By Terence Dooley
When Barry McGuigan was an amateur, the future Boxing Hall Of Fame inductee learned a valuable lesson from his then-coach Danny McEntree, who noticed that the youngster was bringing his elbows up when throwing his shots. Entree reached for the nearest newspaper, rolled it up and placed it under the boxer’s right elbow before getting him to work the left hook.
It did the trick, McGuigan soon picked up the knack of keeping his elbow tight when jabbing and hooking off the jab. Although the “Clones Cyclone” recently told me that he had reviewed his 1984 fight against Charm Chiteule and he noticed his elbow was not looked into position, in the main he kept his elbows tight throughout his career when uncorking his fearsome left hook.
McGuigan’s love of his craft, not to mention his amateur trainer’s insistence of getting the fundamentals right, helped the Irishman improve throughout his career and, as evidenced by the fact he still runs his eyes over his old fights, the former world featherweight champion was further aided by his innate desire to perfect his art over the years.
Not all fighters are the same, many boxers, even those at the top-level, carry fundamental flaws throughout their careers. If they are not obsessed with eradicating them these Achilles heels can undo their many strengths.
Sure, every fighter makes mistakes yet the sight of Amir Khan lifting his elbows and splitting his guard when uncorking his bombs against WBC, and now WBA, light-welterweight titlist Danny Garcia, 24-0 (15), at the Mandalay Bay on Saturday night caused a few observers to wince even before the American punished Khan by landing a left hook to the neck in round three that Khan never quite recovered from. Garcia then pressed his advantage ruthlessly in the fourth to register a win that has left Khan facing a rebuilding job.
Such was the impact of Khan’s defeat that one or two, this writer included, have voiced heretical calls for Khan to consider a change in his training routine. Freddie Roach, Khan’s current coach, joined Team Khan after lost to Breidis Prescott in 2008 and immediately made an impact. The legendary trainer handed Khan the perfect battle plans for his wins over Marco Antonio Barrera and Andriy Kotelnyk, but he could only watch in horror on Saturday night as Khan, who loves a tear up, threw the kitchen sink at Garcia, lost cohesion and paid the price.
It was not so much the fact that Khan neglected his plan that have led to calls for change, more the worrying, amateurish mistakes that the Bolton boxer made when he stood toe-to-toe with his 24-year-old opponent. Elbows up when throwing, defence scattered and moving back in straight lines, not to mention his failure to put his gloves up when asked by referee Kenny Bayless if he wanted to continue in the fourth, Khan’s regression to pure fighting on the night showcased flaws in his game that should have been ironed out in the gym, and are likely to cost him in future fights.
Roach is a great tactician, he is also clearly a student of the sport and the former fighter turned Manny Pacquiao into one of the world’s best boxers yet he may have taken Khan as far as he can. Indeed, as long as Manny is active, Khan, now 26-3 (18), will have to tailor his training pattern to the Philippine’s schedule in order to ensure he gets quality time with Roach going into his bouts.
Then you have the further problem of Roach providing the plans only for the former WBA and IBF champion to revert back to fighting his way through the haze when tagged rather than doing everything in his power to avoid shots or learning how to claim when buzzed. In this scenario, there is only so much Roach can do and it could be that the two have gone as far as they can go with each other.
Step forward Manny Steward. Even though the HBO commentator has stated that Khan did not make too many mistakes on Saturday, the Detroit-based trainer must look at Khan’s athleticism and wonder how much better the 25-year-old could be if his fundamentals, such as those wayward elbows, were improved.
Consider, although Manny loves guys who are aggressive, he took Lennox Lewis and Wlad Klistchko, often derided as “China chinned”, to the pinnacle of the heavyweight division, and kept them there. Steward took their gifts, added the ability to negate and, especially in Lewis’s case, taught the importance of tucking the elbows in and throwing a left hook off the one-two in order to ensure that the heavyweight great did not leave himself exposed to right hand counters after delivering his own punches.
Steward also preaches economical but effective footwork. Ironically, something Khan is in dire need of because, despite his athleticism, Amir tends to become quite predictable when moving, as shown by the fact that Marco Rene Maidana and Lamont Peterson could track him and trap him.
Khan also uses so much energy moving around that he slows once the fight goes beyond four. Adopting a tight guard, a sidestep here and there plus a sharp, long job could help Khan could make life a lot easier for himself. Steward has form when it comes to imparting those gifts, which come in handy when the fight plan goes for a Burton and a fighter elects to revert to instinct.
There is also the Klitschko factor. Wlad, like Manny, fights but twice a year, and is always going to take precedence, yet Khan could learn a hell of a lot from training alongside the Ukrainian – a slot on a Klitschko undercard over in Europe or even the U.S. would give Amir the chance to work alongside a guy who was once written off because of his vulnerability only to become the dominant man in his division. Watching Wladimir work could help the athlete become a bit of a chess player and a better, more rounded boxer – and that would be beneficial to Khan’s longevity.
Of course, Khan has not stated a desire to change trainers, and if he did it would not be a “Blame the trainer” move but, instead, a “We’ve taken this as far as it can go” one. However, if he does decide to move on, Steward should be the first person Team Khan interviews unless they opt for a U.K. trainer such as Joe Gallagher, Jimmy Tibbs or Adam Booth, who could all bring something to the table. In real terms, moving from Roach to Steward would be analogous to trading in a Bentley for a Rolls Royce – you’re still going to travel in style.
David Haye, on the other, hand will be reflecting on a job well done after stopping London rival Dereck Chisora in five rounds at Upton Park on Saturday night. Haye talked a good fight, delivered one and looked a boxer reborn during the demolition job. “The Hayemaker” also looked a two-fisted fighter for the first time since his cruiserweight pomp, his left hook was crisp when he delivered it and was the punch that cracked Chisora’s steel chin.
Haye, 31, is known for his big right hand, but the left chiseled away Jean Marc Mormeck and is an underrated, and previously underused, weapon. Haye’s left adds a lot of balance to Haye’s attacks and, as shown by the Chisora win, adds to his explosiveness at the weight. In using an ambidextrous assault to destroy Chisora, Haye also served a timely notice to Vitali Klitschko, who went the distance with “Del Boy” in February, and reminded the WBC champion that he still brings excitement, danger and sellability to a potential clash.
Indeed, despite the ill-tempered build-up to Haye, now 26-2 (24), versus Chisora, the Bermondsey-born boxer launched a charm offensive after notching up the win. Haye praised Chisora, 15-4 (9), to the hilt and seemed content, jovial even. Previous fights with Audley Harrison and Wladimir Klitschko saw Haye in full hype mode – his vitriol shifted tickets and PPVs against Harrison, but Klitschko’s cool approach turned Haye’s behaviour in on itself and gained the Germany-based fighter many more fans.
It could be that Haye, already financially secure and with a storied career behind him, needs to stoke the flames ahead of a fight to reignite his own fire, that the trash talk is partially used to provide motivation, especially against fighters such as Harrison and Chisora, who are levels below Haye, and this approach was used to net Wladimir then spilled over into the fight.
Who knows, what is clear is that the sporting public enjoys the cantankerous, controversial Haye, but they love the guy who talks a good fight, delivers one and produces thrills and spills.
Prior to the fights with Harrison and Klitschko, Haye was arguably shaping up to occupy the place once held by Lennox Lewis and, going further back, Frank Bruno – the British heavyweight we could both love and be proud of. A few more smiles, kind words and devastating KOs and Haye could once against put himself into that position. There is a media darling, fan friendly, exciting, Haye-shaped space in the hearts of the British boxing public - the fighter just needs to walk back into it.
One thing is for sure, when he lets both hands go Haye appears so much more balanced and devastating. Adam Booth, the trainer of Haye, has instilled the fundamentals in his fighter over the years and the “Dark Lord” has always been a man with a plan. Although I guess this raises the counter argument of sticking with someone through thick and thin, and this argument can be applied to Khan’s current situation.
However, the flipside to that viewpoint is that Haye lost to Carl Thompson in 2005 then racked up wins until losing to Wlad last year – the gulf between “The Cat” and “Dr. Steelhammer” shows that Haye improved dramatically in the interim years. Khan, though, is now 1-2 in recent times and it may be time for a switch. If someone can do the same to Khan as Booth did with Haye, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist may have a longer career.
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