After five years as a professional and 25 fights under his belt, Amir Khan is homing in on his ultimate goal – unifying the light-welterweight division.
The WBA light-welterweight champion is potentially just two fights away from realising that dream and stepping into the ring with the unbeaten American Timothy Bradley, who added the WBC strap to his collection after stopping countryman Devon Alexander in a disappointing fight in January this year.
But first Khan must first focus his attention on the unheralded Irishman Paul McCloskey (22-0, 12 KOs), who he faces at the MEN Arena in April in what is seen by many pundits as a low-risk tune-up fight before a lucrative bout with Bradley in the summer.
Khan’s meteoric rise in the sport over the last few years under the tutelage of master trainer Freddie Roach has taken many boxing writers, and fans, by surprise, particularly after the devastating setback he suffered in September 2008 when he was wiped out in 58 seconds by a then unknown Colombian.
But Khan has improved immeasurably from the cocksure fighter that turned professional after snaring an Olympic silver medal in Athens. His natural talents have been honed to near perfection in Hollywood’s Wildcard gym, and the 24-year-old’s superb hand speed and lateral movement are arguably only bettered by his friend and occasional sparring partner Manny Pacquiao and of course Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Meanwhile, the continued question marks over the Bolton-born fighter’s chin after some knock-downs early in his career and ‘that’ shocking defeat at the hands of Breidis Prescott were surely answered in his last fight. Khan showed tremendous heart and an incredible will to survive in the most brutal of battles with the hard-hitting Marcos Maidana in Las Vegas last November.
How Khan managed to stay on his feet in the epic 10th round of an outstanding fight is still a mystery. The brutal Argentinian with a devastating knockout record (27 of his opponents had not lasted the distance) landed a barrage of bombs that would have stopped virtually any other fighter in the division. Even one-time critic, WBC super-middleweight champion Carl Froch, was suitably impressed, praising Khan on his Twitter account for proving ‘you can build muscle around your jaw!’
However, despite the exciting, toe-to-toe nature of the Maidana fight, which was declared the Fight of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, Khan rightly criticised aspects of his own performance in a fight which he appeared to be winning comfortably for the first six rounds. Indeed, had Maidana not been saved by the bell at the end of the first round after a well-placed shot to the liver had sent him to the canvas, the fight could have been over before it really got started. But Khan let himself get drawn into a slugfest that played right into the hands of the limited but powerful Maidana, instead of using his superior boxing skills and movement to frustrate the Argentine and avoid his wild, looping punches.
The fight could quite easily have been stopped in the 10th round, and Khan must learn the lessons from the Maidana fight to make sure he doesn’t make the same mistakes in the future. That said, Maidana is considered the hardest-hitting fighter in the division, so for Khan to survive everything the Argentine could throw at him in the last three rounds was remarkable and will stand him in good stead in future fights with less destructive opponents. And in light of Alexander’s apparent quit job in his unification fight with Bradley, it looks even more impressive, underlining the fact that Khan has the heart of a true champion.
The win against Maidana will have given Khan great confidence to take on and defeat anyone in the division, let alone Bradley. Indeed, as Roach has pointed out, one of the main concerns for Khan in a fight with Bradley (28-0, 11 KOs) would be the American’s prolific use of his head rather than his speed or punching power. The much smaller Bradley will still be a formidable opponent, however, and should the ongoing negotiations between the two camps result in a summer showdown, ‘Desert Storm’ will likely start as the Bookies’ favourite. But Khan has all the tools at his disposal to deal with the much-hyped Bradley and secure superstar status on the other side of the pond.
In the meantime, Khan needs to concentrate on his next opponent and give the unbeaten but largely untested McCloskey the respect he deserves. One suspects Khan’s trainer Freddie Roach will not let him look too far ahead or take the Northern Irishman lightly. After all, taking his eye of the ball and surrendering his title to the unfancied McCloskey would undo all the good work he has done rebuilding his career since that mad minute in Manchester.