Should Amir Khan pack it in? Bill Tibbs writes about the past and the future of the former champion
You hate to make inferences that a fighter like Britain’s Amir Khan, long admired for his nuts and guts in boxing, bailed in a fight he appeared to have been able to continue in.
But, things sure took a strange turn last Saturday night in New York when Khan chose to call it a night in the 6th round after trying to recover from a low blow from welterweight champion Terence Crawford that appeared to hit him on the leg.
In a sport that has seen fighters continue with broken jaws, noses and a variety of other painful injuries, it isn’t to say that Khan wasn’t in discomfort, or some fairly serous pain. However, it is to to say that he chose the path of least resistance. Boxing at its core is the path of extreme resistance.
Like any sport there are levels. If you are a 4 round, pre-lim opponent, there are far fewer expectations on you as to just how far you are expected to continue when hurt in this hurt business. However, when you are cashing pay cheques in the millions of dollars, (5 m+ for Amir on this night) on the backs of fans who have shelled out good money, there isn’t just an expectation, there is an obligation to find a way to continue under difficult circumstances.
Khan, money already in the bank, got into a difficult circumstance and chose not to continue - that isn’t the behavior of a fighter.
It was clear, fairly early in the bout, that Khan is not the same fighter he once was as a world champion. Titles aside, Khan was also a fighter that one would never question his heart and desire to compete at the toughest levels of the sport.
Khan clearly doesn’t have the same physical tools he once had and if his mental toughness has also waned in a career that he has admitted is only one or two fights from being done, then it is time for him to step way. He isn’t going to be a gate-keeper and he doesn’t appear able to compete at the top level anymore so there might not be anywhere for him to go at this stage.
Sometimes the only thing left to do in boxing is get hurt and nobody wants to see that.
In fairness to Khan, he was in with an undefeated champion in Crawford, a fighter that many are calling the very best in the game. But, that is whom you are going to fight at the top level if you are going to demand the top dollar.
Khan, again got shook up early in the fight, something that has happened frequently throughout his career, a career that has seen him knocked out on a few occasions. Never an easy decision, but Khan needs to start considering his long-term health at this stage of his life. He has boxed, amateur and professional, at the top level for a long, long time and has absorbed a lot of punishment.
It is one thing to struggle absorbing the damaging shots, something that has been a problem throughout Khan’s career. It is another to be unwilling to do it. When you get to that stage you have to seriously consider walking away because the cold fact is that you are no longer behaving like a fighter.
Reporting from the ESPN studios after the bout, world-class trainer, and ESPN analyst, Teddy Atlas, was adamant that Khan failed to live up to his expectations as a fighter.
“Five million! Part of your responsibility is to overcome. They did not live up to that responsibility,” Atlas said. “Again, for you people out there that want to jump and hate — listen, I’m not in his body. I get it. I’ve been in this business 40 years. I’ve seen fighters overcome worse than that”, said Atlas. “Now am I saying that he has the threshold, he has the capacity to overcome that? Obviously not, or maybe not the mind-set. He made $6 million to fight Canelo. He’s a better manager and promoter and moneymaker than he is a fighter at this point in his career. He knows how to put himself in position to make money, and he has made money, but again, at the peril of the audience who pays for that money.”
While that might sound harsh, in reality, Atlas just stated facts and hit the nail on the head. When you put your name on a contract for a bout that will compensate you with double the money most people in well-paying jobs would see in a lifetime, you have committed to a serious obligation. Yes, it is the fight business, the hurt business, and all the dangers that are associated with it - that is what the huge compensation is for. From what I saw on Saturday night in downtown Gotham, Khan’s behavior has indicated he is no longer willing to take the risks associated with competing at the elite level of the game.
Atlas went on to say that it wasn’t just the fight fans that were hurt, but the industry as whole and ESPN’s boxing brand as well.
“It hurts boxing. This is not good for boxing, this is not good for ESPN”, said Atlas. “This is not good for their debut on pay-per-view. I’m not in anybody’s body and I’m not saying anyone should go out there and get hurt. But we are in the fight business, we aren’t in an opera. Getting hurt, and overcoming, is part of the task. It’s part of the sport when you are getting five million dollars. He made 6 million dollars to fight Canelo. He’s a better manager and promoter and moneymaker at this point in his career. He knows how to put himself in a position to make money”, he said.
The biggest losers in this scenario were the fans. They paid good money to see a fair and natural conclusion to the bout and most feel they didn’t get that.
Khan, apparently undeterred by the loss, recently tweeted that “I’ll announce something soon. I’ll be back”.
That might be a tougher sell next time around.