BOXING: Cocky Khan scrambles to victory after being floored

AMIR KHAN will want to forget last night as soon as possible.

The Olympic silver medallist left the Guild Hall shortly before midnight as the 2005 East Lancs, Cheshire, Cumbria and Isle of Man 64-kilo Amateur Boxing Association of England champion but the preposterous-sounding title fails to tell the true story.

Just eight days ago, Khan decided to fight at 64 kilos, an increase of more than four kilos. Last night, he had to fight twice, and, on both occasions, he looked uncomfortable and, more disturbingly, unprepared.

Khan, who is just 18, has been linked with several promoters in deals that would in theory make him a millionaire with just one simple flourish of his signature but last night he fought for nothing and looked truly dreadful both times.

In the second bout of the evening in front of almost 3,000 people, Khan met Manchester's Craig Watson in a semi-final at his new weight. Watson is 23 and a building labourer from the Clayton area of north Manchester but last night he so nearly became British sport's most unlikely hero.

For three rounds, Khan fought a dismissive, annoying and disrespectful fight but he never looked comfortable, even with his hands by his side and a slight grin on his face.

In round four, Watson finally stepped across a lazy Khan jab and connected with a short southpaw left that at first sent Khan's legs into spasm and then sent him crashing to the canvas. Khan regained his feet, survived the round and was a 21-9 winner but it looked like his nose had been damaged by the shot, not to mention the damage that had been caused to his reputation.

At just gone 11pm, Khan climbed through the ropes for the final. In the opposite corner was Liam Dorian, from the Arrow Club in Salford. Dorian is a neat and tidy boxer who chased Khan and was willing to exchange punches at every moment throughout the four rounds. Dorian was given two public warnings for holding and three standing eight counts for his bravery and resilience and during the last minute he chased Khan from corner to corner. Khan finished the fight with glazed eyes, his face and body smeared with blood from his damaged nose, which had started to swell.

It was a marginally better performance by Khan but it was hard to recognise the boy that was scrambling for balance in last night's ring with the balletic genius who mesmerised the crowds in Athens. Khan's coach Mick Jelley did not deny that there had been problems. He said: "It never went well for Amir but he showed tremendous heart and grit to come through two very hard fights. There are no excuses, he will be better next time.''

Khan will next climb through the ropes at the Olympia Arena in Liverpool on 18 February in the finals of the Northwest Counties of the ABA when he meets Steve Williams.

Two weeks is a long time in boxing and, last night, Khan found out just how hard it can be when corners are cut. Not surprisingly, and this is normal with boxers, Khan dismissed suggestions that his performance was poor. He said: "I stepped up in weight because I wanted to test myself and I did a good job.''

His words were met with an incredulous silence from the press, while his corner men, family and advisers could barely manage a nod of agreement. Last night was a poor night for the future of British boxing, if indeed that is what Khan is, but he will surely never be quite so bad again.

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