The Khan Conundrum
At the Athens Olympics in 2004, the British boxing team consisted of a single pugilist: Amir Khan. The Bolton-born lad was alight with a Northern-English charm. He nonchalantly embraced the games and earned himself a respectable silver medal after storming through to the finals, only to lose to two-time gold medalist Mario Kindelán of Cuba. 13 years later and after numerous remarkable feats in the pro ranks, Khan’s next move may be his boldest to date. However, will this new chapter secure Khan the boxing legacy he desires, or is it a futile chase of an impossible dream?
What is perhaps most frustrating for fight fans, British in particular, is Khan’s elusive approach to facing Sheffield’s Kell Brook, the IBF world welterweight champion who stepped up to middleweight to take on the devastating Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin and is now in camp to face perhaps the most avoided man at 147, Errol Spence Jr. Fame and fortune, however, have their pitfalls. Succumbing to the holy dollar, Khan settled for the ‘money route,’ disguising significant financial profits as sporting legacy. This was notoriously evident in Khan’s last performance.
On Cinco De Mayo 2016, he fought one of boxing’s biggest stars, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, for the WBC and lineal middleweight championship, a move many fans deemed illegitimate due to the fight taking place at a catchweight of 155, five pounds under the middleweight limit. When Khan preached that he was taking a risk jumping two weight classes, many perceived it as a win-win situation, a scenario recalling the Brook vs Golovkin fight. If he won, he would be middleweight champion; if he lost, his reputation would remain intact. He could always boil back down to 147 and battle legitimate welterweights if he chose.
The decision to move up in weight to face Canelo undermined boxing fans’ most obvious expectation of the apparent legend in the making: face the toughest opposition in your division. British boxing needed Khan vs Brook at that time, and still does.
But rather than chase belts and Brook, Khan chose to chase paydays. Some may remember his last effort at pushing for a Floyd Mayweather fight which barely received a head-nod from the Las Vegas-based boxer. With Floyd out of the picture, Khan had to chase the next best thing, Canelo. And subsequently Conor McGregor. And then Manny Pacquiao.
Assuming Brook gets beat by Spence in May, Brook is left Khanless. Khan’s biggest qualm was that Brook had not faced anyone of significance, so why did he deserve a shot? And now, after two defeats to high profile opponents, why would Khan waste his time on Brook? He recently told ESNEWS that it’s a strap he wants now that his hand is healed, preferably after a tune-up fight in the UK.
“It’s all about timing in this game and this is my time to shine,” said the former super-lightweight world champion. “Manny being the number one welterweight, beating him would have given me the chance to win a world title again in the 147lb division. Then I could have taken on big names like Keith Thurman, and the winner of Errol Spence and Kell Brook. The welterweight division is a very exciting one.”
There is no doubt Khan can still be a worthy contender at 147. However, the Brook fight carries more weight than a Thurman, Pacquiao, Spence Jr or Garcia rematch. At 30-years-old, Khan’s best bet might be to listen to what Paulie Malignaggi advised in a recent interview on Sky Sports’ podcast, Toe2Toe:
“If [Khan] wants to get back on track, I wouldn’t fight a top five, maybe not even a top seven guy. Maybe a lower tier top ten guy to get back on track. The money fights are there, obviously. The Kell Brook fight is waiting for him … but I think he needs a win or two to get back in there.”
Whatever the outcomes of Brook and Khan’s next fights, they will need each other somewhere down the line. British boxing remains sour that a prime Ricky Hatton never crossed paths with Yorkshireman Junior Witter back in the mid-2000s. The same kind of dissatisfaction will linger if Khan and Brook never do battle. Come on, Khan. Step up and give your countrymen the battle they’ve been waiting for! — Sherif Dhaimish