Amir Khan outpointed Chris Algieri to stay on course for a September showdown with Floyd Mayweather, but failed to deliver the statement that might have made the fight a mandate.
Khan overcame a spirited challenge from Algieri to win a unanimous decision in a 12-round welterweight fight before a crowd of 7,372 on Friday night. One ringside judge scored it 115-113, while the other two had it 117-111. (The Guardian had it 116-112.)
While Algieri had won a world title at 140lbs with last year’s upset of crude brawler Ruslan Provodnikov, few expected the Long Island native to pose much of a threat against the faster, more polished Khan, a two-time champion at junior welterweight. Not least the oddsmakers, who installed Algieri as an 8-1 underdog. The discussion throughout the build-up to Friday’s fight focused almost exclusively on Khan’s next opponent rather than the task at hand.
But then the bell rang.
And while Khan’s edge in hand speed was apparent from the opening round, it was Algieri’s size and aggression that were able to remove the Briton from his comfort zone. The former kickboxing champion stalked Khan in the opening rounds, bullying him against the ropes. Even as Khan won the opening rounds with shrewd, effective counters, it seemed Algieri – an underrated athlete – was walking through the punches.
Khan (31-3, 19 KO) may never outrun the questions about his punch resistance, but when a heat-seeking right hand detonated on his jaw in the second round, he took it well. One could only wonder the result if it had been thrown by someone other than the feather-fisted Algieri (eight knockouts in 22 fights).
Algieri continued to walk Khan down as the fight moved into the middle rounds, using pressure and work rate to crowd his opponent and nullify his edge in speed. Every time Khan stepped back to create distance, Algieri was already inside trying to turn it into a brawl. The fight plan, which played more to Khan’s perceived weaknesses than Algieri’s strengths, was both unexpected and tactically superb. Equally impressive was Algieri’s commitment to the body attack.
Yet Khan made the necessary adjustments over the second half of the fight, familiarizing himself with the geometry and rhythm of the action. He fought off his back foot with comfort and ease, touching Algieri’s face until both eyes were swollen. While both fighters were marvelously conditioned, it was Khan who was able to dictate the pace over the championship rounds and impose his rhythm on the action. By the 10th round he’d completely taken over, peppering Algieri with stinging shots to the head and body.
Surely that’s the biggest positive that can be drawn for Khan: he showed he can box at welterweight and alter tactics mid-fight rather than simply be drawn into the firefights his younger self might have found impossible to resist.
There’s no question Khan possesses gifts that could trouble Mayweather, but it’s hard to imagine boxing’s pound-for-pound king finding much to worry about in Friday’s performance. If Algieri’s right hand could tag Khan consistently, what havoc might the infinitely slicker welterweight champ wreak?
“Everyone knows I would love to fight Floyd next, but when you wait for something this long and hope for it this long, it can set you back,” said Khan, who landed 218 of 609 punches (36%), compared to 199 of 703 for Algieri (28%).
For Algieri (20-2, 8 KOs), it was an ennobling defeat, one that improved his stock while earning a measure of redemption from November’s six-knockdown disaster against Manny Pacquiao in Macau. Make no mistake: it was a fight replete with close rounds. When you consider that Algieri was awarded seven different rounds by at least one of the three judges, the dual 117-111 scores do seem harsh.
“I felt like I landed the cleaner, harder shots,” Algieri said. “When that final bell rang, I felt it was definitely my fight.”
Truth be told, Friday’s fight was a bit of a no-win situation for Khan. So widely was he expected to win that nearly no possible outcome would have been enough to impress. But while he showed signs of tactical maturity in grinding out the victory, it’s hard to feel optimistic about his chances against the best fighter of his generation.
Ready or not, though, that fight could be next.
“Mayweather is a champion,” Khan said. “So let’s make it happen.”
This article was written by Bryan Armen Graham at the Barclays Center, for theguardian.com on Saturday 30th May 2015 06.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010