From the moment he first fought on American soil, what fans have loved the most about Amir Khan is that the junior welterweight’s bouts are rarely without excitement, in or out of the ring.
The 26-year-old Olympic silver medalist from England made his United States debut with an 11th-round knockout of Paulie Malignaggi at New York’s Madison Square Garden in May of 2010, after the fighters and their camps almost came to blows during a near-brawl at the pre-fight weigh-in.
Khan made his first appearance in Las Vegas five months later in December by dropping the hammer-fisted Marcos Maidana with a first-round body blow, only to find himself in survival-mode during a treacherous 10th round in the Fight of The Year.
“I have offense. That’s always going to be there,” said Khan. “Because that’s just the nature of the fighter I am.”
The victories over Malignaggi and Maidana were part of a run of eight straight, four of them by stoppage, under trainer Freddie Roach, with whom Khan began working after his 54-second knockout loss to Breidis Prescott as a lightweight in September of 2008.
But Khan has lost two straight following last December’s controversial split-decision setback against Lamont Peterson and July’s fourth-round knockout loss to Danny Garcia, who picked up Khan’s WBA belt and retained the division’s RING championship and WBC crown.
On Saturday night, Khan (26-3, 18 knockouts) will make yet another debut, fighting for the first time under reigning Trainer of the Year Virgil Hunter against Carlos Molina (18-0-1, 7 KOs) at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Amid questions about the sturdiness of his chin as well as his ability to maintain composure, Khan will try to rebound against Molina (not to be confused with the 154-pound contender by the same name) and balance his improved defensive skills with his desire to be an all-action fighter.
“If the knockout comes, it comes, but more than anything, what I’m interested in is seeing him begin to apply the things that we’re working on. You know, not allowing things to happen,” said Hunter, who also guides the career of RING, WBA, WBC and Showtime Super Six Champion Andre Ward, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist who was named Fighter of The Year for 2011.
“And if he can knock him out in the process, and in the course of that, that would be great. But the mindset is not to allow this to happen. So, it’s like, ‘I’m not going to let this happen,’ and, ‘I’m not going to get caught here or doing this.’ His offense speaks for itself, the guy who tries to knock Amir out has got to be willing to get hit. You know, you’re not going to just walk in there and knock him out. Amir is going to hit you, and he’s going to hit you from some awkward angles, really hard and really fast.”
The problem, says Hunter, is that Khan not only hasn’t always protected himself from knockdowns, but also, that he hasn’t always used his head when he gets to his feet.
“In each fight, he still had an opportunity to overcome the situation,” said Hunter, who then referred to the loss to Garcia. “It’s if he would have thought, once he got up. So, that’s what people are not looking at. They say that it’s his chin, but I don’t think it’s that, because he got up from a heckuva punch.”
Khan vows to be an improved fighter against Molina.
“I’m that type of fighter who likes to fight and get into a tear-up. But at the same time, defensive as well, Virgil has added to my fighting style,” said Khan. “I think is going to help me big time. It will take me to a different level seeing things better and also defending as well.”
But Molina says he’s willing to take as good as he gives in order to test Khan’s defenses.
“I’m willing to walk through hell and back, man. This is my shot. This is my opportunity, so I know I got to be smart about it. I just can’t run there and just attack a tiger. I’ve got to be smart about it and I know he’s a good boxer, so we have a great game plan for him. We’re going to execute it on Saturday,” said Molina.
“It’s a huge step. This fight right here is me beating Khan. It’s going to catapult me to that level where everybody is going to know who I am. That’s why this fight means so much to me. Like I said, Amir is a world class fighter, and me being in with a fighter at his level, it’s only going to make my boxing ability even greater, and everybody is going to know who I am.”
Will Khan pass his first test under Hunter, or will his losing streak rise to three against Molina? RingTV.com sought the opinions of 14 boxing insiders for those answers.
Amir Khan UD 12 Carlos Molina: Part of this “reinvention” of Amir Khan will theoretically be an ultra-cautious approach, whereby he uses his electric hand speed to keep his opponent, Carlos Molina, at bay.
While I hope for another Khan thriller, I think this will be a bounce-back snoozer. If you want excitement, tune in to Leo Santa Cruz on CBS.
Hunter is a calm and collected trainer, and his presence will encourage Khan to relax and not open himself up to any wild combinations that could get him hurt. If Molina doesn’t take away Khan’s confidence early, I can see Khan cruising to a decision victory.
Amir Khan UD 12 Carlos Molina: Successive defeats have taken the king out of Amir Khan. It’s hard to know exactly who he is anymore. There’s a new face in his corner.
Virgil Hunter succeeds Freddie Roach. The knockout loss to Danny Garcia in his last fight leaves questions about his confidence.
Carlos Molina, who is four inches shorter and moving up in weight, gives him a chance to build a relationship with the more defensive-minded Hunter and exorcise doubts that come with a fragile chin.
It’s a beginning, an opportunity for Khan to introduce himself to a new trainer and perhaps resurrect the promise that began to go awry a year ago in a controversial loss to Lamont Peterson.