Boxing: Khan turns on style to claim world title

Bolton boxer shows benefit of Roach’s expert guidance in masterful display.
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The Independent Online

Exactly four years and eleven months to the day after he became the teenage Olympic silver medallist, Amir Khan has graduated to a professional World Champion taking the World Boxing Association light-welterweight title from the battle hardened Ukrainian Andreas Kotelnik at the MEN Arena last night.

At 22 and only in his 22nd fight the boy from Bolton has grown into a man of the world – King Khan they acclaimed him after a unanimous points win earned by a scintillating and scientific exhibition of boxing skills as you could wish to see.

Khan's coronation came after he had out-boxed, out-foxed and out-fought the 31-year-old champion in what on my scorecard – and that of one of the judges – was a virtual shut-out. Two other judges gave him victory by a nine rounds margin. The official scores were 120-108, 118-111 and 118-111 from the Danish, French and Spanish adjudicators.

At the venue, which has seen the worst and best of his nights – the 54 second humiliation by Bredis Prescott and the subsequent resurrection of his career with a bloody conquest of the Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera, Khan entered the ring clad in gold for the occasion.

It proved to be prophetic. From the start his jab was never out of Kotelnik's face and his defensive dexterity, in evading some wildly flung desperate punches, notably in the last round, showed how much he has learned under the tutelage in Los Angeles of the master tactician Freddie Roach. That jab, allied to his usual fast footwork peppered it's way towards a victory that was hard fought because of the Ukrainian's resistance and ever-present dangerous use of a right hand directed towards Khan's once vulnerable chin. But Khan protected himself well in some spiteful exchanges, sticking to a game plan devised by Roach that was designed to penetrate Kotelnik's defence.

Khan had clearly coped well with the move up to the light-welter division and his acquired knowledge of the sometimes not-so noble art was emphasised by the South African referee Stanley Christodoulou having to warn him, first for a low blow and then the old pros trick of using the elbow.

Khan danced and jabbed his way beautifully to become the second youngest British fighter to win a post-war world title. The on-looking Naseem Hamed was the first.

"Who would have thought within three fights after that defeat, in the third fight I would be World Champion," a jubilant Khan said. "Kotelnik came in there to win. I felt so strong, he caught me with some good shots. I am sure he will come back and be a world champion again. I had to box him, I had to pick my shots and not make a mistake because in the later rounds I did get tired. I had huge confidence and it was because of Freddie. It is for Freddie that I won this fight. I never doubted myself, I knew that I would come back and prove the critics wrong and that's what we did."

Khan is now a young man with the world at his fists. He can wake up today and ponder a number of possible options among them an all-British super fight against Ricky Hatton, which would fill the Manchester City football ground down the road. Hatton maybe currently indisposed but apparently he is well disposed towards such an encounter which on last night's evidence might not be a wise move for the seemingly all too easy to hit man.

Soon Khan will also be going to live and fight in America as he revealed to the Independent on Sunday last week. It is somewhere, he says, where he can be himself and chill out. It is also where he will increase his fame and further his fortune. The opportunities there include a title defence against Marcos Rene Maidana, an Argentinian who Kotelnik beat on a split decision but who has since stopped top prospect Victor Ortiz.

On the domestic front could there also, in time, be another home showdown with his old Team GB colleague Frankie Gavin, the world amateur champion, now boxing like Khan, at welterweight, who won again last night. Gavin is his stable-mate although the Kotelnik fight was the last under Khan's present contractual arrangement with Frank Warren and Sky.

Obviously negotiations are on-going to continue the association and Warren will be aware that after building up both Hatton and Joe Calzaghe into superstars they deserted him. Considering how skilfully the promoter has nurtured Khan into becoming a world champion, surely the fighter would be unwise to look elsewhere.