Rebuilt Khan must stay focused to live up to hype

looks ahead to Amir Khan’s big fight with Lamont Peterson this weekend

Khan after unifying the WBA and IBF light welterweight titles this July, Image: drkhalidfcps via flickr Creative Commons

Khan after unifying the WBA and IBF light welterweight titles this July, Image: drkhalidfcps via flickr Creative Commons

Amir Khan is a man on the verge of some very special times. He sits with the entire sport of boxing at his feet as he prepares for a big fight on American soil this Saturday and many, many more in the future.

But talks of unifying the 140 pound division against Timothy Bradley, followed by an assault on the welterweights this summer and even an eventual mega fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr, all seem light-years away from that disastrous moment, in 2008, when he lay blinking in the lights after being decked by Breidis Prescott.

There had already been signs that Khan’s obvious skills could be betrayed by a glass jaw. Being put on your flat on your backside by the likes of Michael Gomez and the pillow-fisted Willie Limond will hardly breed confidence in a young fighter’s punch resistance, but few could predict what would happen when the Olympic silver medallist stepped between the ropes against an unknown Columbian.

It all happened in an instant. A thudding left hand put Khan down and although he managed to drag himself upright, his legs were clearly far from recovered and the end was inevitable. Two more viscous hooks dropped him again and the referee was left with no choice but to end it before the damage to Khan’s cranium matched the damage done to his career. In just one fight he had gone from the brightest young prospect in British boxing to a kid with no prospects at all. It had taken 56 seconds.

Fortunately, the rebuilding process started just as quickly. Easy wins against Oisin Fagan and the legendary Marco Antonio Barrera boosted Khan’s confidence, and a move up to light-welterweight, boosted that chandelier chin. By adding muscle onto his legs and neck he looked an altogether sturdier and steadier animal. No longer would the world hold its breath whenever a pat-a-cake jab pawed at his face. No more Bambi on ice impressions at every glancing blow. Amir Khan could take a shot.

And by moving over to Freddy Roach’s Wild Card Gym in L.A., his God-given speed and skills were exploited even further. To an already impressive arsenal, he’s added much improved footwork, slashing body shots and a piston-like jab to set up those flash combinations he brought with him from the amateurs.

Some sly match-making hasn’t hurt either. By providing Khan the ideal style matchup against the solid but unspectacular WBA champion Andreas Kotelnik , Roach and his handlers gave him a golden opportunity to put a world title around his waist and erase the memory of the Prescott debacle, and he duly obliged. And after three successful defences, two by knockout and one in an absolute war against Marcus Maidana, he went on to win his second title by making Zab Judah quit after 5 utterly dominant rounds.

And now, Amir ‘King’ Khan is on top of the boxing world. He’s in or around most Pound for Pound top 10 lists. He’s become one of the new golden boys on the Las Vegas fight scene. He’s even got himself a stupid nickname.

And this weekend he will be back in action, in Washington D.C., defending his titles against hometown fighter, Lamont Peterson. In truth, being in enemy territory shouldn’t be too much of a problem for him as Peterson is hardly a marque fan favourite and travelling English fans have been known to make quite a racket in support of their man. But boxing matches are won in the ring, not in the spectator seats, and in there Khan might have his work cut out.

Peterson is a skilled boxer, much more so than some of Khan’s recent opponents and he’s infinitely more determined and strong-willed than Judah. If Khan is to win he will need to be on top form and there are hints that may not be the case. When surrounded by journalists in the build-up to this upcoming fight he often seems more concerned with what awaits afterwards than with an opponent desperate to take what’s his. It’s all well and good saying that you can beat Mayweather or that you can become the best in the world, but if you look past the man in front of you, more often than not he makes you pay.

Of course this is all just pointless conjecture until the bell rings. Khan may well be just as focussed and determined as he has been ever since Prescott knocked some sense into him and if he is, he should win. As good as Peterson is, a tuned-in Khan is just a level above. His speed and his jab should be enough to keep the local boy at bay and get a wide unanimous decision, or even a late stoppage. And the world of glitz and glamour afforded to only boxing’s biggest stars will still lie ahead.

The problem with all the sparkly new toys and friends that winning has brought into Khan’s life is they are dependent on the winning being sustained. If you ever start thinking this whole boxing lark is easy it has a nasty habit of turning round and showing you, graphically and violently, exactly how hard it is. Because a fighter doesn’t need to be a fan favourite, or a legend, or even particularly good, to change your whole future in just 1 second. Or 56 seconds. And Khan would know.

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