Amir Khan came through a thrilling contest with the Mexican light-welterweight Julio Diaz in the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield last night, winning on points after a fight which he could well have lost after being put down in the fourth round and taking repeated blows to the chin in the latter stages.
Khan had a big night on his hands. Not only was Diaz an opponent with pedigree as a two-time world champion but this was Khan’s first fight in Britain for more than two years after decamping to Los Angeles. His kid brother Haroon had successfully made his professional debut on the same card earlier on. Meanwhile Audley Harrison had seen his career all but terminated and Khan knew that another defeat could well have signalled the beginning of the end for him too.
The victory, however, could provide him with a lucrative set of fights moving up to welterweight with his Golden Boy promoters. Richard Schaefer, the American company’s chief executive, said afterwards that Khan’s next fight would be for a world title in September, but on this evidence there is some hard work to be done before then. It was Khan’s second fight with his new trainer, Virgil Hunter, after leaving Freddie Roach’s stable in LA, but he will have to up his game before he is in a position to fight men of the calibre of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jnr.
Khan was in bullish mood afterwards, however. “It was a great performance in there,” he said. “He was tough, he was on me all through the fight. He caught me while I was off balance, I got back up and I kept moving to recompose myself. My UK fans have always been supportive, they were behind me all the way. It was awesome to be back.”
The former Olympic silver medallist had started brightly until he came undone by two lefts from Diaz in the fourth, a round he lost 10-8. In the next, however, the Bolton fighter managed to get his swift combinations going, as if he had been stung into action. But it was tactical, backfoot boxing and a more measured approach than he has shown in the past after being sent to the canvas.
Khan’s jab was particularly impressive and he was quick to jump out of trouble after delivering his combinations. In the seventh he appeared to open up a cut in the scar tissue above Diaz’s right eye, though the bleeding was not serious, and the experienced Diaz worked his way back into the fight and caused Khan to wobble on his feet from a big right hook in the ninth.
The 10th round belonged to Diaz as he landed a good left hook to the chin, and in the 11th another big left had Khan tottering after being caught with his guard down throwing his own punches. By the end Khan was hanging on, literally, but his work in the early stages was probably enough to see him through what was a tricky but very exciting encounter.