he must fight Thurman, Spence and yes, Kell Brook rather than chasing lottery style paydays with the likes of Mayweather and Pacquiao. Clean up his own division, in which, don’t forget, he has only actually fought three times. Then we can talk about greatness.
In the build-up Khan insisted that weight difference would not be an issue, that he was comfortable at 155, that he would outbox Canelo, show him a clean pair of heels. Yet after the inevitable denouement played itself out and before they wheeled him off to hospital, almost his first words were, “I was in with a bigger man, I’m a natural 147 fighter…”
We know Amir, we know. That’s what we were all saying.
It is noticeable that a great deal of the props Khan has received post-fight, seem to revolve around the money. Lots of boxers and fight game insiders praise him for taking a bout that was good ‘business sense’. He can drop back to welter and pick up another earner. But is this how we should discuss title fights?
In an era when belts and championships don’t seem to mean much and the goal of every top pro is simply to box in Pay per View events, Khan succeeded in having one more fight at that exalted level, but at what cost? If he retired today, what would be his legacy?
A talented kid, an Olympic silver medallist with blurring hand speed and a decent whack at 140lbs, it is now four years since he held any kind of world title, at light-welter. His last eight fights have run 5-3 and two of those finished in bad stoppages. The effects of Saturday’s obliteration could be long lasting, health-wise and may affect his future punch resistance, yet still he maintains he holds a place among the game’s elite.
On what grounds? If he is to box on, Amir Khan needs to get amongst the top boys in his true weight division and see what he can do. Then we’ll know how to remember him.
As for Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, he too is left in a strange place following the win. Still with only one loss on his ledger (and how favourable a light does this whole thing throw on the talents of Floyd Mayweather Jr?), as much as Saturday was a win-win for Khan, it was a lose-lose for him. If Amir had somehow taken him the distance and nicked a points win, he would have been roundly lambasted for losing to a far smaller man. On the other hand, by separating Khan from his senses, he only did what was expected. While Khan is lionised for his bravery, few have praised the Mexican conqueror, who was smart and assured – pressuring and waiting for Khan to slow down a fraction, before detonating. It’s as if he were some big ginger, bully picking on a skinny kid.
Will he step up to real Middleweight status and box Gennady Golovkin? In pre-fight reports he said GGG “hadn’t earned the fight”, just as Khan stated Brook hadn’t earned a match with him. What fighters like this mean by those words is not that Golovkin or Brook’s skills fail to warrant a bout, but the numbers they pull are not attractive enough. Are Gennady or Kell US pay-per-view draws? If not, then in relation to the stratospheric figures generated by Saturday they offer high risk / low stakes match-ups, which are not the kind that top modern boxers relish.
So it may be true that Khan showed balls on the night, but rather than those who count the zeroes, the pick-and-choosers, give me a have-gloves-will-travel kid any day, a boy full of piss and vinegar who’ll have it with anyone. That’s my idea of a fighter and there aren’t too many of them left. Amir could still be viewed in that light one day, perhaps, could have a bit of that in him, but he hasn’t shown it yet, not really. If Alvarez were a lesser name and a nought was crossed from the pay packet, he wouldn’t have touched him with a shitty stick.
And that’s the truth.
As much as Khan’s career, with all its pauses, wobbles and sudden leaps, has been a strange one, it is indicative of the way world boxing is now run. Marquee fights, marquee profits, everything else pales into insignificance. He has now made enough money to never have to work again. His family’s future is secure. If he continues boxing, he can still earn well, but it should be for its own sake, for old-fashioned ideas like glory and sport, to prove something to himself and to us.
Then maybe he might become great.
My book ‘Journeymen, the other side of the boxing business’ was longlisted for William Hill Sports book of the year and named one of the sports books of the year by The Guardian. It is still available from all usual outlets.
Please listen to this excellent and very topical podcast about the darker side of boxing, featuring interviews with Ryan Rhodes, Paul ‘silky’ Jones, Glyn Rhodes MBE and Jerome Wilson.