The Pugilist

Khan completes day one of career rehab

The Pugilist

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Amir Khan's situation as he taped up backstage at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena was akin to something one would expect to see just a few miles down the road at Dodgers Stadium.

'King' Khan's boxing reputation, his status as a world title contender, and perhaps even his fight career as a whole was at 'two strikes'. A third would have caused irreparable damage to his future, aged only 26.

Sure, the first strike was a horrible call. Despite looking like a bad pitch, the umpire (with the dubious help of some guy in a hat) gave it as strike one. The second, beyond shadow of a doubt, was a wild swing and a horrible miss.

Khan had to knock the next ball out of the park, so to speak, or the third strike would see him taking a long, lonely walk. Thankfully for him, he did.

Sure, the pitch on this occasion was a relatively soft one. But try telling that to the guy in desperate need of a boost to his batting average in order to restore some tiny shred of confidence.

We'll end the baseball analogies there. But for all the criticisms aimed at the Bolton fighter over the years (especially in the last 12 months), and regardless of how he reacted to those issues in his first fight under Virgil Hunter, the Carlos Molina bout boiled down a sink-or-swim moment - a batter on his final swing.

The selection of Molina as an opponent was criticised by some due to the American's lack of punch power and relatively-low finishing rate (seven knockouts in 17 wins). He was stepping up in weight, too. Another disclaimer.

Not only was Amir doomed if he lost again, some will argue that he accomplished nothing even in victory. What rubbish.

Admittedly, it was evident on a few occasions in the early rounds that if a stronger counter-puncher was in there,  Khan might have paid the price yet again for drifting back back to his wide-open ways

But those early forces of habit also proved that Hunter's influence from the corner will not suddenly cast a spell and eradicate Khan's weaknesses. This is a long-term project and the changes will be gradual.

Molina, a tough fighter, was decent enough to make Khan work for his first win in three, while all the same time he lacked the tools to exploit Khan's biggest flaws.

He was the perfect choice for the Englishman's rehabilitation fight. But that's not to say Khan did not have to work for the 10-round retirement.

Hunter's audible instructions were as evident as the impromptu changes they provoked in Khan's tactical approach. When he found himself too tempted to be drawn into an open slugfest as per the old days, Hunter would call him off. When he leaned forward with a round already won, Hunter would demand back-foot boxing.

These calls combined with the return of Khan's blitzkrieg-fast flurries made for an extremely productive and promising first fight for the new pairing, as Amir looks to reclaim his place as a world champion at 140lbs.

Don't get me wrong: the hard work is far from done. But in a scenario where defeat was unthinkable and victory was only ever going to quell the grumbles by the odd decibel, Khan and Hunter did everything right on step one of the road to redemption.

Khan referenced his July defeat to Danny Garcia post-fight, suggesting that had he rematched his conqueror that night instead of fighting Molina, he would have avenged the KO.

Whoops. There's the Amir we all know and get wound up by.

It was a rare sighting of the 'old' Amir Khan in a week which saw the disappearance of his usual brashness, full of over-the-top post-fight celebrating or ill-advised interviews already looking one or two bouts ahead. He'd even admitted to being ''too brave and wild" just moments before the smack-talk relapse.

But much like the sporadic lack of guard in the first three rounds, we can hopefully regard it as an area in need of a touch-up during an ongoing renovation project.

The Pugilist must admit that all the talk regarding Khan and Garcia — who was in attendance in LA — did an adequate job in stirring interest in seeing the 26-year-old try to avenge defeat as part of his attempted renaissance.

Perhaps the idea should first be implemented against Peterson, a man against whom Khan looked far more convincing the first time around than with Garcia. Peterson's failed drug test and inexplicable retention of the IBF title will also leave the Brit as the popular choice in the contest.

After Peterson, and perhaps even another fight or two, Khan-Garcia II would not only be at peak interest but perhaps Khan would genuinely be in the right frame to prove the knockout was a fluke after all.

But if Hunter's patience-is-a-virtue philosophy is ignored when it comes to fight selection, Khan may well find himself back up to two strikes before he knows it (ok, one more baseball reference).

His new-look, streamlined team, did not let him down in lining up Molina to end his year to forget, so on that basis Khan should heed every last word Hunter and co bellow at the top of their lungs.


Follow Liam Happe and Eurosport Boxing

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