By: Rahat Haque
There was thick tension in the air. Fans and media had really hyped this fight. Everyone has heard of the phrase “styles make fights”. Khan’s fast hands and feet were supposed to at least irk Crawford, if not more. After the two national anthems were sung, after the fighters were introduced, and after the first bell, all of our curiosities regarding this fight would finally be answered. All of us were at the edge of our seats, in the ring, or at our homes, anticipating what was about to take place. Right from the first exchange, we got our answers.
This version of Amir Khan was nothing like the former speedy gunslinger we once knew. This is not taking anything away from Crawford. Indeed, the way Terence stays in the eye of the storm, totally panic free, to deliver his well-measured shots, is a beauty to behold. We have not seen such a confident, well-poised, skilled boxer puncher in some time. But that was not the revelation of the fight that took place Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. It was how much Khan had slowed down.
Right from the first round, it was quite apparent that Khan’s hand speed had gone down. All his lunges seemed premeditated, and if we could feel it through the screen, Terence “Bud” Crawford would have surely observed it being in the ring. When Khan came forward with his flurry of punches, his head was more stationary than it usually is. Yes, he had always fought like this, but his style never came off as robotic as it did on Saturday night. He was successful in touching Crawford, before suffering the inevitable knockdown that was on the horizon given how predictable and rigid all his movements were. Crawford rightly capitalized on it. This continued for 5 more rounds. Khan did seem to connect more than Crawford on round 2, and I gave him that round. But there was absolutely no fear in Terence, Khan’s punches touched him, but had no real effect on him. This could be attributed to Terence’s great defense, a la moving with the punches to soften the blows. On the other hand, whenever Terence touched Amir, the latter seemed to take the full brunt of the shots. Crawford peppered Khan’s face in the early round with thudding blows, and did the same to his body in the 4th and 5th round, reducing the Bolton native’s mobility.
The ending was bizarre, and no one saw it coming. A TKO as a result of a low blow. Khan had the option to take 5 minutes, which he did not. He shaked his head repeatedly as Virgil asked him if he wanted to continue in more than one occasion. So then, it can be said that Khan and his camp knew he was outclassed in those 6 rounds, despite perhaps winning one or two rounds. It was still strange however, to not see him go all out fighting. We have to take his word that the low blow really incapacitated him, and that 5 minutes would not be enough to recover.
But what did we learn from the 6 rounds of action? We learned more about Khan than we learned about Crawford. The Nebraska man did what he was expected to. But most fans did not expect it to be as easy as it was for him. This comes down to the changes in Khan, and cannot be attributed simply to the sheer brilliance of Crawford. Khan’s last two fights were not against noteworthy opponents. His fight with Canelo was mismatch in weight. His last win against a credible opponent was against Devon Alexander. Some may say Chris Algieri. But judging by what everyone saw in his half a bout with Crawford, would this Khan be able to replicate his successes against the likes of Alexander, Maidana, Judah, Kotelnik? These are the questions that come to mind after witnessing such a lackluster performance. More importantly, can this Khan even avenge the loss versus a Danny Garcia, a fight most of his fans were sure of him winning if he had a second chance? It does not look good for Khan at all at the moment.
Perhaps part of the problem was changing trainers. Khan was at his most lethal with Freddy Roach. Indeed, one cannot conjure up another name besides Manny Pacquiao who found as much success with that fast combination punching as Khan did under the tutelage of Freddy. Making adjustments in fights is necessary to assess the situation. But is it possible to change a whole fight’s modus operandi midway in his career? Khan was never known for his defense, or for his inside fighting, or for even being slick really. But by pressing the action, going in and out with his quick feet, and using his fast hands to land a combination on his opponent when in range, is something he did really well. He was able to look marvellous doing it with Peterson, which is the quintessential Khan fight. He would absorb punishment on the inside when the fight was fought at close quarters, but it was nothing like the terrible punishment of a head thudding knee buckling shot that he would take when being countered in the middle of the ring. The latter has been more reflective of his performances these days.
The whole waiting and timing and countering style of play does not suit him. He will always get outclassed even by lesser names, if he tries to do that. Yet, Virgil seems hell bent in trying to convert him to just that type of a fighter. I understand and respect strategizing to your opponent’s strengths, but there is a point of diminishing returns where not only do you not learn your new skills, but you begin to forget your old skills. This is precisely what happened to Khan. He was never a timer of punches, nor was he ever known for any ring generalship or defense, whereby he could hang with a slick boxer puncher in the middle of the ring. What he could do however, was use his dynamic punching to dazzle his opponents before pulling out. But on Saturday night, he could do neither! And that left him terribly exposed against one of the best finishers in the game in Terence Crawford. It could also be that his motor is not what it used to be given his age. Full credit to Terence for picking up this risky fight. But because of the way he humiliated Khan in there, there will be much less buzz about Khan in his next fight. If people were not sure before, the former Olympic silver medalist is now surely entering the twilight of his career. His best is past him.