If You Wrote Off Amir Khan, You Were Wrong

Back in September, when talented lightweight Amir Khan got blown out in the 1st round, there were a lot of voices who were convinced Khan was not meant for better things, that he was hopeless and had been — you guessed it — “exposed.” Not I. Yes, I said, his chin is problematic, but he’s got so much natural ability that if he could learn to defend himself, he could disguise that weakness.

After Saturday, when Khan thoroughly defeated Marco Antonio Barrera, I wonder if the bandwagon will have added a few more trumpets, tubas and violins. I know I didn’t expect Khan to win, but only because I wasn’t convinced Khan had enough time in with new trainer Freddie Roach to correct his overeagerness and lack of D. And, really, I still see holes. Barrera just didn’t have enough left in his gas tank to do anything about it. After the fight was stopped in the 5th round because of an earlier cut resulting from an accidental head butt, Khan emerged with a redemptive technical decision win.

Before getting to Khan-Barrera a little more, a few thoughts on the undercard.

Five fights for $25. That’s value. The first two bouts were largely meaningless affairs, but I was glad to have them, and they weren’t bad scraps. Nice work, Integrated Sports.

Nicky Cook has got to be beating himself up today after the junior lightweight titlist looked firmly like he had his hands on the steering wheel before getting knocked out by Roman Martinez. Cook was bigger, sharper and hurt Martinez several times. Instead, in the 4th round, he got caught with a damaging uppercut from which he never fully recovered. He rose a split second before the count of 10, then unwisely decided to stand and trade. A left hook put him down again, after which Cook again rose a split second before the count of 10, at which point the ref stopped it. As usual, I’d rather have an early stoppage than a late one, but in this case, I think the ref should have let Cook continue. Yes, he was hurt, but his eyes looked fine and he might have survived the round if he clinched. But I won’t complain any longer than that. This was my first real look at either fighter, and I liked both. Hopefully, Cook can get another shot at a title or big name again, and Martinez should be dangerous to just about anyone with his power.

Enzo Maccarinelli, in contrast with Khan, now has a track record that makes you wonder if he can hide his flaws. The former cruiserweight titlist doesn’t have much of a chin, and his lack of athleticism makes you wonder whether he can develop a top-notch defense to hide it. He was winning every round against 20-1 underdog and soft touch Ola Afolabi save the 3rd before the end came in the 9th. Afolabi had five knockouts in 13 wins, but he hurt Mac in the 3rd with a counter on the ropes, then finished his man six rounds later with a giant right hand as Mac lugged his tired body around the ring. Mac fought the wrong fight, clearly, deciding to go inside for no good reason and loading up on everything when it was obvious Afolabi was probably going the distance. Granted, Afolabi had some skills, with a tricky defense and a sneaky knack for getting punches in. He also was frustrating Mac with his taunts early on before the ref made him stop for no good reason, as though taunting was against the rules. Mac can punch, and Afolabi clearly can take a shot, but it might be safe now to file Mac under “dangerous puncher but not much more.”


I’ve learned my lesson: Never bet against Roach. He sees the sport better than perhaps anyone in boxing, and he saw Khan beating Barrera. Add it to my list of not betting against Bernard Hopkins or Joe Calzaghe, either. Only when those three men are involved do things get confusing. The only thing Roach has been wrong about of late that I can think of is his belief that Hopkins was finished, when he clearly wasn’t. And I was wrong to pick Hopkins to beat Calzaghe.

Khan was, first and foremost, far too fast for Barrera. He’s really as quick as they come these days. His commitment to putting his gloves up after combinations has made an immeasurable difference in his game. Barrera didn’t catch Khan with but maybe one or two decent shots, and Khan, to his credit it, took them pretty well. Problem is, I don’t think Barrera hits hard at lightweight, and I think he’s long crossed over the hill.

Surely, the cut that opened in the 1st round didn’t help. And surely the fight should have been stopped sooner. My suspicion is that they’d wait until after the 4th so it wouldn’t be declared a no contest, and maybe that’s what happened. But before the cut, I saw no signs that Barrera was on track. Even when Khan gave him openings — and he did, because he gets carried away and overpunches sometimes — Barrera wasn’t speedy enough to capitalize. Somebody else may some day. Barrera went for it in the 4th and 5th, and it was the first time he showed signs of the old warrior spirit he’d had years ago. But it was useless aggression.

It’s a great big win for Khan, even if he was the betting favorite. You don’t beat even a faded legend like Barrera if you’re “A Mere Con.”

Next for the loser: I wish Barrera would re-retire. He’s just not very good these days, and only seems to have it in him to fight with passion for stretches at a time. And what’s Barrera without that? But there are rumors he needs the money. If that’s true, brace yourself for a long stretch of fights where Barrera alternates between smoking tomato cans and getting smoked by anyone who isn’t. It’s painful to contemplate.

Next for the winner: Roach believes Khan will win a major title soon, and he very well may. If Yuri Romanov wins a vacant belt, I suspect he’s as easy a target as Khan will get. Golden Boy Promotions wants to match real division champion and duel-titlist Juan Manuel Marquez against Khan, which is probably more competitive today than I thought it was yesterday, but Marquez, I think, would have no trouble taking advantage of Khan’s aggressiveness. Then there’s Edwin Valero, fighting for a vacant belt soon, who would be a pure nightmare for Khan. Whatever happens next, it’s nice to see the kid bounce back from such a terrible loss.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.