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Amir Khan and the Importance of Grace in Defeat

Posted: 13/12/11 07:35

The outpouring of protest by Amir Khan and his camp over the second defeat of his professional career by Washington's Lamont Peterson has demeaned a fight that many have rightly touted as a strong candidate for fight of the year.

It has also demeaned Lamont Peterson, who despite surviving a childhood that has earned him the right to hate the world and everyone in it, emerged from his victory every bit the class act he was going in.

Yes, there was controversy in the fight. But to deny the victor the massive respect his performance deserved, the Khan camp have merely revealed that as far as they are concerned Amir is boxing royalty, his upward trajectory an act of divine will, with the Lamont Peterson's of this world useful only as fodder while he continues on some preordained path to greatness.

Well, guess what, the Lamont Peterson's of this world have the right to be ambitious too. They also have the right to enter the ring determined, confident and ready to fight to win, even against star names like Amir Khan.

I write as someone who has followed and supported Amir Khan for most of his career. In previous articles I have gone out of my way to defend and laud what he brings to the sport. But even I have found the manner in which he's conducted himself in the aftermath of his latest fight disappointing.

Professional boxing in the modern era is run by TV pay-per-view channels in conjunction with those tiny few promoters who are able to promote fighters to the point where their pay-per-view numbers make a lot of people rich. The likes of Bob Arum and Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions put a lot of time, energy and dollars into guiding their star names towards the pinnacle of the sport against the very best there is.

They view the careers of their fighters as a financier views an investment, waiting and expecting to cash in when the time is right. In line with that, leading up to this fight, you were left in little doubt that Khan and his team looked upon Peterson as an opponent they expected to comfortably sweep aside on the way to a mega-fight against Mayweather next May, proceeding according to a script already written. With this in mind, the outrage that met Khan's defeat has merely been a reflection of the extent to which this script was ripped up by Peterson over 12 rounds of boxing in Washington DC.

Ever since decamping from Bolton, England to LA to join Freddie Roach, Golden Boy Promotions have assiduously guided Khan's career, while Freddie has worked hard to build him a defence and introduce a measure of guile into his work in the gym. However, the brutal truth after four years stateside is that Amir Khan still retains many of the weaknesses he had before being taken under Roach's wing. His defence at this point is simply not good enough for him to even consider taking a fight against Floyd Mayweather. When he's under pressure, and when things are not going his way, his concentration collapses and he lapses back into an amateurish reliance on aggression and wild flurries of punches. His balance goes out of the window and he looks like a man skating on thin ice. It is a style that produces excitement for the fans, but heart palpitations for his corner and his wider team. In line with this, his recent record suggests regress rather than progress. Against Marcus Maidana, he emerged with a hard fought victory after riding his luck and coming close to being stopped. He struggled against Paul McCloskey, whose elusiveness frustrated him. And now he's gone down to defeat against Lamont Peterson.

On a wider note, over recent months something approaching a malaise appears to have set in within the Roach camp. Manny Pacquiao's dubious victory over Juan Manuel Marquez last month, when the Filipino looked to have run out of ideas early on in the fight and, like Khan, relied on his aggression to see him through, was compounded by the statement released by Freddie's conditioning coach, Alex Ariza, lambasting Bob Arum over the negotiations for a future contest between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. This latter suggests a lack of discipline and/or unity in the Roach camp, which can't be good for the preparation of his fighters.

Speaking of Mayweather, after witnessing two fights involving the men whose names have been most mentioned as his next opponent, he will be entitled to be feeling more than confident that if a fight against either comes to pass he will be able to get the job done. The way that Pacquiao struggled against Marquez, an opponent whom Mayweather defeated comfortably back in 2009, provided the blueprint of how a master counterpuncher and defence specialist like Mayweather can neutralise the Filipino's blistering handspeed and aggression. When it comes to Amir Khan, the openings on offer would be a gift, which is why it would now make sense for him to abandon his plan of moving up to fight at 147 until he can address his defence and improve his work in that department.

As for Peterson, his life story and courageous victory against a heavily favoured opponent last weekend was a shot in the arm for a sport that too often leaves its fans with a burning sense of injustice in their breasts. Indeed, if the words 'deserve' and 'success' can ever be placed together in the same sentence, surely they belong in a sentence beside the name Lamont Peterson.