Amir Khan aims to win over critics Saturday
By John Evans
Forget the various titles and awards that saturate the sport. In boxing, the hardest thing to win is respect.
At 23 years old Amir Khan is the WBA light welterweight champion. He won a silver medal at the Olympic Games as a 17 year old. Following a brutal, unexpected knockout loss he rededicated himself and chose to learn his trade in the world’s toughest proving ground. Yet while his trainer Freddie Roach, currently the most widely respected boxing voice in the world, has recently said he is so happy with Khan’s progress that he is willing to delay his retirement to continue working with him, many observers still see him as an over rated knockout waiting to happen.
In boxing, a sole defeat on a record often tells us far more about a fighter than any number of wins can. Nowadays protecting a fighters ‘0’ has become all important. Promising fighters are built up slowly, carefully matched against opponents they should beat but who will each teach them some new intricacy of the sport. Only a very select group of boxers complete this apprenticeship and then continue onwards and upwards into the higher echelons of the sport.
After claiming his Olympic silver, Khan signed professional forms with Frank Warren. Warren has a reputation for expertly guiding promising young boxers through the early stages of their careers. Campaigning as a Lightweight, Khan’s early career progressed perfectly. Although his exciting victories over Willie Limond and Michael Gomez were solid domestic wins, the knockdowns he suffered in those bouts highlighted a possible weak chin. The negatives were glossed over as Khan continued his unbeaten run. Then it all went wrong. After uncharacteristically trusting Khans trainer for the night Jorge Rubio’s recommendation of the unknown Breidis Prescott as an opponent, Warren matched the pair at Manchester’s M.E.N Arena.
What happened that September night has haunted Amir Khan and fuelled his critics ever since. While Khan may claim the devastating first round  knockout was down to a combination of fighting recklessly and being weight drained, only he knows the truth. Although Warren used his influence to provide Khan with a path straight back into the mix with a win against a faded legend in Marco Antonio Barrera and then used that victory to manoeuvre him into a WBA ‘world’ title shot up at 140lbs against the skilled but light punching Andriy Kotelnik, doubts have accompanied every one of Khan's fights since. Almost every preview of a Khan fight now carries the caveat “but if he gets caught………”
Whilst Khan’s decision to break away from Frank Warren and base himself in Los Angeles and hone his skills alongside Manny Pacquiao at the famed Wild Card gym has proved to be the perfect one professionally it has also distanced him from the UK fans. Although Khan is one of the few British fighters whose bouts still grab a good number of column inches, he has yet to find his way into the hearts of the fans who so idolised the likes of Ricky Hatton. During Khan's victory over Barrera in Manchester, there were more than a few supporters in attendance hoping the Mexican would emerge the victor. Saturday night may once again see a 140lb British fighter topping a Las Vegas bill but this time there will be no invasion of British fans to support him.
While there are no doubts regarding Khan’s improvement since switching to LA and his seemingly limitless potential there still remain serious doubts about his chin. There is the sense that to fully redeem himself with the public he must prove himself at the highest level against an opponent with the potential to not only hurt him, but to beat him. Even after producing his most impressive performances to date in his latest bouts against the light punching Dimitry Salita and Paulie Malignaggi, seasoned observers had begun to wonder aloud if Khan had developed a serious aversion to facing anyone who carried that potential. He gets his chance to prove himself this weekend.
Marcos Maidana brings a reputation as a devastating puncher. His record of 29-1 with 27 of his victories ending early has convinced many that this is Khans toughest fight to date. Although Maidana operates at a higher level there are many parallels between the 27 year old and Prescott. Both are hungry crude brawlers with devastating power. It is also safe to assume that Prescott entered the fight with Khan with the same mindset Maidana has. That Khan is the spoon fed golden boy whose scalp can propel them to personal glory. After disappointing last time out when scoring a decision victory over the veteran DeMarcus Corley, Maidana's team claim he is in the shape of his career and ready to take his chance.
Maidana still holds the WBA interim version of Khan’s title he won when he 'outmanned' Victor Ortiz in an exciting 6 round shootout last June. Although Ortiz dropped him 3 times, ‘El Chino’ still found it within himself to drag himself up and in effect force Ortiz to quit. Entering the ring that night as the slugger facing the supposedly more talented, highly touted Ortiz, Maidana found himself in exactly the same position as he does this Saturday.
While the whole situation may be a familar one for Maidana, Khan finds himself in a totally different place than the last time he faced a known puncher. This time around there are no excuses. The opponent isn't an unknown, Khan isn't weakened from boiling his broad frame down to 135lbs and he has the trainer recognised as the world’s best in his corner.
This Saturday Khan has the opportunity to propel himself into superfight territory but perhaps more importantly regain the respect of the fans. Can he take it?
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