Boxing: 'Khanage' casts doubt on health of a nation

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The Independent Online

Just over half a century ago, a young British middleweight prospect named Terry Downes was savagely beaten in five rounds by a then unknown Nigerian, Dick Tiger. Afterwards, in his dressing room, Downes was cautiously asked whom he would like to fight next. "The fucker who made that match," he growled.

Amir Khan is not normally given to colourful rhetoric, but he did permit himself one uncharacteristic four-letter word after his 54-second KO by the Colombian Breidis Prescott last weekend. "It has given me the kick up the arse that maybe I needed," he said.

Perhaps it is not his backside that needs kicking but that of the man who made the match, to whom Khan extended greater charity than did Downes. Jorge Rubio, his new Cuban trainer, beat a swift retreat to Miami, but Khan insists he will not be jettisoned after just one fight or the sort of misjudgement that caused one leading American matchmaker to phone with a warning that Prescott posed too great a danger for Khan.

"Jorge has already taught me a lot," says Khan. "I just never got the opportunity to show it."

However, voices within Team Khan suggest that the Cuban, whose appointment was scornfully derided by Khan's dis-carded British trainer, Oliver Harrison, as "madness – an amateur who was hired because he was cheap ", will not be in the corner for Khan's ring rehab in Birmingham on 6 December.

Rubio's bizarre selection of the unbeaten, power-hitting Prescott was made against the better judgement of the pro-moter, Frank Warren, who has the job of picking up the pieces after Manchester's "Khanage".

"I should have put my foot down," he reflects. Khan had been next in line to meet the winner of this weekend's multi-belt world lightweight title fight between Nate Campbell and Joan Guzman, but the way he was taken apart by Prescott is an indication of just how far he has to go before he is ready for this sort of pairing.

The problem, as Warren knows, is that whoever Khan now faces, even if the globe is scoured for non-punchers, any Tom, Dick or Carlos will come at him with flailing fists in the belief that his fragile chin is his Achilles heel, so to speak.

Worryingly, not only was he stunned by swiftly assembled hooks and crosses but initially he was wobbled by a jab thrown more in the manner of Prescott's political namesake.

What Rubio, and Harrison before him, obviously have not taught him is the need to keep his head and, more importantly, to protect it.

The one thing in Khan's favour is that, devastating as his double- knockdown demolition was, it was watched only by a few thousand on pay-per-view rather than the millions who have salivated over his quicksilver performances on ITV.

There is no doubt that the charismatic Khan will remain box office, as the reception he received at Friday's fight night in aid of DebRA, the charity who help battle the terrible skin disease EB, showed. But whether he can still be Sky Box Office is a question that must concern Warren and the satellite channel, with whom he has anongoing deal.

Khan is decent young man with a great talent in a brutally unforgiving trade which has been quick to put the boot in. He might be better advised to take himself off to the US and spend the next three months in one of the boxing boot camps of Los Angeles. And he must start listening to the pros rather than the backslappers.

Khan's career may not quite have gone down the drain, but his fellow Olympic medallist Audley Harrison fought like one in his dreary defeat of a blown-up Brazilian cruiserweight on the same bill last weekend.

Like Khan, Harrison believes he can still be a world champion,but with the A Force clearly a spent force, and Khan's future questioned, one wonders whether the onlooking new wave of Olympians, including gold medallist James DeGale, might just consider putting prudence before professionalism, at least for the time being. But the British pro game is again in need of an infusion of fresh talent if it is to regain the heady status of only a year ago, when it boasted seven world champions.

Khan is young and determined enough to fight his way back, and history is littered with those who have picked themselves up off the floor to become world champions, from Floyd Patterson to Oscar De La Hoya, Charlie Magri to Nigel Benn.

And you can add another to that list: Terry Downes. So chin up, Amir. Or rather, down.