Boxing: King Khan and Co prove that Britain's got talent
Those who were giving boxing the Last Rites – not to mention a few lethal lefts – should be suitably chastened by the battered old sport's remarkable resurrection last weekend. In Las Vegas and Liverpool there were fights which not only breathed new life into the game but indicated that the quality of Britain's talent should not be measured by the size of Audley Harrison's heart.
The former Olympic super-heavyweight champion's capitulation against David Haye, so we were told, left boxing with one fist in the grave. But thanks to another couple of Olympians, it is alive and well, and still in there punching.
In Vegas, Khan demonstrated that apparently you can put muscles on chins. The 24-year-old from Bolton not only survived – in one of the best and must brutal battles I have seen since Ali v Frazier III (the Thrilla in Manila) 35 years ago – but also demonstrated his worthiness to be recognised as a true warrior in the noblest traditions of the sport, and not a chinless wonder.
The WBA light-welterweight champion's epic victory over the No 1 contender Marcos Maidana made compelling viewing here for those Sky Box Office subscribers who had not been turned off after splashing out their £14.95 on the travesty that was Haye v Harrison. Now it is the stigma of that embarrassingly brief encounter, not boxing itself, which needs to be killed off and unceremoniously buried.
A few hours earlier, in Liverpool, James DeGale brilliantly acquired the British super-middleweight title from Paul Smith, in only his ninth pro bout – and in the Liverpudlian's back yard. With Nathan Cleverly, albeit comparatively uninspiringly on the night, taking the WBO interim world light-heavyweight title, and Sheffield welterweight Kell Brook, an ambitious young man in the same charismatic mould as Khan and Naseem Hamed, establishing his own future world credentials, it was an emphatic reminder that British boxing does have talent. Especially when you toss into the ring the names of Haye, Carl Froch and Ricky Burns, who hold versions of the world heavyweight, super-middleweight and super-featherweight titles respectively, with unbeaten prospects Frankie Gavin and Billy Joe Saunders, fellow members of Frank Warren's Olympian elite, waiting in the wings.
Floyd Mayweather Jnr is currentlyoccupied with assault charges – he is due in court tomorrow – which carry a potential jail term. However, if and when he becomes available, he can expect a challenge from Khan late next year, following the Bolton man's next fight, which he wants to be in Britain on 16 April. But moving up to welterweight against someone of Mayweather's clout may carry graver risks than the one he undertook against Maidana, even though the Money Man is not such a concussive puncher. But he still hits hard and often. Ask Ricky Hatton.
Such was the intensity of the attrition that even Naseem Hamed is worried about the effect on Khan's future:"I saw a great friend and brother go through some tough times and I don't ever want to see that again," he says. "He must have a heart as big as a bucket of gold but fights like that can shorten your career."
It could be argued that had this great fight been a month earlier, Khan would have been short-listed as a contender for tonight's BBC Sports Personality of the Year award alongside fellow fighter Haye – who finally seems destined to get in the ring with Wladimir Klitschko this spring.
Rather than being out on its feet, boxing in Britain is actually healthierthan for many years now that Khan and Co have had the gumption – and the genuine class – to hit back and restore its credibility.
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