Amir Khan copped a lot of stick on social media last week, as usual, adding weight to the school of thought that he is criticised whatever he does. Having only fought three times at the welterweight limit of 147 lbs, to step up two weight divisions to challenge the strong and tenacious Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez for the WBC middleweight title takes considerable guts and he should receive some plaudits. But what a bizarre fight it is.
When negotiations for an all British match-up with Kell Brook stalled, the internet was replete with guesswork as to who Khan’s next opponent might be. Various names were bandied around. It must be remembered that he is yet to box for a title at welterweight – all his previous belts were at light welter and lightweight and in truth he has looked a little shaky in one of those 147lb bouts. Only the impressive win over Devon Alexander was completely comfortable. Bearing that in mind, there can be few who foresaw the turn of events that unfolded.
For Khan’s camp, bolstered by the input of Al Haymon, it is a masterstroke. Even at the bizarre catchweight of 155lbs the Bolton boy will surely be giving away huge amounts of size. For this reason he will enter the bout a massive underdog and this is the beauty of the arrangement for Amir. As long as he is not utterly obliterated, his global stock will rise. People will praise his courage for taking such a dramatic leap and he will be able to drop back to welter with extra bargaining chips for the negotiating table. Should he pose Alvarez any problems at all, this fight could be his ticket to the genuine superstardom he has always craved.
For Canelo the picture is far greyer. In as much as this contest appears a win-win for Khan, it is a lose-lose for him. With talk of a unification against feared Kazakh Gennady Golovkin sidelined, there are many elite middleweights who would have relished the opportunity. So, why Khan? Does he not have the confidence to fight genuine middleweights? If not, why not give up the belt altogether?
Assuming he does figure Khan out and stop him in the middle rounds, as I expect, he will garner few plaudits. Even if he steamrollers Amir in a minute, analysts will blame the match-up, rather than praise his performance. On the other hand, if he struggles with Khan’s speed and the Bolton whirlwind can dance around him and take the fight to points, he will be roundly lambasted for failing to stop an opponent who has been KO’d in the past by a lightweight.
There are those who give Khan a chance, suggesting he can utilise the blueprint set by Mayweather. I do not share their optimism. Talented though he may be, Amir has never shown Floyd’s defensive acumen. His hands and movement are fast, but he tends to withdraw in straight lines, leaving his chin exposed. It is very difficult to foresee a scenario in which Alvarez does not connect at all. And when he does connect, we know what to expect. Khan will have to box a punch perfect to have a chance. Anything else and he is gone.
For the WBC themselves, for a long time considered the most prestigious of the big four sanctioning bodies, awkward questions are also raised. How is Alvarez allowed to contest a middleweight title at 155, when that division’s limit is 160? How can any world middleweight title see a light-middleweight boxing a welterweight? How can Khan box for that title when he has never fought in that division and is not ranked there? How, exactly, as fans, are we supposed to interpret this?
That is not to say the fight is uninteresting, or without precedent. Sugar Ray Robinson was often heavily outweighed in his middleweight bouts, for example. The first time he fought Jake LaMotta, in 1942, he was 13lbs the lighter man. Nonetheless the signing of this fight in the face of more obvious and natural match-ups, highlights major issues about the way boxing is administered and run. Is it now just about using PR to build big names before putting them together in so-called ‘megafights’? Is that what the Pay-per-View model demands?
Hot on the heels of the Khan / Alvarez news came the revelation that El Chacal, Guillermo Rigondeaux, in my opinion the best boxer in the world since Mayweather’s retirement, has signed to fight British super bantamweight champ Jazza Dickens in May. Without disrespecting the Liverpool man, who is a top domestic fighter and will enjoy his opportunity, he clearly does not belong in the same ring as the Cuban. Rigondeaux is the best 122 lb fighter on the planet by some distance and was formerly the WBA Super and WBO champion before mysteriously being stripped due to the malignant influence of TV executives and their misguided thirst for slugfests. It is wonderful for British fight fans that he will box in the UK, but also disheartening to witness how boxing can treat such an elite performer.
Roundly slated for not standing his ground enough, Rigondeaux is one of few current true masters of the art of boxing. Sadly, in these overhyped times he is little appreciated. When he should be taking on the very best super-bantams out there, broadcast and promotional companies have squeezed him to the point of boxing a man not ranked in the world’s top 50. That this was the best available option for Rigo, while two lesser fighters in Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg unify world titles on a pay-per-view bonanza, again demonstrates the folly of the current boxing scene.
If the best aren’t acknowledged as such, titles or even weight classes are devalued and the whole thing is reduced to pounds and pence, does it even mean anything anymore?
Reflective of the age in which it exists, modern boxing seems to know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.
My last book ‘Journeymen, the other side of the boxing business’ has been longlisted for the William Hill Sports book of the year award and named one of the sports books of the year by The Guardian. It is still available from all usual outlets.