Kevin Garside: The fact Khan will never be great is the most painful blow

He will fight on. They all do. But the future is a far less certain place now

Click to follow
The Independent Online

When a fighter loses it is not only titles and belts he surrenders. That is acceptable pain. The associated anguish and trauma is rooted in the loss of pride, of self-esteem, of identity almost. Amir Khan is a brave boy, and tough. As a 17-year-old kid he beat a 35-year-old Kazakhstani hardened by life in post-Soviet extremis to progress his Olympic qualifying dream. Before the bout he remarked on the size of his opponent's arms and the hairs on his back. He crossed the ropes all the same and boxed. The same fighting instincts would take him all the way to Olympic silver in Athens as the youngest member of the British team.

That unlikely Olympic odyssey remains an indelible part of the Khan story. But eight years on it is balanced by another crushing, unexpected defeat. There is no more cruel a seat in sport than that occupied by a beaten fighter. By his side the winner, the man who has taken all you had, and in some cases more, talks about the next big encounter, onwards and upwards, while the vanquished sits denuded, reduced, embarrassed, shamed even by an experience he told people could never happen.

Khan could explain away the Breidis Prescott defeat four years ago as an anomaly, a flash knockout that can happen to any fighter. He wasn't concentrating, too cocky, brought down by hubris. That is not how it looks now. Gorging on machismo and bombast, Khan promised a knockout conclusion in Las Vegas on Saturday night and delivered it in reverse, walking on to a chilling check left hook. Danny Garcia is a decent fighter emboldened by victory over a diminished Erik Morales and the warrior spirit engendered by his father and coach, Angel. His Puerto Rican heritage does not permit backward steps in a ring.

Khan danced all around him in full display mode, unleashing rapid combinations. Garcia gets hit for a living. He was cut and losing but he wasn't hurt and he knew what he was doing. Khan's entire world view is premised on the idea of innate brilliance bestowed upon him as a gift from a higher authority. He is not unique in this, of course. Nevertheless the sense of divine empowerment is re-inforced by all around him, who believe just as hard as he does in the truth of it all. And why not? He has been an incredibly high achiever, and rewarded with unfeasible wealth and fame.

The self-referential argument in boxing is eternally vulnerable to a big punch coming the other way. Fighters don't tend to concern themselves with the counter position; what if the bloke in the other corner feels just as invincible? Khan is wrestling with the truth of that. The bubble of raving self-regard is pricked. The justifications pour forth as he seeks desperately to re-inflate the greatness model. That is never going to happen. Khan is a beaten fighter brought face to face with his own mortality. And it hurts. He will fight on. They all do. But the future is a far less certain place this morning.

David Haye is in the other chair, the one occupied by the winner. In the rush of victory, with the validation of 30,000 punters ringing in his ears, Haye luxuriated in his return to power. Vitali Klitschko replaced Dereck Chisora in the Punch and Judy show. Haye's outing of Chisora as a game but limited force fed immediately into the winner's world view. If I were advising Vitali, he boasted, I would be telling him not to fight me. Chisora had no voice in this debate. His legitimacy had been stripped in the ring. He sat staring into space, numbed by a new reality and hopefully a new respect for this game.

The Upton Park tear-up was both a stain on and testament to a discipline that connects us to our primal core. No matter how regrettable the circumstances that led to this gathering, and how risible the deportment of the combatants, none could deny the integrity of the action when the bell sounded.

How football must wish it could claim the same after its grim underbelly was revealed during the ding-dong at Westminster magistrates' court last week. A fundamental and routine disregard for basic, human decency was paraded before the court from first whistle to last.

The brawl in Munich was dim, petty, spiteful and boorish but both fighters retrieved a measure of respect for the commitment and courage with which they went about their business in the ring. The handshake at the end exposed the absurdity of the pantomime that preceded it, as it often does in this toughest of sports. Chisora talked about the punch that caught him unawares, explaining defeat in terms of his own mistakes rather than his opponent's superiority.

Khan made a similar speech as he climbed from the wreckage of his devastating loss. To accept that the victor might be better in absolute rather than conditional terms is too big a step for the beaten man. Ultimately it is not for them to decide. The record book is the final arbiter and, in both cases, the loss comes inscribed with a capital 'L'.