Amir Khan proved that boxing is a sport where absurd contradictions are normal, fairytales a regular occurrence and improbable redemption is just a new trainer away.
Khan won the World Boxing Association light-welterweight title on Saturday night in Manchester when his speed left Andreas Kotelnik mostly chasing empty spaces in a fight that was both shockingly one-sided and equally compulsive. Seldom has a boxer won so many rounds – two judges' scored all 12 rounds to Khan – in a championship fight and yet it was never remotely easily.
When people look back on this night with the assistance of record books they will view a deceptive set of figures which will never be able to convey the tension of the last four rounds as Khan wilted and Kotelnik came closer and closer with his desperate punches.
It was a fight that ended just before midnight, but it was won in the days and nights Khan spent at his trainer Freddie Roach's gym in Los Angeles. Roach fought 53 times as pro and never came near a world title, but on Saturday he was responsible for Khan's victory. There is no doubt that without Roach in the corner, Khan would be looking at a very different future.
"Freddie has been working with Manny Pacquiao for eight years – he's been with me just 10 months," said Khan. "This is just the start and now that I've got the belt, the people will come chasing and I want to fight in America."
Khan joined Roach after he was knocked out in just 53 seconds by Breidis Prescott last September in a fight that seemed to end his world title ambitions. In a twist it emerged that less than 24 hours before Khan's win on Saturday, Prescott had been beaten fighting for peanuts in virtual obscurity.
As expected Khan started fast, moving both left and right behind a stiff jab that seldom missed the top of Kotelnik's head. It looked easy on the eye, a perfect plan simply executed, but up close it was possible to see the concentration on Khan's face. He had been warned that a lapse at any point in the 36 minutes could be a disaster.
Roach and Khan had developed a plan based on hitting and not getting hit – winning on points and not going for glory. That was the pattern of the early rounds. It was also the strategy that Kotelnik expected and as a serious campaigner at the highest level it looked like it would only be a few rounds before Khan was forced to come down off his toes and fight in the centre of the ring.
It was noticeable that Khan was not throwing his right hand with any serious venom and by round eight Kotelnik was getting through, and for the first time the local idol was forced to hold.
However, Khan's jab was winning him the fight and Kotelnik, who is not a known puncher, was forced to rush forward swinging like a pub drunk in the final four rounds.
Khan used every bit of the experience gained in Roach's sweat-pit of a gym to move, hold, grab a breath and survive until the final bell brought an invasion of the ring by his family and a truly emotional outpouring from the 10,000 people inside the MEN.
The decision was unanimous and suitably wide and Kotelnik trudged off with his swollen features tucked into a blood-stained towel draped over his head.
Khan left the ring to a much brighter future, but it is not one without complications and the real possibility of immediate concessions and imminent trading.
There is bold talk of a huge fight with Ricky Hatton, which is a bit tasteless considering Hatton is about to spend another night in hospital with a gastric problem, and there is the threat of a forced fight against the WBA's other champion at the weight, Marcos Rene Maidana. Khan and promoter Frank Warren agree it would be good business but both would prefer Hatton to turn his sabbatical into retirement. Hatton's last fight ended with him out cold for three minute at the feet of Pacquiao in May.
Roach has said that fighting Maidana would be a mistake but Warren will no doubt find a way to keep the title, satisfy any mandatory defences and maximise the publicity from this win. "Amir will take a break and then we will all sit down and talk about the future, and that could be an American fight," Warren said.
Perhaps the last word on Khan's win should be from Roach, who has now trained 25 world champions. He said: "Amir showed some old-school moves that people don't see anymore. Fighters don't feint or go to the body like Amir did tonight. They just don't do that anymore." Well said, it was that type of fight.
Bolton to the world: Amir Khan's rise
*Born 8 December, 1986, in Bolton
*Aug 2004 Wins Olympic silver lightweight medal (below) after losing gold-medal fight to Mario Kindelan.
*May 2005 Avenges Kindelan defeat on points in final amateur fight.
*July Knocks out David Bailey in professional debut in Bolton.
*July 2007 Wins Commonwealth lightweight title after opponent Willie Limond retires.
*April 2008 Stops Martin Kristjansen to capture WBO Inter-Continental lightweight title.
*May Splits with trainer Oliver Harrison. Cuban Jorge Rubio named new trainer two months later.
*Sep Knocked out in first minute of WBO Inter-Continental lightweight title fight against Breidis Prescott. Sacks Rubio. Hires Freddie Roach the following month.
*Mar 2009 Captures vacant WBO Inter-Continental lightweight title with win over Marco Antonio Barrera.
By James Mariner