The true extent of Amir Khan’s problems as a prizefighter will be exposed tonight if he fails to do in the ring what he has spent two months perfecting in the gym.
The reputation of Virgil Hunter, fifth in a line of men paid to train Khan, is also under scrutiny at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles when Khan goes up against local fighter Carlos Molina. Khan and Hunter are enjoying a fabulous honeymoon period but once Molina connects, the strain is in danger of showing.
Khan has always been too brave for his own good, an instinctive fighter even when he was a schoolboy boxer, and countless wise men have tried to curb his enthusiasm for the fight during 16 years in various gyms.
In a professional career of 26 wins and three defeats, it is possible to make a case that all the losses were due to Khan losing control of his emotions at crucial moments. He insists that his wild days are over and, as the enigmatic Hunter hovers approvingly in the background, he claims that he has rediscovered his defensive qualities. “This is a make-or-break fight for me,” admitted Khan. “I have to keep control of my emotions and not over-react at the wrong time.” It is, obviously, easier said than done and we have heard it before from Khan.
Hunter is a gentle disciplinarian with a wide knowledge of boxing’s black arts and he has spent hours alone with Khan talking and going over what appear to be the most basic moves. However, looks can be deceptive and Khan has been a willing scholar at Hunter’s feet, picking up the slightest of alterations that could make a massive difference.
“It will take more than one fight to get things right,” said Hunter, a man who chooses his words as carefully as he picks his fighters. “We are working in the direction that we want to be heading.”
In July, Khan was stopped by Danny Garcia in a world-title fight that had savage implications outside the ring, and it was no great shock when he dropped Freddie Roach, who had trained him since 2008, as part of the rehabilitation process. A full picture of the environment Khan found himself in prior to the awful loss to Garcia may have only just surfaced, Khan claiming he got into “too many wars” in sparring sessions.
Hunter has slowed Khan down in an attempt to make him think more before throwing his punches; it is a sensible ploy that just about any half-decent coach would try to implement. The real trick that separates the good corner men from the great ones is what actually happens once the bell sounds. Hunter will have to earn his money in the 60 seconds between rounds when he has to talk sense to an adrenalin-crazed Khan. The 60-second break has been the domain of excellence for Manny Steward, Angelo Dundee and Eddie Futch during the last 50 years.
Molina has been picked perfectly to offer just enough credible resistance to avoid criticism but not enough to ruin what will be the last phase of Khan’s top-level boxing career.
He is 27, a year older than Khan, and unbeaten in 18 fights on the Southern Californian club circuit. He likes going eight rounds or more, holds no secret fears in either fist and will be shorter and smaller.
Khan, meanwhile, will know that a third consecutive loss will reduce him to big-name opponent status, which is the penultimate resting place for all fighters with shattered dreams.
It has been a fantastic year of fights involving British boxers in nights that threatened to end or alter their careers. In May, Carl Froch was in a last-chance saloon slugfest with Lucian Bute and last month Ricky Hatton was in the same harsh unforgiving environment; Froch won and Hatton lost. Khan has everything stacked in his favour but, in truth, he has blown an easy position before and it will forever remain an unknown factor whenever he laces on the gloves. He has vowed never to make that mistake again and I hope he believes it.
Tale of the tape: How they match up
Amir Khan vs Carlos Molina
6 Dec 1986 Born 18 Nov 1985
Bolton, Birthplace Commerce, England California
King Khan Nickname King Carlos
2005 Turned pro 2007
5ft 10in Height 5ft 6in
Orthodox Stance Orthodox
71in Reach 72in
29 Fights 18
26 Wins 17
18 KOs 7
3 Losses 0
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