In a brilliant display of speed, stamina, defense, controlled boxing and movement, England’s Amir Khan Saturday totally outclassed a very good and difficult junior welterweight titlist, Andreas Kotelnik, fully rebounding from a devastating knockout loss last year to score the best win of his young career.
Will the harshest Khan critics shut up now? They ought to, even if there will be understandable questions about what will happen if Khan once again faces a world-class power puncher, which is not what Kotelnik is. But Khan is not, in any way, “A Mere Con,” the brutal nickname he earned after the 1st round KO he suffered against Breidis Prescott.
Khan won by scores of 120-108 once and 118-111 twice, and I gave Kotelnik a couple rounds myself. However you scored it, none of the four previous top-10 junior welters Kotelnik had faced before had done anything like what Khan did to him — practically shut him out. Kotelnik fought close with every one of those four, including the then-highly regarded Junior Witter in a loss and the suddenly hot Marcos Maidana in a win. Khan nullified virtually everything Kotelnik did, and when Kotelnik did have some success, Khan’s chin held up at the new weight and he fired back to erase whatever points Kotelnik may have scored.
It’s hard to say which was more impressive of the traits Khan put to magnificent use. His legs were wonderful, helping him glide around the ring with seeming ease and weave in and out. His speed, the trait I thought would make the difference, was simply too much for the slow of hand Kotelnik, as Khan flurried at will to force Kotelnik to cover up. Kotelnik likes to counter after his opponent flurries, but defensively, Khan was already gone at the end of each offensive sequence, and/or popped his gloves up to block whatever came his way. Khan picked his spots beautifully, landing his jab easily through Kotelnik’s guard — through 10 rounds, Khan had a 50 to eight jab edge over a pretty good jabber — and smacking body shots under Kotelnik’s guard when he wasn’t flurrying. And as much as Khan moved, and as busy as he was offensively to outwork the cautious Kotelnik, he never seemed to tire much. Some of the British commentators called it one of the best performances ever by a British fighter, and they said the win makes Khan the youngest-ever British alphabet titleholder, at just age 22. There is, of course, a difference between “good” and “exciting;” nothing Khan did ever really did any damage to Kotelnik, and the rebuilt
Kotelnik, who delivers knockouts in less than half of his fights, usually delivers them through accumulation of punches, but no punches could accumulate. No individual punch wobbled Khan, either, which, given how “chinny” he is as they say over in Great Britain, was a good sign. He tried hard to win, and had a bit more success late in keeping the rounds close, but for most of the fight, he was simply in too deep against a truly talented specimen of a fighter, no matter how vulnerable he is in the beard department. Trainer Freddie Roach has made the most of Khan’s abilities and done everything conceivable to neutralize his weaknesses. There is, of course, a difference between “good” and “exciting;” nothing Khan did ever really threw any punches that were intended to do real damage to Kotelnik, and the rebuilt Khan, I’m guessing, won’t be scoring many more knockouts or waging any serious slugfests. But it goes to show, once more, how much you can’t write off a talented fighter after one loss. And with the British fans loving him the way they do when he wins, he’s probably better off being good than exciting.
The plan now is to look at matching Khan with Ricky Hatton or Juan Manuel Marquez, assuming the latter loses his fight in September against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Not long ago, I would have thought both fights preposterous, even though I was less willing than some to write Khan off completely. Hatton hits harder than Kotelnik and fights with far greater abandon. Marquez is smarter and just all-around better than nearly anyone on the planet. But Khan would have edges on both of them in a number of departments, especially age and speed, and I can’t say I’d give him no chance of beating either, especially Hatton, who may be damaged goods after a couple nasty knockout losses. The worst thing that could happen to Khan is for him to have to fight mandatory challenger Maidana, a big, big puncher who can’t be frozen with flurries the way Kotelnik was. But all of this is tomorrow. Today, Khan deserves massive respect for putting his career back together so valiantly.