OFTEN Amir Khan has been accused of letting his heart rule his head, of losing the plot, of showing balls rather than brains, and of acting without any consideration for his health or future.
This all changed against Terence Crawford tonight (April 20) in New York, however. At Madison Square Garden, quite the opposite was true, and plenty didn’t like it.
The fight began the way many expected, with Khan playing the role of old. He started fasted, he made a glaring mistake for which he was swiftly punished, and he found himself on the canvas. So far, so normal.
But then something changed. By round six, Khan, having shown cameos of what makes him so watchable (the aggression, the fragility, the frantic ADHD raids), decided to use his head, slow down and think about it. Time stopped.
Ironically, what triggered this moment of clarity was a pain in his balls, administered by a Crawford low blow. The wayward shot – an accidental one – gave Khan a time out and some breathing space. It offered him the chance to converse with his coach, Virgil Hunter, and the break was timely. He needed the break. They needed the break.
Up to that point, every one of Khan’s missteps had been countered by a sharp WBO welterweight champion and, to compound matters, his right arm had been injured in the fourth round. For the visitor, it was all going wrong. The writing was on the wall (it spelled KO stoppage loss, perfectly legible).
David Fields, the referee, appeared happy to give the Briton five minutes to recover but recovery, he would soon discover, was the last thing on the minds of Khan and Hunter. Together, they decided enough was enough and that, unlike previous adventures, no good was going to come from being the tough guy or the bandy-legged guy the more squeamish members of the audience watch through their hands so concerned are they that he’s about to get flattened.
Khan has been that boxer in the past. More than once, in fact. But in New York, encouraged by Hunter’s compassion and foresight, he used his head and got out. Due to either a pain in the balls, or some eureka moment in the head, the fight was stopped.
There were boos, of course. For the thousands in attendance at Madison Square Garden, it was the mother of all cop-outs. They saw not a boxer using his head and saving himself for another day but instead a boxer finding the going too tough and wanting to escape with his paycheck and as little damage as possible. It irked them. They wanted more. They demanded more. For what’s a fight without a conclusive knockout finish? Scrap that. What’s an Amir Khan fight without a conclusive knockout finish? Frankly, it’s what they all came to see.
That it never materialised will no doubt have been disappointing. However, Khan, it must be said, has produced and received plenty of conclusive knockout finishes over the years. We can surely forgive him for depriving us of one against Crawford, 35-0 (26).
Besides, let’s not kid ourselves. As soon as this fight was made, there was an unavoidable feeling Khan was in too deep and that the best-case scenario was for him to come away unscathed. It wasn’t a fight he could win. It was never a fight he could win. Crawford was too good, too fresh, and too clever for a man who makes far too many mistakes. Instead, the hope, from a British perspective, was that Khan’s experience and speed, what remains of it, would at least be enough to see him through safely and perhaps get him to the final bell.
Were that to happen, Khan, at 32, would presumably be okay to fight again and, who knows, return to the UK and reignite that tedious on-off-on-off rivalry with Kell Brook. A lucrative one-two, Crawford and Brook represents quite the 2019, financially speaking, and therefore Khan’s decision to accept the Crawford fight was, in the context of this plan, or something like it, deemed a no-brainer. So, too, was his exit strategy.
Khan, 33-5 (20), used to be all youthful energy and ignorance. It made him exciting, just as it made him vulnerable. These days, though, perhaps it’s different. He has, after all, won world titles (two of them) and flirted with different weight classes and champions (a few of them). He knows both his strengths and limitations. He can see a fight he can win and a fight he cannot. Matured and humbled, no longer does he believe he is invincible in a sport that historically punishes those who indulge in such delusion. In that sense, he has grown up; now human in every sense of the word. He is a businessman, too.
In New York, Khan was injured, he was outclassed, and he was losing. He was, many will say, hurtling towards a guaranteed loss, probably by stoppage, and decided to remove the possibility of this happening by removing himself from the fight before the halfway mark. He did so because he’s experienced now and can anticipate what is about to unfold in a way he couldn’t in his younger days. More importantly, he did so because Amir Khan, still a name both stateside and at home, has other nights and other paydays ahead of him.
In the end, the decision to stop fighting when he did might not have been the warrior move, the move the fans at Madison Square Garden have come to expect from Amir Khan, but it could turn out to be the right business move. Only time will tell.