James Lawton: Disabling left hook left Briton with little but heart


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The Independent Online

Last time it was The Man in the Hat who was said to have helped derail Amir Khan's journey towards a super-fight with Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao. This time there was no doubt about how reality was imposed. Sadly, but maybe inevitably, it was by nothing more ornate than a disabling left hook thrown by the ill-considered Danny Garcia.

It gave the 24-year-old of Puerto Rican blood and Philadelphia grooming – a mix of which there is not much a whole lot harder in all of boxing – Khan's WBA title to go along with his own WBC belt.

More significantly, it also ended the myth generated by the kind of hype that led, most recently, Ricky Hatton to his dismantling by Mayweather and Pacquiao. That such a fate awaited Khan sooner or later had been a suspicion hard to put aside ever since Breidis Prescott made free with his chin four years ago and, yesterday morning, the fear was made real from the moment Garcia landed his first devastating hook.

If there was any relief at all from the impending consequences it was that Khan was at the mercy of the heavy but scarcely clinical punching of Garcia rather than the surgical Mayweather or the explosive Pacquiao.

This, though, was the smallest consolation for anyone who had admired Khan's search for improvement which started so impressively in the boxing arena of the Athens Olympics eight years ago.

There, Khan was denied gold only by the skilful Cuban veteran Mario Kindelan and it is no strain on the memory to recall the passionate manner in which the 17-year-old vowed to make himself a world-class professional.

It is hard to imagine a greater discouragement to such an ambition than the firestorm produced by Prescott but Khan was not only as good as his word he also set a brilliant example to any British fighter with half an idea that he had a chance to go all the way to a significant place in the highest rankings. He put himself in the hands of the hugely respected American trainer Freddie Roach; he went to the heartland of the trade and he did the necessary work.

What he couldn't do, even as he talked up his chances to the extent of anticipating fights with Mayweather or Pacquiao, was overcome the handicap which reared up again so disastrously at the weekend.

He couldn't be taught how to fight hurt but while still in charge of superior qualities of speed and skill. For two rounds against Garcia, Khan was plainly superior but even under pressure his opponent retained the threat of delivering serious damage. When Garcia landed his most telling blow, the outcome quickly became merely a matter for the judgement of the excellent referee Kenny Bayless.

No doubt Khan, at the age of 25, will seek to rescue something from the debris and in Roach he has an adviser who has never been inclined to soften the realities of his business. What Khan can do is not so easy to say beyond a new resolve to operate within his own strengths and the huge imperative to understand the folly of fighting in a way best suited to his opponent.

It is here that we have seen the breakdown of the career of a fighter who has always been filled with the desire to make the best of all his assets.

Among these, courage remains high on the list, which is just as well when you consider the scale of the challenge that now awaits him if he ignores the advice that it might be time to walk away.

His crucial handicap was that he couldn't be taught how to fight hurt, for all his speed and skill