AMIR KHAN deserves to remembered fondly when he retires. An Olympic silver medallist at the age of 17. A series of thrilling victories that came before and after crushing defeats. Two world belts claimed from top opposition. That stunning victory over Marcos Maidana. Stationing himself in the USA during his peak and becoming a bona fide attraction. And the kind of courage and determination that would make the countless keyboard warriors run for cover if they were presented with the opportunity to be so pathetically cruel to his face.
When that retirement comes, though, is unknown. And despite rallying from a near-disastrous second round knockdown against the unheralded Samuel Vargas to win a 12-round decision, Khan’s time is surely coming to an end. The speed remains, no question. So too much of the talent which made him one of Britain’s greatest. But the effects of ageing will heighten the mistakes he’s always made. And that wild and uncontrollable machismo is long beyond repair.
In the first round his speed came out to play and the end appeared nigh for Samuel Vargas, seemingly outclassed and unable to keep up. The mismatch so many predicted, including Boxing News, seemed on the money. Then Khan got nailed at the end of round two. His body crumpled [below] just like it crumpled against Breidis Prescott, Danny Garcia and Saul Alvarez. This time the ever-brave Khan, saved by the bell, survived. He deserves credit for going to the mill, for winning a gruelling fight. His matchmaker, too, for not aiming too high.
But the warning signs for his future are flashing red.
It’s true he’s been here before. He’s emerged from scares. Thrived in them, almost. He’s experienced humiliating losses that would ruin lesser men and come back stronger. But this time it seems different. Even at the age of just 31. The horror crashes are piling up. The brain scrambling punches are leaving their mark. The longer he fights on, the more extreme the danger to his future becomes.
Some suggested that Khan should look to a new trainer, that Joe Goossen was somehow to blame for Amir’s performance last night. A new trainer is not what Khan needs. Oliver Harrison, Jorge Rubio, Freddie Roach, Virgil Hunter and Dean Powell, if he were still alive, would tell you that. Khan remains an awe-inspiring sight when in full flow but if those fine men could not harness his reckless abandon, no one can. Particularly this long into his career. Only Khan can correct his shortcomings but nobody can reverse the ageing process. The only way boxers cope successfully with fading reflexes is to adapt their styles accordingly. It’s a long shot for a fighter as electrifying as Amir Khan.
Boxing history is strewn with brave men who fought for too long, who failed to acknowledge the finishing line had come and gone.
Perhaps the Bolton superstar still has one more lap left to run. Perhaps he can prove us wrong yet again. Perhaps we’re writing him off unfairly. This was just the second fight after a two-year layoff, after all. Following a punishing loss to Danny Garcia in 2012 and an unexpected struggle against the unfancied Julio Diaz the following year, Khan went on to produce sublime victories over Luis Collazo and Devon Alexander in 2014. And that’s without mentioning the glorious rebuild he completed after the one-round defeat to Prescott way back in 2008.
But the Alexander victory was four years ago. A brutal loss to Canelo Alvarez came in 2016. One that left him motionless on the canvas and calling promoter Oscar De La Hoya from hospital to say he was okay. And this latest war came against Samuel Vargas, let’s not forget. Plucky, willing, but not world class. Not Alvarez, not Maidana, not even Julio Diaz.
All that matters for Khan is he got the win. His desire to continue, to chase that elusive showdown with Manny Pacquiao must be respected for now.
And perhaps we should be grateful that he’s calling out Pacquiao and not Errol Spence Jnr or Terence Crawford or Shawn Porter or even shouting Kell Brook’s name too loudly. That the target remains Pacquiao, himself 39 years old and war-torn and on the way down, is perhaps the most damning evidence yet that Amir Khan also knows the truth.