Boxing: Brutal Khan grows up fast

Amir Khan celebrated his 21st birthday yesterday in blistering fashion, confirming his coming of age not only as a man but a potential world champion. He took only 72 seconds to retain his Commonwealth lightweight title against Graham Earl, who had been earmarked to provide the most serious test yet of the former Olympic silver medallist's 15-fight career.

Earl, 29, himself a former Commonwealth and British champion, came with every intention of spoiling Khan's party. But he was hardly given the chance to put his foot in the door.

He quickly discovered he could not get inside the long jab of the taller Khan and the fight hardly seemed to have started before he was on the receiving end of a left hook and a following right that sent him crashing down for a count of eight.

Khan was on him as soon as he rose, unleashing a barrage which left Earl totally bewildered and ensnared in his own corner. Referee Howard Foster stepped in to halt what would have been, surely, an inevitable carnage.

It was a victory that Khan's promoter Frank Warren described as "phenomenal". He said: "I never expected that. Amir was simply sensational."

This was to have been by some distance the sternest examination of Khan's credentials, but he showed the massive improvement he makes with every fight and increased punching power.

"I knew I could do it," Khan said. "I knew I had the power, the technique and the speed, but even I was overwhelmed by the way I ended it. No disrespect to Graham, he's a great fighter, but to beat someone like that in the first round shows I'm improving all the time."

The crowd sang "Happy Birthday to You", and for Khan the partying was continuing into the early hours as, with his family and many of his supporters, he prepared to watch Ricky Hatton battling Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas. His bout last night had been a TV hors d'oeuvre for the boxing banquet. But what a tasty dish it turned out to be. Khan's next appearance will be on 2 February, and Warren is promising a mega-fight in June at a football ground. "This is the start of a new era," Warren said. "This fight was a huge step forward for Amir. From now on it is onwards and upwards. But the problem is, after this, it's going to be so difficult to match it."

Khan himself has a clear-cut vision of his own destiny. "I'm 21 now, and I intend to be a world champion before I'm 22," he said. "I believe I am ready now to fight anyone they put in front of me."

He says he would like to follow Hatton and invest in the US sock market. But it is more likely that he will be fast-tracked to a fight with the current British champion John Thaxton.

Some ringsiders thought that referee Foster acted too hastily in stopping the fight when he did. But in view of the punches that Earl had taken against the Australian Michael Katsidis in February for the WBU belt, it was probably a wise decision.

Khan added: "I was picking my shots from the start. I soon saw he was open to a left hook, and when I hit him I could see his legs go. It was always my intention to win inside six rounds, but I didn't think I would do it as quickly as that." Again Khan has shown that he is a young man in a hurry. Soon he will be catching up with the best in the world.

Dean Francis, the 33-year-old Commonwealth light-heavyweight champion, made a successful first defence of the title he won in February, out-jabbing the resilient Ghanaian Michael Gbenga with a unanimous points decision over 12 rounds.

But Wayne Elcock's bid to take the IBF middleweight title from Arthur Abraham ended in defeat in Switzerland as the Birmingham fighter was knocked out by the German in the fifth round by a right-left combination.