There's no denying that Amir Khan is a superior pure boxer to Danny Garcia. He moves extremely well, and he has faster hands than his Philadelphia adversary. Add to this the fact that the slow-footed Garcia will be standing right in front of Khan all night, and it would appear he is tailor-made for the Brit.
Sometimes looks can be deceiving, however, says Bob Papa, the HBO commentator for ‘Boxing After Dark.' "Khan may have more skills and ability, and Danny Garcia may be ready-made for Khan, but don't ever discount Garcia's heart," Papa says. "Heart and drive can make up for less skills and boxing ability. Gatti was the poster child for that."
The undefeated Garcia (23-0, 14 KOs) has demonstrated over his career that his will to win, like Gatti's, has enabled him to beat opponents considered better than him. The 24-year-old Garcia was the underdog in his last two fights, most recently against Erik Morales and before that Kendall Holt, yet he came out victorious.
"Garcia wasn't given a great chance against Morales," Papa says, "because Morales had looked good in his previous fight on his comeback trail. But Garcia's heart helped him to win. Holt was thought to still have enough left to keep winning, but Garcia wouldn't be denied. Garcia beats guys he's not supposed to beat because he just keeps coming."
Boxers who keep coming have given Khan (26-2, 18 KOs) trouble before, most notably Marcos Maidana, whom the Brit beat by close unanimous decision, while barely surviving an 11th round beating. Pressure fighters have success against Khan because he does not like to engage and slug it out. When forced into fighting close, usually Khan will clutch (or in the case of his controversial loss to Lamont Peterson last year, hold his opponent's head down with his gloves). This refusal to fight in tight quarters is not a result of Khan lacking the intestinal fortitude to do so.
With his superior boxing skills it makes more sense for Khan to keep the fight at a distance, where he can use his long arms, fast hands and swift lateral movement to advantage. Also, Khan simply does not have an inside game in his otherwise substantial arsenal. Some have gone as far to call Khan--who won an Olympic silver medal for England in 2004--a glorified amateur because his style is closer to what wins points in the non-professional game.
One factor that could work to Garcia's advantage is that Khan has had more than a few outside distractions leading up to this fight. First there was his controversial split decision loss to Lamont Peterson last December, a fight that caused such a stir in the aftermath that an immediate rematch was ordered for May 19. But just over a week before that do-over, the fight was cancelled because Peterson had failed a drug test. "You have to wonder," Papa says, "if Khan, coming off his loss to Peterson and the cancellation, might not be taking Garcia serious enough, whether subconsciously or not."
Still, Khan comes into this fight as a clear favorite, not only because of his skills advantage, but because he has been in the ring with better opponents. Prior to his fight with Peterson, Khan beat three former champions in Andriy Kotelnik, Zab Judah and Paulie Malignaggi. He also recorded a win over Maidana, one of the hardest-hitting fighters in the 140-pound division. In contrast, Garcia's last four victories came against boxers who were not in their prime anymore: Morales, Holt, Nate Campbell and Mike Arnaoutis.
And Garcia is not without his own weaknesses. If Khan gets into his stick-and-move rhythm, the slow plodding Garcia will be forced to expend a lot of energy trying to cut off the ring. Some have also questioned Garcia's ring smarts for the way he fought Morales in March. Despite having an edge in strength and power, Garcia seemed content for most of the early rounds to allow Morales to make a chess match out of the fight. During those rounds, Garcia also didn't get off many punches. A slow work rate against Khan would be a sure recipe for disaster.
"Garcia needs to hurt Khan," Papa says. "He can't allow Khan to get into his rhythm, where he uses his hand speed and his range to control the fight. Garcia has to make it rough for Khan and test his patience."
While powerful left and right hooks make Garcia very dangerous, the way he throws those punches--wide looping shots--also leaves him open down the middle for a strong counterpuncher like Khan. Garcia's susceptibility to counters was demonstrated in the early going against Morales. No sooner would Garcia land a hook then the future Hall of Famer would fire back a shot that nailed him. Late in the fight, after prodding from his corner, Garcia started moving his head more when he threw those hooks. Against an in-prime Khan, if he doesn't do that earlier, he may fall too far behind on points to win without a knockout.
Papa believes those early rounds could be crucial for Garcia's chances of beating Khan. "The thing I am most curious about," Papa says, "is when the fight starts, will Khan respect Garcia? And what does Garcia have to do to get that respect? Whatever it is, he needs to do it early. I think Garcia has to draw a line in the sand."