Boxing: Khan reveals ruthless streak and hint of recklessness on pro debut

Click to follow
The Independent Online

On Saturday night at the Bolton Arena Amir Khan ended his amateur days with a 109-second stoppage of Pimlico's David Bailey in a bewildering fight that simply happened far too fast for Khan, Bailey and most definitely the virgin boxing broadcasters ITV.

On paper Bailey was meant to survive the full distance of four three-minute rounds. But he walked on to one shot, walked on to another and it was simply a matter of seconds before his battered head came to rest on the referee's chest.

It has to be said - and it has to be said clearly - that this was not an ideal debut for a new king of boxing.

However, it is not Khan's fault that Bailey was on top of him before the first and only bell had dimmed and it is not Khan's fault that his reactions are so clinical and precise that he struggled to miss Bailey's willing face with a single punch. To tell the truth, it is nobody's fault because this is the type of thing that happens in the glorious sport of boxing. Things go wrong far more often than things go right and that is something that the cheery executives at ITV will have to start understanding in the coming months.

Nobody will ever know what made Bailey fight like the baddest man on the planet for about 20 seconds on Saturday night, but it certainly backfired on him. He was dropped twice and rescued from his own bravery by a referee who, in turn, was without doubt the bravest man in the whole of Lancashire at the time. There would have been no excuse for Phil Edwards not stopping the fight after the second knockdown, when it was clear that Bailey had no idea where he was.

In the end Khan - with his union flags and his music borrowed from the Proms - was triumphant and 6,000 people left their chairs with big and contented smiles on their faces for just a short while. Because within 10 minutes of the end of the fight there was a security alert and the Bolton Arena was evacuated, leaving two boxers in the ring even when the lights went out. Thankfully, there was no explosion and no doubt the prankster will be found and severely dealt with.

Khan, who, we should remember, is just 18, will be back in action on ITV when his promoter Frank Warren can find somebody suitable to meet Joe Calzaghe in a World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight title fight in Cardiff. Calzaghe is without doubt the old man of the British ring and unless he finds some desperately needed form he is in danger of simply falling off the boxing map. That is certainly something that the suits at ITV will not want to happen.

Having seen Khan more than most, I was not surprised at the way he cut down and ruined Bailey on Saturday night, because underneath that charming little smile and the glorious boy-next-door image he is particularly nasty in the ring.

To put into perspective just how hard he hits, it is worth looking at the 13-month period that began on 1 July 2003 and ended on 29 August 2004. Khan fought 29 times in the US, Greece, Lithuania, Italy, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany and Korea in that time, and stopped or knocked out 13 of the world-class men that appeared in front of him. A swift perusal of such stunning statistics puts into perspective just how much of a chance there was of Bailey lasting as long as he did.

But I did notice one or two mistakes, the type of errors that far too many people call "amateur mistakes''. Khan did get caught by a short right hook and it did appear to hurt him. Then, once the blood was rushing and the fans were screaming, he clearly neglected his own defence in an all-out and understandable bid to knock Bailey senseless. Even non-boxing fans will understand that the best part of any champion's make-up is his defence and not his offence, as they say in America. Khan will have to improve his defensive qualities because at some time in the future he will meet a man who is prepared to wait for an opening.

Khan and the people surrounding him, especially Warren, are aware of the many pitfalls that lie between Saturday's fight and hoped for million-pound paydays to come. Nevertheless, it is good to note the flaws from the start. Khan will be back and in front of 6,000 fans and millions watching on ITV.

The main event on Saturday was not Khan. The main event was the British heavyweight title fight between Bedford's Matt Skelton and a hastily arranged substitute, Mark Krence.

The fight ended after seven rounds when Skelton had managed to clobber Krence enough to persuade the butcher from Chesterfield's corner men to call it all off.

Once again, nobody was to blame for this often tiresome seven-round fight because Skelton was supposed to have met his nemesis Danny Williams, from Brixton, who returned to London on Friday night with a severe case of the flu.

Just a few hours after Khan and Skelton left the ring in Bolton one of boxing's modern greats, Bernard Hopkins, stepped through the ropes in Las Vegas to defend his middleweight world title for the 21st time in the 10th year of his reign.

In the opposite corner was Jermain Taylor and after 12 often bemusing rounds Taylor received a highly controversial split decision. Hopkins, who had planned to retire early next year, will most probably meet Taylor in a rematch on 1 October.