We already knew fighters are not like the rest of us. Professional boxers require at minimum a rare courage to enter the prize ring, society’s only venue where a man can be killed but not legally murdered, for a most public accounting of their manhood.
But there’s bravery and there’s Amir Khan’s decision to fight Canelo Alvarez. This is something different.
Every now and then, just when longtime ring observers believe they’ve taken measure of the sport’s all too familiar rhythms, the powers that be throw in a head-scratcher. This is one of them. Khan, once stopped inside four rounds by Danny Garcia at 140lbs, will be fighting eight pounds above the highest contracted weight of his career against an opponent who commonly rehydrates to 175lbs on fight night.
And make no mistake: Canelo is as formidable as they come, a heavy-handed pressure fighter on the verge of his prime who will demand the very best of Khan if the Englishman intends to exit upright.
Should he win, the former two-times junior welterweight champion will become only the fourth Briton to capture the lineal middleweight title – after Terry Downes, Alan Minter and Randy Turpin – and the first in nearly four decades.
If it’s not automatically the biggest fight of the year it’s certainly the most fascinating. No one saw it coming. Not least because Canelo is promoted by Golden Boy, currently embroiled in a $300m anti-trust suit against Al Haymon, who advises the Bolton puncher.
Khan’s most recent outing against Chris Algieri did nothing to diminish his status as British boxing’s favorite whipping boy. It was a showcase fight designed to make him look good, ostensibly a launchpad for a September blockbuster with Floyd Mayweather, but Khan was unexpectedly taken into deep waters by Algieri and forced to settle for a points win that felt profoundly underwhelming. (That Mayweather subsequently chose Andre Berto over Khan in one of boxing’s most cynical top-flight match-ups in years only added insult to injury.)
Simply taking the fight earns Khan a respect that’s proved elusive since a tactically inept knockout loss to Garcia and 54-second destruction at the hands of Breidis Prescott. Canelo is boxing’s biggest star, having inherited the Cinco de Mayo platform traditionally reserved for the sport’s top draw from the dormant Mayweather. He’s coming off a career-best win over Miguel Cotto that earned him the WBC and lineal middleweight titles, one that generated nearly a million pay-per-view buys or well over double Mayweather’s last fight.
Well-schooled observers will note that fight took place at a catchweight of 155lbs, five below the division limit. As will May’s, for which the oddsmakers have installed Khan as roughly a 3-1 underdog.
Even if he falls short on this mad quest, Khan will be handsomely compensated with no shortage of options at welterweight, among them a domestic showdown with Kell Brook, a rematch with Garcia and even a fight with Mayweather, the man Khan has twice put his career on hold for and whose retirement few regard as permanent.
He is 29 now, more than a decade on from his star-making turn at the Athens Olympics. The intense criticism he’s weathered is all but prelude. But while observers will continue to doubt his place among Britain’s fistic greats, let Tuesday’s shock announcement prove his courage beyond dispute.
This article was written by Bryan Armen Graham, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 3rd February 2016 00.33 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010