Amir Khan has finally crossed over from being the wide-eyed boy from the Athens Olympics: he is now officially a slightly bruised man with a fighter's brain to go with his skills.
On Saturday night in the basement at New York's Madison Square Garden he conducted a masterclass in maturity to persuade the referee, after 11 one-sided rounds, finally to intervene and save the local fighter Paulie Malignaggi from his own bravery. It was a delightful rather than spectacular American debut for Khan, but it was still an impressive and calculating win.
Malignaggi deserved to be saved far more than he had been worthy to challenge Khan for the World Boxing Association light-welterweight title, which is not to say it was a callous mismatch. It was simply a great bit of business to get Khan established in the US in a fight screened on HBO, which remains the sport's wealthiest backers.
Khan is, at 23, a world champion and an HBO fighter, and that is a combination both to be celebrated and feared in the boxing world. The satellite TV giant pays good money, and has the lucrative pay-per-view arm at its disposal, but it demands in return hard fight after hard fight from its featured men.
To add to Khan's future negotiating headaches there are several fighters available and willing to test his credibility and fulfil HBO's strict matchmaking policy; a policy many in the sport consider to be both harmful and invasive. The two other champions at his weight – Tim Bradley, who holds the World Boxing Organisation version, and Devon Alexander, the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council champion – are both unbeaten and ready. There is also Argentina's Marcos Maidana, Khan's leading contender at the ridiculously pliable WBA, and finally Juan Manuel Marquez, the veterans' veteran, both of whom the HBO suits would accept.
At present it is possible to argue that Khan is one of the purest boxers at the elite level, with a classic jab and a defensive-minded approach that only the best fighters have a grasp of. On Saturday night he slowly ruined the hyped ambitions of Malignaggi, who had about five minutes of joy when the fight started before suffering a slow and predictable beating until the ref's arms thankfully separated him from Khan's accuracy. Ricky Hatton, incidentally, looked a lot better when he stopped Malignaggi in the same 11th round 18 months ago, and perhaps Hatton will rue his decision to drink instead of boxing again because a fight with Khan would set UK box-office records.
Khan is fortunate to have Golden Boy as his American promoter, a company with a huge amount of influence and power inside HBO, but even Richard Schaeffer, the chief executive at Golden Boy, will need to look deep into the pool of hype to deliver Khan in a fight without Bradley, Alexander, Marquez or Maidana in the opposite corner. The retired Swiss banker has the power to pluck magic from the darkening pool, but might struggle to persuade Khan, a genuine warrior, to take a safe route.
Schaeffer is likely to push for Victor Ortiz, who had a good win on Saturday night in Khan's shadow, but was stopped as an amateur by the British boxer and last year quit when he was taking a tanking from Maidana.
Sadly, there was no fairy-tale ending in the other world title fight involving a Briton on Saturday when Kevin Mitchell was stopped on his feet in round three by the WBO interim lightweight champion Michael Katsidis in front of nearly 20,000 at Upton Park.
The fight was fantastic for the neutral to watch – not that there were many in that crowd – because of the instant savagery that followed the emotional ring entrances. However, Mitchell's plan for victory required him to take his time and pick his shots, but instead he was put under intense pressure by the quality Australian's punches and movement from the opening bell until the stoppage. "It's not the end for me," insisted a stunned Mitchell. "A lot of good fighters have lost and I will come back stronger and I will beat Katsidis – he got it right tonight, good luck to him." The journey back for Mitchell will be as difficult as Khan's future.Reuse content