Amir Khan: Glass Cannon

Amir Khan

If boxing is a role-playing game with character stats, wherein you can make any boxer you want by min-maxing their stats, you can put all of your available points into hand speed and nothing else for that sweet DPS. Doing so gives you one of two guys — Ryan Garcia or Amir Khan. The latter is our focus in this blog post due to his now advanced age. Let’s look at the reason why Amir Khan is likely the greatest glass cannon we’ve ever seen in boxing.

The difference between him and Ryan Garcia, aside from age, is that it looks like the latter had been looking to diversify his game by training with Canelo Alvarez (at least, before that relationship started to sour). Amir Khan recently got shellacked by Kell Brook in a fight that should’ve happened a decade ago, and it showed once again how he’s perhaps the best example of being born with both talent that others envy and weakness that is made worse by that very talent.

You know how you’d play a warrior in an action role-playing game and end up dying a number of times because you kept charging in to do as much damage as possible, getting greedy in the process? That’s Amir Khan as a boxer. He’s not the most defensively sound, but it’s like he never thinks that his blazingly fast hands won’t ever be enough. He would get into every opportunity to brawl and exchange, and his vulnerability would eventually be the end of him.

Take note that I’m talking about the British boxer, not the Singaporean MMA fighter. Perhaps most people wouldn’t get the two mixed up or even know the second guy, but I just had to be sure. Yes, that Amir Khan who had a video of him jerking off leaked in 2017, which almost ruined his marriage. Somehow, they got back together, unlike Jon Jones and his now-ex-fiance.

Who is Amir Khan?

He could’ve been the second coming of Naseem Hamed, and he indeed was to a certain extent. Perhaps you can even say he was more successful in terms of pure boxing achievements, becoming an Olympic medalist at 17, world champion at 22, and unified champion at 24. He also defeated Marco Antonio Barrera on 14 March 2009, who had been Hamed’s Waterloo eight years prior.

While already over the hill and the match being marred by an accidental head clash, having Barrera in his resume still counts for something.

Much of Amir Khan’s fame came from his offense-first approach with ultra-fast combinations and accurate punching that seeks to overwhelm opponents before they’re able to do anything back. This worked well while he was still young, being spritely enough to tear through the competition with speed and precision.

However, as his career progressed, people started noticing that he had a tendency of leaving himself open after flurries, creating opportunities for his opponents to knock him out with a clean shot. This scenario fully unfolded five times — against Breidis Prescott on 6 September 2008, Danny Garcia on 14 July 2012, Canelo Alvarez on 7 May 2016, Terence Crawford on 20 April 2019, and most recently Kell Brook on 19 February 2022.

Five out of his six professional losses were by knockout or technical knockout. The only victor against him who went the distance was Lamont Peterson, and that guy failed a drug test after the fight. That’s 83% of his losses with him being finished, a worrying pattern that would haunt an otherwise crowd-pleasing performer.

Prime Championship Years

His style succeeded a lot more than it failed against quality competition, especially during late 2000 to early 2010s — his prime. After conquering Barrera, he would move up to light-welterweight and win his first world title, the WBA light-welterweight title, against Ukrainian and fellow Olympic silver medalist Andreas Kotelnik on 18 July 2009 in front of a hometown crowd.

Khan then defended his title and won his American debut against the talkative Paulie Malignaggi on 15 May 2010 — who was no slouch himself during this time — with an 11th round TKO. He then won via unanimous decision the Argentinian brawler Marcos Maidana on 11 December 2010, who would go on to make Floyd Mayweather lose a tooth in their controversial fight less than four years later.

He then won the IBF light-welterweight title, his second, against Zab Judah on 23 July 2011 with a fifth-round knockout in Las Vegas.

He defended the WBA (Super) light-welterweight title a total of six times (he didn’t retain it against Lamont Peterson, but was reinstated after Peterson’s failed drug test) from July 2009 to 10 December 2011. He failed to retain the IBF light-welterweight title, and he would never touch gold again after his loss to Danny Garcia.

Post-Championship Career

His world championship level lasted just under two and a half years, but he fought all comers. During this time, he had been training in Wild Card Gym under Freddie Roach, which meant he was one of Manny Pacquiao’s sparring partners. Khan would split with Roach after his loss to Danny Garcia and moved to the tutelage of Virgil Hunter, the trainer of Andre Ward.

Khan won the next five fights, showing greater restraint and discipline, especially in his fight against Devon Alexander on 13 December 2014. He won the WBA International welterweight title and the vacant WBC Silver welterweight title in the fight before that against Luis Collazo on 3 May 2014. By the way, I would like to tell WBC to piss off with their special titles.

After beating Chris Algieri on 29 May 2015 to defend that WBC Silver belt, he got a chance to upgrade to a full WBC title and The Ring title on 7 May 2016. The only thing was that he had to fight Canelo Alvarez in middleweight. That’s a 13-pound jump up in weight.

Canelo landed a rocket-powered right straight flush on Khan’s cheek, sending him into the arms of Morpheus, the god of sleep.

He put out a throwaway left to make Khan react, then came in with the right-handed hammer to hit the poor guy right where it said “goodnight.” Khan was certainly not ready for that level of power at middleweight against a prime Canelo.

There was potential for a matchup between Khan and Pacquiao in early 2017. Back then, even when Khan’s gray matter got blasted across the Mojave by Canelo the previous year with one of the most spectacular knockouts of the 2010s, he was still a fairly big name. Also, the prospect of former gym mates clashing was still pretty spicy.

Those talks came to be when he decided to go back down to welterweight after getting a title shot in middleweight — 20 pounds above the one he became world champion in. He certainly didn’t need to contend as much with stringent weight control as he got older, but the expected increase in firepower from the opposition did not do his suspect constitution any favors.

The Pacquiao matchup falling through made him miss out on a potential career-high fight purse that would’ve exceeded his earnings from the Canelo fight, which was $2 million guaranteed and $13 million if the pay-per-view exceeded 500,000 buys. It ended up selling over 600,000 buys. That goes to show that he still had enough star power to sell PPVs.

Two convincing wins after his loss to Canelo and he was up for yet another title shot, this time against one of the most avoided fighters in this era — WBO welterweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford, who still holds that belt as of this writing.

Suffice to say, I rooted for Bud since he’s one of my favorite boxers due to his technical prowess, ring intelligence, and ability to switch hit. Bud is what happens when you combine Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns into one package.

Bud knocked him down within two minutes of the first round with a right, then a left hook. While Khan adjusted in the following rounds, Bud boxed circles around him. Bud then switched to southpaw in the fourth round and upped the pressure.

The ending of the fight in the sixth round was rather anticlimactic. Bud hit Khan with an accidental low blow, so the fight was stopped to give Khan five minutes to recover. Virgil Hunter then told the referee that Khan wouldn’t be able to continue, thus giving Bud the win via TKO. Hunter likely saw that his fighter was getting hurt and it was a foregone conclusion.

Amir Khan vs. Kell Brook

He would be matched up against Indian contender Neeraj Goyat, who would’ve had his biggest fight yet if not for a car accident that injured him. He would be replaced on short notice by former IBF featherweight champion Billy Dib, who Khan soundly beat by fourth round TKO. He would then get a fight against a longtime rival.

The fight that should’ve happened back in the day has finally happened, and it’s definitely better late than never. Kell Brook mirrors Amir Khan in many ways, being another Englishman around the same age who debuted around the same time. He also came up through the amateur ranks and was trained by Brendan Ingle, the same man who trained Naseem Hamed.

Right within two minutes of the first round, Brook got Khan wobbly with a step-in left, although Khan was able to survive it. The third round saw him in trouble again, and his tendency to stand his ground and trade guaranteed that he was going to get hit with something that would clean his clock. The fight got pretty filthy in close range, with Khan tangling up to hang on.

The beginning of the sixth round saw Khan get hit with practically the same punch that knocked him down in the first. Brook smelled blood, and Khan went into survival mode and kept his opponent’s left arm tied up. But this time, when thing got back to close range, Brook threw uppercuts that disallowed Khan’s recovery. Soon enough, the referee saw enough.

What’s Next for Amir Khan?

He should hang them up now. He’s only five months younger than me. Even if I have a hundred times less brain trauma incurred throughout my life, I can feel my brain slowing down already. At this rate, if he keeps getting his glass chin tested, he’s not going to be able to recognize his wife and kids much longer.

Perhaps you may think that’s an exaggeration, but such a story is too commonplace in boxing to ignore. There was a time when he was a hot prospect, but that was half a lifetime ago. He has had his time on top, he has fought many of the best boxers in his era, and he has paid it forward to his community in both Britain and Pakistan.

As far as boxing goes, he has done very well while having what later became glaring flaws. Amir Khan has long been a fodder for discussion regarding boxers who are both blessed and cursed. Considering his record with all the men he faced throughout the years, he certainly has no cause for shame as he fought everyone who mattered.

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