By Tris Dixon
SOCIAL media has been sent into frenzy over the news that Amir Khan will likely face Terence Crawford in the USA on April 20.
It seemed it was a ‘now or never’ moment, for Khan to take on domestic rival Kell Brook but he has chanced his arm and gambled that the Sheffield man still might be a viable option, regardless of what might happen against the brilliant ‘Bud’ and that is also with the assumption that Matchroom Boxing, Brook’s long-term promoters, will want to work with Amir again given that Crawford will mark the end of his three-fight arrangement with them.
Crawford-Khan is apparently not for everyone.
In the UK there are several sections of fans. Yes, there are casuals and hardcore fans as anywhere else but there is another demographic and that is one that is the ‘hardcore casual’ and they seem unaware of boxing outside of what happens on Sky Sports or with Matchroom fighters. That is neither a criticism of either brand nor the fans who fall into that bracket, it is an acknowledgement that there is a group of supporters that does not follow the sport beyond the stars and prospects on that network.
So Khan gets criticised for dodging Brook, who for years was slated for not getting a big fight. Then Kell was slaughtered for taking on fighters judged too good for him, going up in an audacious attempt at middleweight king Gennady Golovkin and then facing feared mandatory Errol Spence.
Now, as a consequence, some see him as damaged goods and his performance against Michael Zerafa last time did not inspire anyone to believe that, at 32, his best days are ahead of him.
Of course, Khan-Brook (or Brook-Khan, depending on your preference) was probably at its hottest as a fight three or four years ago but it’s no less an event now. Unfortunately for those who like to see men fighting in their primes, commercially contests do grow over time, one only needs to look at Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao for evidence of that.
There are those who contend “the Brook fight will always be there” for Amir but Brook could cut his nose off to spite his face by that point and some reckon Khan may be so far out of his depth against the Nebraskan star that there won’t be much left for Brook to pick the bones out of – that Crawford will finally bring the curtain down on Khan’s time at the top.
But anyone in any walk of life needs to, at one time or another, ask themselves ‘what is their why?’ Why is Khan in the game? What are his priorities? Fame? He’s got that. Money? He’s got that, too, and will have another $5million post-Crawford. To be the best? He’s not that now. Would a win over Brook prove it? Would victory over Crawford?
And what now for Brook, who can make welterweight at a push but who said he would be more comfortable at 154lbs? He has pursued Khan the same way the Bolton man sought out Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, putting all other options on hold in the interest of landing his financial whale.
The remaining matches are all less lucrative and the majority of them more dangerous. Would he have taken on Crawford if he had the chance? Would he have been criticised for doing it? The main problem is the fighters cannot please everyone, nor should they attempt to. They can’t even please all of their own fans and they never will be able to please the opposing set of supporters.
Promoter Eddie Hearn gave an interesting take on why Brook-Khan (or Khan-Brook) has not happened. He said that the fear of losing to a despised rival, particularly so close to the end of a career, is a terrifying prospect, that the defeated party will have to live in a long, lonely wilderness, chastised by enemy fans having disappointed their own. That makes sense. What has Khan got to lose if he is toppled, as expected, by Crawford? The same question accepts a very different answer if he surrenders to Brook.
And no, that is not to make it out that he’s ducking the Sheffield star. You cannot be avoiding a lesser fighter to take on a more dangerous one, that argument is futile. What you can say is that he prefers the stakes in a different game where the risk is gauged differently but the reward is greater regardless. The risk of losing to Brook is that it is something that gnaws away over the years, the risk against Crawford is that after three or four rounds his career at that level, and opportunities on that stage, could be over.
But it’s not our dice to roll. It’s not our hand to play. It’s Khan’s, and he’s earned that right to choose. How did he earn it? By becoming Britain’s lone representative in the 2004 Olympics and winning a silver medal at just 17. By fighting the likes of Peterson, Garcia, Canelo, Alexander, Collazo, Barrera, Judah, Maidana, Kotelnik and Malignaggi. Sure, he lost some of those, but his thrill-a-minute style has made almost all of them engaging. He is boxing’s ultimate high-wire act, able to end nights in dazzling fashion or just as easily wind up on the seat of his pants unsure whether he’s in Las Vegas or London. It makes him brutally magnetic. There’s often awe, sometimes with the shock. And perhaps he has faded to the extent that Sammy Vargas made him look more vulnerable than ever but that does not mean you won’t watch every move he makes with baited breath. When was the last time you put the kettle on during a Khan fight, or the last time you changed the channel?
British fans would love Brook-Khan but they would also have liked to have seen Khan take on – at one stage or another, Jon Thaxton, John Murray and Kevin Mitchell – his greatest domestic rivals since he turned pro and pre-Brook. But he has always claimed he has always had bigger fish to fry, and is that something that should be applauded or condemned?