December 8th 2008 – in a huge night of boxing, an unprecedented 40,000 British fight fans descended on Las Vegas to see their hero Ricky Hatton lose his undefeated status to lb for lb king Floyd Mayweather at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in a fight for the WBC Welterweight Championship of the World.
Across the Atlantic, another fight was taking place at 135 lb. Olympic Silver Medallist Amir Khan destroyed popular British warrior Graham Earl in just over a minute to take the Commonwealth title at the less salubrious Bolton Arena in the North of England. Who would have thought that a few years later it would be Khan leading the next British assault on the still unbeaten Mayweather in the same arena, for the same title? Well, Amir Khan thought so, and it looks like he might be right.
Rumours began to circulate weeks ago that Khan would face “Money” in Vegas in his now traditional Cinco De Mayo fight next year. Khan’s team attempted to play this down, claiming that he was still in the US training for a December 7th fight for Devon Alexander’s piece of the 147lb title. In the meantime, most of the remaining big fights for 2014 have now been confirmed and TV dates taken, and Alexander has agreed to meet Shawn Porter on that date in Brooklyn leaving Khan conveniently opponent free and in pole position to cash in the Mayweather Lottery Ticket.
Alternative options for Mayweather following his convincing victory in his superfight with Canelo Alvarez are thin on the ground, especially given that many of the most competitive options (Bradley, Pacquiao, Martinez, Golovkin etc) are all tied in with HBO and would find it difficult to jump ship to Showtime for a Floyd fight without pissing off their paymasters. Danny Garcia is the Golden Boy fighter with the strongest claim, but with an unbeaten record at stake, he likely would prefer to get a couple of fights under his belt at 147 before taking on the best in the world.
So this leaves us with Khan, a fight that on paper isn’t exactly a match up that gets the juices flowing, indeed if you look at the arguments against the fight, it’s almost a puzzling choice. Khan hasn’t had a single bout, let alone any tests at Welterweight and has tasted the canvas on several occasions at lower weightclasses, including his last fight when journeyman career lightweight Julio Diaz floored him in a stay busy bout in Sheffield, UK. He was defeated in his last two major title fights (Lamont Peterson/Danny Garcia) and doesn’t bring a belt or any sort of reputation to party – so why is this fight (likely) happening?
Before we look at that, a little background. In my distant past, I ended up working closely with Khan’s sponsors Reebok, one of the benefits of which was ringside access to many of his early fights all the way up to his demolition job over previously unbeaten Dmitriy Salita in his first defence of the WBA 140lb title. Over that time, I got a little insight into Team Khan and into the fighter himself, and witnessed a fair portion of his early career first hand.
One thing that was notable about Khan and his advisors, is that from the moment he made his decision to turn over to the pro game, everyone involved, Khan included, was determined to parlay his Olympic success (he was Britain’s only Boxing representative at Athens in 2004 aged just 17, gaining huge exposure after losing only to legendary Cuban fighter Mario Kindelan in the final, a defeat he avenged in a final farewell amateur bout back in the UK) and turn the fighter into a money making machine. Team Khan were shrewd and ruthless in their pursuit of monetising the fighter and struck major promotional and sponsorship deals for the youngster.
They worked initially with veteran British promoter Frank Warren, who worked to build a nationwide fanbase by placing Khan on cards throughout the UK, carefully guiding him to a place in line for a shot at the WBO lightweight belt within three years of the start of his pro career. Most of Khan’s early fights had been routine affairs against boxers who were there to be beaten, but in his first title fight, for the Commonwealth belt against Willie Limond, we got a small glimpse of things to come for Khan as the Scotsman dropped him for the first time in his career. Khan got up from the canvas to stop Limond soon after, but suddenly question marks were evident and Khan’s durability and defence came under scrutiny.
As his career progressed, another soon to be familiar facet of Khan’s career came into play as he parted ways with trainer Oliver Harrison (now working with Middleweight contender Martin Murray). Harrison’s displeasure with Khan’s commitments outside the ring was cited as the reason for their split at the time, but in his following fight, a 5th round stoppage against faded battler Michael Gomez, his defensive woes continued as he yet again had to come off the canvas after being dropped in the second round of the bout. Former Cuban National Amateur trainer Jorge Rubio was brought in, but he lasted just one fight as Khan was blasted out in just 55 seconds by the crude and wild Columbian Breidis Prescott. It was a shocking KO that split Khan from his senses, and highlighted his vulnerabilities.
Rubio, perhaps unfairly took the fall. It’s hardly likely that he sent Khan out guns blazing against a fighter with such a high KO percentage, but it’s been a pattern with Khan’s career that when things go wrong, someone often pays the price. In came hall of fame trainer Freddie Roach, who had so successfully partnered with Manny Pacquiao in his rise to superstardom and remarkably, just 3 fights after being so brutally humiliated, Khan was picking up his first world title, with a convincing UD victory over Andreas Kotelnik, claiming the WBA 140lb strap in his first fight at the weight. This was the start of Khan’s most convincing period in the sport, he was organised and disciplined against Kotelnik and used his speed and combination punching to comprehensively outwork the champion. This continued with his blowout of Salita and dominating performances against Paulie Malignaggi, Marcos Maidana, Paul McCloskey and Zab Judah.
In the meantime of course, there were more changes behind the scenes. Khan split with Warren despite having landed a World Title under his guidance, and sought to make his mark on the US market with Golden Boy Promotions. A cold business move, but one which seems to have paid off as Khan became a headline fighter on HBO and then Showtime, who he currently holds a 6 fight contract with. When the Floyd fight is formalised then that decision will be surely even more vindicated as it seems the only way to the Money fight (literally) is through GBP.
In the Maidana fight, we saw Khan determined to prove that he could take a shot and going to war with the hard hitting Argentine, barely surviving a couple of sticky moments when El Chino landed flush, but exciting the watching audience in the process. That bravado proved costly for Khan in his defeats to Peterson and Garcia, where carelessness and machismo cost him a disputed points defeat and yet another brutal KO loss. You could see that Roach was trying to get through to his fighter to stick with the plan, especially against Garcia who Khan probably gave more difficulty than anyone else in the first few rounds of their fight, but Khan was intent on proving that he could stand with anyone and that cost him, and surprisingly (although we should have learned by now) it cost Roach too as Khan jumped ship and went with defensive specialist Andre Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter.
Khan hasn’t looked particularly impressive in his two fights with Hunter against blown up lightweights, and this writer isn’t convinced that Hunter brings much to the table as a trainer. Ward is a fighter with a high natural boxing IQ, and it isn’t like any of Hunters’ other charges show the same levels of ringcraft. When you see him not even getting into the ring between rounds and listen to some of his puzzling instructions as a recovering fighter strains to turn his head to hear him it’s hard to be convinced that Hunter can bring anything that a Hall of Fame trainer like Roach couldn’t. But maybe this is all irrelevant.
For Mayweather and GBP, the UK is an attractive market and Khan is just about the biggest British name that they can face in and around Floyd’s weightclass. They’ve seen first hand what happens when a British fighter is involved in a huge fight, and Mayweather’s popularity there has continued to increase despite him defeating Hatton. With his TMT brand now a huge part of his future, Floyd would welcome the opportunity to visit the UK in promotion of a big fight, and with Golden Boy starting to sign British fighters and looking to stage shows over there too you can start to see a picture of why this fight made sense. When you add into the mix the considerable UK PPV income from the event it’s even more obvious, indeed, originally, the fight was being mooted to take place in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in London. Recently though, when the numbers were looked at, financially it couldn’t compete with the $$$$ generated by a superfight in a Vegas casino, where rather than facing costs to stage the event, the promoters would end up receiving an enormous site fee from the casino for the privilege of hosting it.
Floyd too, is really unlikely to fight outside of Las Vegas or the MGM Grand again before his career is out. It’s tagged “The Home Of The Champion” and he’s certainly in his comfort zone fighting in his adopted hometown. It’s also thought that problems with his hands have further cemented his reluctance to travel for a fight and lets face it, with the opportunity to earn a rumoured $6m in a night on the table, Khan would probably agree to staging the fight in Floyds back garden with Floyd Sr refereeing.
In boxing terms, it’s arguable that Khan provides a different sort of challenge to anything Floyd has faced since perhaps his fight with a peak Zab Judah. Khan brings blistering handspeed and decent combination punching to the table, and whilst most of the doubts over Khan centre around his punch resistance, Floyd hasn’t been a KO artist by any means in recent years. If he boxes as he did early against Danny Garcia, Khan could give Mayweather trouble. Common sense says that as usual, by the 3rd or 4th round Floyd will find his distance and timing and start to pull away, but this isn’t a complete mismatch on the level of the Guerrero fight earlier this year by any means and Khan will certainly not be intimidated by the bright lights or swagger of Money May. He’s been around megafights for a long time now and is arguably as well equipped for a huge event as any others in the vicinity (hey, i’m giving both sides of the argument here…)
Back to that famous night in 2008, Khan hosted a post fight party in Bolton for friends, family and of course business contacts. A giant screen was in place to show Hatton/Mayweather, but the swift manner of Khan’s victory meant that there was time to fill, and an impromptu Q+A session was quickly arranged. I took the microphone and asked Amir who he’d most like to fight if he could get in the ring with any fighter. His answer? – “Floyd Mayweather, 100%”. Who says dreams can’t come true?