By Tris Dixon
The best high-wire act boxing has had in recent history is back this weekend.
Amir Khan, now 31 and with a professional record of 32 wins and four losses, has been making headlines for almost 15 years.
If you consider his career, you will either think of the ‘snap, crackle, pop’ combinations that come and go like a lightning storm in fast forward or the disastrous knockouts that have seen him worryingly crumple to the canvas like a suit with a disappearing man inside it.
The fragility of Khan has only added to the appeal of watching him fight live. Whether he is your cup of tea as a person or not– and he has always been well-liked in the media by those who know him – he has bought excitement in bundles. Yes, he has blazed to a number of blisteringly rapid victories that you may have missed if you blinked, but dating back to a 2007 Commonwealth title belter with Scotland’s Willie Limond he has often sacrificed an ‘in and out’ game plan for a shootout, and occasionally that has been to the detriment of both himself and his career.
Michael Gomez dropped and rocked him. The Marco Antonio Barrera fight was heating up until the old Mexican was wounded and he was positively brutal in dismantling Paulie Malignaggi as he made his New York bow. Then, incredibly eight years ago, was the dramatic Las Vegas war with Argentine Marcos Maidana. The ferocious-hitting South American was down in the first, collapsed like a deckchair in a hurricane by a first round bodyshot. But he roared back into the fight. Some said he just needed to hit Khan and the Bolton man would make an early exit. Well, Maidana hit him hard. He nearly decapitated him in round ten of one of the fights of 2010 but Khan rode out a proverbially catastrophic storm to remain on his feet.
He contended the shocking 2008 upset loss to unheralded Colombian Breidis Prescott was merely a glitch, yet those who had seen him sent woozy by Limond and downed by Gomez were not sold.
The thing was, it often did not matter if he could take a punch or if he had the discipline to allow a ‘jab and move’ plan to run its course. Certainly when he moved up from lightweight to box the ears off Andreas Kotelnik in a one-sided clinic to capture the WBA light-welterweight title he proved you could go into a 12-round shower and not get wet. And subsequently Paul McCloskey and Zab Judah could not find a way to solve or live with that breath-taking pace.
Yet a winning run of eight led him to a heightened sense of security. He said he wanted to fight Lamont Peterson. He did not care that it was in Peterson’s hometown. He lost a split decision in another good scrap but two controversial point deductions had tipped the scales away from him.
Still he thought he was bulletproof. There was no ego-boosting comeback fight, but Danny Garcia was waiting in Las Vegas and he stopped Khan in thunderous style in four rounds.
This time there was a path back from destruction. Carlos Molina, Julio Diaz, Luis Collazo, Devon Alexander and Chris Algieri did not trouble him but momentum was suddenly shorted. He had spent years waiting for the call for the big bucks for the big fights against Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
At times, both seemed imminent but neither materialised. Instead, he waited a year, climbed to middleweight to take on Saul Alvarez and was once again destroyed with a thumping one-punch finish.
Then there was another two-year hiatus and an abbreviated return in Liverpool against Phil Lo Greco in April and now we have Samuel Vargas on Saturday. There is talk of a big fight later this year, against Pacquiao or long-time domestic rival Kell Brook, though the jump from Vargas to either is vast.
And it is probably too soon for Khan.
While he hasn’t quite had as many trainers as Foot Locker he has worked with Oliver Harrison, Dean Powell, Jorge Rubio, Freddie Roach, Virgil Hunter and now Joe Goossen. Six trainers for 36 fights and even now, in just his second bout with Goossen, he is in a position where this camp, where this comeback, is as much about seeing how he gels with his coach as how he progresses inside the ropes. If Khan does have one last big hurrah left under the bonnet then he needs to make sure the man charged with his upkeep and maintenance is well suited.
Khan-Vargas will not set the world on fire. Khan needs a bigger name for that.
Basing himself and fighting so often in the USA has not helped build the brand he launched off the back off an Olympic silver medal when he was a precocious 17-year-old post-Athens.
Who knows how big he would have been in the UK had he fought the likes of Jon Thaxton and John Murray when both were ranked higher than him at lightweight, had his path actually crossed with Ricky Hatton and Junior Witter at light-welterweight and if he had boxed Brook by now.
Of course, you cannot shoot holes in his record. He has always craved the very best, be it Pacquiao, Mayweather or Alvarez.
The Khan roller coaster will likely speed on after September 8, but whether it reaches a new peak or comes off the rails spectacularly remains to be seen.
Like a man striding from one-side of a high-wire to the other, you cannot take your eyes off a Khan fight. And that has always been the case.