Give Amir Khan this: He does not merely invite derision. When Amir Khan comes calling, he asks derision to stay in the guest house for the week, drink all his top-shelf liquor and drive his wife around town, keep her company – you know, just show her a good time.
It is easy for boxing fans to loathe Khan, and the reasons range from simple to complex to baldly racist. He is a U.K.-born Muslim with pretty good hair, whose dizzying heights, an Olympic medal and a couple of junior welterweight alphabet titles, are as reliable a source for rancor as his shattering lows. Mostly, though, it’s easy for boxing fans to loathe Khan because nothing comes easier to boxing fans than finding new and interesting ways to loathe stuff.
Yet one fact is too often overlooked: Despite his flaws and failings – and let’s try to remember for a moment that, in the ring, those are rare straws to be grasped at – Khan deserves praise for his balls. They are real, and they are spectacular. They are also, if he is to be believed, literally the size of casaba melons.
On Saturday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Khan (33-4, 20 KO) took on his biggest challenge to date in an ESPN pay per view feature against incomparable welterweight champion Terence Crawford (34-0, 25 KO). It seemed an unwise choice for a chinny 32-year-old who has never seemed to locate a comfort zone at 148 pounds, but in the end, it was Khan’s junk, not his jaw, that betrayed him. After being floored on a first-round knockdown, the Brit rose to valiantly fight on, only for Crawford to beat his brakes off and nearly mash his banger with a low blow that brought the night to an unsatisfying end: a technical knockout for Crawford 47 seconds into the sixth round.
The action was sporadic, but hardly unwatchable. Two years ago, in his first and only previous headlining of the big arena, Omaha’s Crawford whitewashed Felix Diaz, an antiseptic performance that now scarcely registers as a rumor. On Saturday, Khan gave him a better fight, if only barely.
Crawford, who often is labeled a slow starter but is, in truth, simply a brilliant and patient tactician, managed to size up Khan quickly. Late in the first round, Khan lingered with a jab and Crawford fired over the top with a short, sharp right hand that found a home – where else? – flush on the challenger’s stubbled cleft. Khan reeled, and Crawford instantly followed with a pawing left hook that sent him to the floor.
To his credit, the Brit popped from the canvas, properly stiffened his upper lip and gave it another go. Khan even had his moments against Crawford, few and far between as they might have been. He landed an occasional attention-grabbing jab and random straight right hands that sent Bud to his heels, creating the illusion, however briefly, that this was something other than matchmaking black magic. We had all seen this $70 movie before: Khan never had a chance.
Crawford went to work picking apart Khan’s one-directional style, attacking from angles and effortlessly switching from orthodox to southpaw and back again, flooding his opponent with information he simply couldn’t process in time. When Crawford, in the fourth, shifted levels and began working the torso, it portended doom for Khan, one way or another. In the fifth, the challenger was able to squirt a few straight rights through Crawford’s barrage of body shots, but Bud, as is his habit, got the best by far of any exchanges.
The fight might have continued this way until Crawford chose, at the critical moment, to dip his hand back into the honey jar that is Khan’s chin. Instead, in the sixth, Crawford doubled down – way down – delivering a hook to Khan’s low-hanging fruit. Or so it seemed. Although a punch below the belt tends to be measured on the time-honored pregnancy scale, it either is or is not, but can’t be a little low blow, video replays show Bud’s glove landing well stray of the Brit’s bollocks.
Khan winced and began walking it off, with referee David Fields giving him time to gather his, uh, things. Then: confusion. Khan looked to his corner, where trainer Virgil Hunter asked, “Do you want me to stop it?” Fields seemed to rush the proceedings. Or was it Khan looking for a way out? More pained looks in the direction of Hunter. Again: “Do you want me to stop it?” The challenger’s mouth said nothing but his eyes said, Why couldn’t I have just rematched with Phil Lo Greco?
It was a wild night. Khan went out on his codpiece, Crawford claimed the deciding punch was not a low blow, and Hunter delivered the deadpan quote of the night, “It depends on how the punch affects you in the testicles.” We were even treated to dueling stand-up routines! First came Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who claimed that the best and logical next fight for Crawford – Errol Spence Jr. – was being stopped by one man and one man only, “and that’s Al Haymon.” Uncle Bob killed as the opener, but Tracy Morgan signed off the broadcast with the most cogent analysis of the fight: “I seen the breakdown process start in the first round.”
Come to think of it, maybe everyone did go home at least a little pregnant.
I don’t know if Teofimo Lopez (12-0, 10 KO) is ready for Vasyl Lomachenko, but he is certainly spinning his wheels with the likes of Edis Tatli (31-2, 10 KO), who bowed out in the fifth round of Saturday’s undercard fight when Lopez skewered him with a straight right hand to the body.
Lopez appears to be the complete package: a skilled fighter with crushing power, a barge-load of confidence and zero tolerance for boxing bullshittery. Before the Tatli fight, Lopez claimed he respected only one man: his trainer, father and namesake. Among those discarded in the “Not Respected” bin is Lomachenko, whose fight last week Lopez showed up to summarily ignore from ringside. Also: Tatli, who smiled and tried hugging Lopez between rounds, only to be ignored. Also, also: ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna, who did his best to prod Lopez in every manner after Saturday’s flashy win. Lopez, casually ignoring the line of questioning, held a one-man press conference and responded to whatever questions he wanted answered.
Winter is coming for the lightweight division. Hell, it may already be here.
Great to see Shakur Stevenson (11-0, 6 KO) throwing punches on camera again. In the ring. At men. In a lopsided decision, the 21-year-old featherweight made a step-up fight against the credible Christopher Diaz (24-2, 16 KO) look easy. I mean, not potshotting-women-and-defenseless-men-curled-in-the-fetal position easy. But still, pretty easy.
Sometimes, the other shoe never drops. If Puerto Rico’s Felix Verdejo were going to become his island’s next Felix Trinidad or Miguel Cotto, it’s safe to assume it would have happened, or at least begun to happen, six years into his professional career. The damn shame of it all has been watching him not get the chance to try.
Verdejo (25-1, 16 KO) went home Saturday with a decision win over the decent and eminently beatable Bryan Vasquez (37-4, 20 KO), and he could not have looked more ordinary in the doing. He’s 25 years old, 26 fights into his professional career and has yet to fight a single opponent resembling a contender – past, present or future. Maybe he isn’t over last year’s stoppage loss to Antonio Lozada. Maybe he’s just a guy. Let’s find out, shall we?
(Photo by AP )