Amir Khan at Crossroads After Fourth-Round Loss to Danny Garcia
Kevin Mitchell for The Guardian
Amir Khan does not lack for friends. They gathered around him in impressive numbers in the small hours of Sunday morning after the second shocking stoppage loss of his career – this time at the hands of the strong young Philadelphian Danny Garcia in four rounds at the Mandalay Bay on Saturday night – and it seems not only will he fight on but he will be encouraged to do so by those who write the cheques as well as the condolence cards.
How wise this sympathy is might become clearer when they have time to reflect on the consequences of their loyalty. Khan will have to start again.
If he has the stomach for it, fine. If he finds some discipline to go with his courage and talent, fine. If he could buy a new chin, even better still.
But boxing rarely allows fighters to write all their own story. It seems unlikely that Khan will get a rematch with the unbeaten Garcia, a fine champion but the son of an intransigent father, Angel, who wants to move on, declaring Khan “an old pair of shoes”. It was a remark as cutting as were his pre-fight barbs, which had strong racial undertones and which got to Khan, according to his trainer, Freddie Roach.
This WBA/WBC light-welterweight unification bout defeat was a bad loss. It was bad for quite a few reasons. Not only did Khan, reinstalled as the WBA champion at 10st, lay down a beautiful gameplan in the first two rounds then rip it up, but the chin that Breidis Prescott famously exposed inside a minute in Manchester four years ago again looks a liability.
Khan did not lose just because he was angry. He lost because Garcia survived a ferocious battering for two rounds then got him with a peach of a counter that unravelled his senses. He lost because he boxed poorly – and he knows it.
The punches that felled him were heavy and arrived unseen – a left hook behind the ear in the third round, a glancing right that relieved his unsteady legs of their power at the start of the fourth then another arcing hook from the left that thumped the top of his head to finish it 32sec from the end of a fierce, thrilling stanza.
He was not counted out; indeed he would have fought on until dawn. But he would have been badly beaten up had Kenny Bayless, a sound referee, let it continue.
Khan went out swinging, but he should have gone out boxing – and winning. Too often, as Roach, the boxer’s father Shah, and his American promotional partner Richard Schaefer, agreed afterwards, he is unable to resist a war.
He is some entertainer. But he entertains disaster – especially when he lets the fire in his belly burn through his arms without constraint.
As Roach said while Khan was undergoing routine checks in hospital: “The plan was to counterpunch, use the jab, but Mr Garcia got under his skin, and his heart got in the way. Amir says he will be back. Hopefully Garcia will come to England and we will fight him over there.”
From what Angel Garcia said afterwards, there is no hope of that. “Why should we?” he screamed. “He is like an old pair of shoes that you throw out. Who needs him now?”
Cruel? Well, Mr Garcia is a pretty uncompromising character – and a roadblock to a rematch.
Schaefer, the CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, was still supportive, though. “I agree with Freddie. Amir will be back. He’s an exciting fighter, one of the best pound for pound. He likes to entertain and the public like to see fights like that. We will let him rest and see what opportunities are out there for him at 140lb. Sometimes his balls are too big for his own good, but that’s what makes him the fighter he is. It doesn’t mean we have to write off Amir Khan. Who wouldn’t want to see him again?”
Shah Khan added: “He’s got a big heart and wanted to get engaged. All he had to do was stay one step away, but that’s the way he is. He’s OK, no worries, just getting a check-up in hospital. The Americans love him, Mandalay Bay love him, HBO love him. He’s not one of those guys who hides away.”
Yet, for all the kind words and promises of rehabilitation, Khan is a beaten champion for the third time in his career. That’s a worrying cycle of events. And for the second time, he has been physically taken apart.
The doubly disappointing aspect to the evening for Khan was that he had it pretty much all his own way for two-and-a-half rounds. He carved bleeding bruises in Garcia’s right eyelid, cheek and nose. Victory seemed assured.
Then he was felled by a left hook behind the ear – and we were in Prescott territory again. Garcia found the sweet spot twice more, and it was done. “I’m a killer,” Garcia said later.
Before he went to hospital, Khan took a quick look at the replay. He did not like what he saw. “I was coming in with my hands down and Danny took advantage,” he said. “I respect Danny. He was countering very well against me, I got a little complacent and he caught me. I was a little surprised when the referee stopped it. My mind was clear and my legs were OK. I respect the commission and the officials. Who knows? Maybe they made the right call.”
They did. Without question.
The other loss on his record – a controversial decision to Lamont Peterson in Washington last December – was seemingly forgiven by Golden Boy Promotions, HBO and the public – especially when Peterson failed a drug test.
Khan had tremendous backing on Saturday night. But talk of a super-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr in London next May is no longer relevant.
Whatever Schaefer says, Khan will have to reconstruct his career from the bottom up. There will be no immediate world title fight. It will be against a lesser foe, someone he might struggle to feel motivated against – and that is another danger for him. He lives on the adrenaline of the big occasion – and, on Saturday night, it flooded his brain with foolishness.