By Kieran Mulvaney
There was some talk, before Amir Khan stepped into the ring with Danny Garcia at the Mandalay Bay on Saturday night, that with a victory he could not only erase last December's controversial loss to Lamont Peterson, but potentially even set himself up for a December megafight with Floyd Mayweather.
One huge counter left hook from Garcia was all it took to blow that idea to pieces.
Suddenly it is the undefeated but unheralded Garcia who is talking about the big money fights, and Khan who is looking at a career that has reached a crossroad.
Khan started brightly, landing long right hands behind a swift and stiff jab. The difference in hand speed was apparent, Khan's immense advantages making Garcia's punches look ponderous and painfully slow. But Garcia, despite looking slightly overwhelmed in the early going, kept his composure. Although a Khan left hook opened a cut by his right eye, his defense was tight, and as the minutes ticked by, he almost visibly grew in confidence.
In the third, Garcia gave up trying to exchange combinations with his speedier opponent and began targeting his body with thudding shots. But it was a shift back to Khan's sometimes suspect chin that paid dramatic dividends.
Emboldened by his early success, Khan had begun to step forward into Garcia's range; as he wound up to throw a right hand, he walked into a perfectly-placed counter left hook that exploded on his chin. Khan crashed to the canvas on his back, hauled himself to his feet, but continued staggering backward as referee Kenny Bayless administered the count. Bayless would have been within his rights had he chosen to stop the contest right then, but he allowed Khan to continue for the remaining few seconds of the round.
Trainer Freddie Roach admitted he almost didn't let his fighter come out for the fourth.
"I was just trying to get him to respond, and he didn't respond really well right before the bell rang," he said at the post-fight press conference. "I was real close to not letting him off the stool. I kept saying to him, ‘You OK? You OK?' He said he was OK, but it was a touch-and-go moment."
When Khan did emerge at the start of the fourth, Garcia could hardly wait to attack him. A right hand sent Khan stumbling forward, his gloves landing on the canvas; he beat the count, but Garcia smelled blood. As his foe retreated, Garcia gave chase, flinging haymaker right hand after haymaker right hand. Somehow, however, Khan appeared to be regaining the strength in his legs, began throwing counters of his own, even began waving Garcia in for more.
It was an invitation he would regret. Another left hand dropped Khan to his haunches; again he beat the count, but Bayless looked closely, stared into his eyes, talked to him to gauge his condition. Whatever Khan said in response, he failed the test; Bayless had seen enough and waved it off.
"I needed a great fighter in front of me to show how good of a fighter I am," said an understandably ebullient Garcia. "Now everyone knows. I'm a killer. I will fight anyone, anywhere, anytime. We knew Khan was going to come out fast because he thought I had no power. But I waited and stepped up and used the speed and power I have. And it worked."
"It wasn't my night," conceded Khan. "After watching the replays a little bit, I saw I was coming in with my hands down, and Danny took advantage. I respect Danny. He was countering very well against me. I got a little complacent and he took advantage and he caught me. I was a little surprised the ref stopped it. I thought he was going to let us continue. My mind was clear, and I thought my legs were OK. But I respect the judge, the ref, and the commission for the decision. Who knows? Maybe they made the right call."
Roach was in no doubt.
"I think it was a good stoppage," he said. "He never really recovered from the first knockdown and the referee did the right thing."