This past Saturday Amir Khan defeated Andriy Kotelnik by unanimous decision for the WBA World Light Welterweight Championship. The official scores were 120-108, 118-111, and 118-111. Those scores, especially the shutout score, were perhaps just a little wide, but Khan fought a great fight that saw him in control of the action most of the night. At only 22 years old he becomes one of the youngest fighters in British history to win a world championship. He’s shown he has the potential to be a big star not only in the United Kingdom, but on the world level as well. With everything looking up for the kid, then what could possibly be the problem?
Just ten months prior to winning the WBA title, Amir Khan was knocked out by Breidis Prescott in the first round. Prescott had an undefeated record, including 19 wins and 18 knockouts heading into the bout, but was expected to fall the way of so many of his Columbian peers who had generated a big knockout record facing locals in their home country. As you know, Prescott had other plans that evening. With the knockout loss came cries from fans that were once behind him saying he had a weak chin and he will never amount to anything in boxing. Khan himself took the loss in surprisingly good fashion, saying he’ll be back and better than ever. Not many believed him, but one who did was boxing trainer extraordinaire Freddie Roach. Roach, trainer of Manny Pacquiao, told the boxing world that Khan was still going to make it big. In two fights prior to the title fight, Khan stopped Oisin Fagan in just two rounds and followed that performance with a technical decision of future Hall of Famer Marco Antonio Barrera. An accidental head butt caused a cut on Barrera, which would eventually cause the ringside doctor to stop the fight, but Khan’s excellent performance in that fight wasn’t accidental. Still, Barrera, now 35, was definitely past his prime, and detractors of Khan still felt like he hadn’t exactly proved much since the loss.
The main reason is that Khan hasn’t had his chin tested since the Prescott fight. Was that fight an instance of just getting caught by a big punch, or will it affect the rest of his career every time he gets tagged from here on out. The truth is that the Kotelnik fight didn’t prove anything one way or another about his chin. Kotelnik brought a nice 31-2-1 record into the fight, but with only 13 KO’s to his credit, including only two KO’s within his last 10 fights. However, some of the lead-up to the fight would have made you think that Kotelnik had a good chance of knocking Khan out. Even before the fight, the announcers on the telecast built the fight up as a heavy puncher (Kotelnik) going against a boxer-type that will have to do what he can to avoid the shots of the heavy handed fighter. With no disrespect to Khan’s performance, if he, his team, or his fans, are worried about getting hurt by Kotelnik then they are in a world of trouble as they face the tougher foes in the 140 pound division. It’s speculated that Khan’s people, including promoter Frank Warren, knew what they were doing when they scheduled a fight against Kotelnik, but if Khan wants to hang on to the belt he’ll have to fight one of the heavier handed fighters in the division eventually. In the WBA ratings alone, potential challengers include Marcos Maidana (coming off a victory of Victor Ortiz), Nate Campbell, and Kendell Holt. Other possible welterweight challengers include, Timothy Bradley, Joan Guzman, fellow Brit Ricky Hatton, and stablemate Manny Pacquiao. All the above names have a higher knockout percentage that Kotelnik. Once again, it was a great win for Khan over the highly experienced and technically sound Kotelnik, but there are a handful of fighters in the division that are waiting in the wings to test the chin of the young Khan.
Which brings up the next question: is it too much too soon for the young Khan? He’s already coming off a devastating loss, has fought a hall of famer in Barrera and now has a world championship. In other words, the competition isn’t going to get any easier. Will Khan go the way of other young champions like Fernando Vargas and fellow countryman Prince Naseem Hamed? Like many questions in boxing, these will only be answered with the passing of time, but the fear is there that the career of Khan could be a short, but potentially spectacular one.
Another question is what kind of fighter does Khan want to be? In his fights leading up to the Prescott fight he was gaining the reputation as a big puncher. But against Kotelnik he took the safety first approach of moving in and out of danger, barely engaging in any serious exchanges. In theory, that’s what boxing is all about, but once again with all those big names waiting to challenge him for the title, he’ll have to take some punches eventually. Khan moved up to 140 pounds after the Prescott loss at 135 pounds, with the thought that getting weight-drained while trying to make weight was also hurting his chin. Miguel Cotto said similar things before moving up in weight, and by all accounts he was right, as his chin has seemed much better at 147 than 140 pounds. The question remains though, does Khan trust his chin enough to go after the bigger names in the division, or will he continue his safety first approach as the high level of opposition continues to head his way?
Finally, detractors of Khan say the only way he’ll get back in the favor of boxing fans everywhere is by defeating Breidis Prescott in a rematch. My response to this is, why? One night before Khan scored his biggest win of his career, the Prescott express took a serious hit, losing a 10 round decision to unheralded Miguel Vazquez. A rematch, at least money wise, wouldn’t make much sense anymore. Also, Prescott has remained at 135 pounds, while Khan announced with authority that he’ll be at the 140 pound division for a time to come. But, some boxing fans scream, he has to beat Prescott or that will hang over his head for the rest of his career. That’s simply not true. In recent history alone David Haye has shown that a loss doesn’t have to be made good in order to have a successful career. Haye went on to become the cruiserweight championship, and is not ready to try his hand in the heavyweight division. Also, Manny Pacquiao and Bernard Hopkins, both pound for pound champs, handled early losses in their career well enough to become arguably the two best fighters of this era. The boxing world is generally quick to discredit a fighter’s entire career with one loss, when in the grand scheme of things that’s simply not fair.
I think there are more questions than answers after Khan’s win this past Saturday. The chin, the age, the style, all leave numerous questions up in the air. However, it’s a credit to Khan’s star power, and the ability we already know he does have that allows for us to even worry about these questions in the first place. Few things in the world of boxing are more exciting than following a fighter’s career from the very beginning. We should sit back and enjoy while we watch to see what the kid can do.