Sunday, May 31, 2015

Khan and Linares: Is Good, Good Enough?

Amir Khan and Jorge Linares – these are two fighters who were supposed to represent the future of the sport. Khan had been a decorated amateur and earned a silver medal for Britain in the 2004 Olympics. Backed by the nonpareil British boxing hype machine and his own sense of grandeur and destiny, he was on the fast track to greatness. As an early pro, he had some of the fastest hands in the sport. Linares, a Venezuelan based in Japan, resembled a master boxer-puncher. He glided around the ring majestically and seemed to have the whole package. Linares was trumpeted by many West Coast boxing writers in such magical tones that he could have appeared on the cover of "The Ring" OR "Downbeat." Linares as boxing's Dizzy Gillespie? 

All of that was long ago. Evaluating them in the present, it's certainly clear that both fighters have fallen short of those once-lofty expectations. They have suffered demoralizing defeats and have lost many of their initial proponents within the sport. However, despite arriving at professional nadirs, they have both arisen and continue to fight at a high level. Yes, Khan and Linares have failed to live up to initial expectations, but in my opinion, it would be incorrect to label their careers as disappointments. 

The professional ledgers of Khan and Linares share several characteristics. They each have three losses, getting knocked out multiple times. Born just 18 months apart, their records, 31-3 (Khan) and 39-3 (Linares), are very similar. Khan's KO percentage is 56% while Linares' is at 62% (Linares turned pro at 17 and was developed more deliberately than Khan was, facing more ham-and-eggers, which can goose a knockout percentage). Both are 6-2 in world title fights. Each has been blitzed early (Salgado and Prescott) and has lost a title fight after being comfortably ahead (DeMarco and Peterson). They also have been defeated by lesser talents (DeMarco and Prescott). Both have reputations as being "chinny." 

But Khan and Linares are not cautionary tales or punchlines (they aren't Ricardo Williams or Audley Harrison). They have won world titles and have provided many memorable moments in the ring – both in their wins and losses. Although the luster of their initial promise has worn off, they have settled into respectable professional fighters. 

Over the weekend, Khan and Linares achieved victories that symbolized their respective careers – competent, just not as good as expected. Both provided glimpses of elite skills and reminders of their respective flaws. Linares was knocked down against Kevin Mitchell and was trailing on two cards before scoring a 10th-round TKO. Khan had a surprisingly competitive fight against Chris Algieri and displayed some of the tentativeness and hesitancy that has plagued him throughout his career. 

To my eyes, both Linares and Khan are the wrong opponent away from a career-ending defeat. Linares looked slow and, frankly, listless on Saturday. He seemed to be a fighter much closer to the end than the beginning. I could envision Khan spending an eternity on the canvas after facing Keith Thurman. 

Yet, there were still pleasure to be found on Saturday. Linares finished Mitchell in spectacular fashion. He trapped Mitchell along the ropes and unloaded his entire arsenal in a thrilling display of combination punching. Showing his veteran moxie, Linares wisely took brief breathers to step out, recollect himself and ensure that he wouldn't smother his work or give Mitchell any opportunities to clinch. Khan still flashed those dazzling one-twos. At points, his combinations flowed effortlessly. 

At 29 and 28 respectively, Linares and Khan may still find their way to greatness but the odds are stacked against them. Linares fights in a wasteland of a lightweight division, where wins over even the best at 135 wouldn't do much to further his legacy. Khan would be a significant underdog against the top fighters at 147 and has been steered carefully away from punchers. In my estimation, he hasn't even faced an adequate hitter since Danny Garcia in 2012. In addition, his affiliation with Al Haymon takes certain elite talents like Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley off the table as future opponents. Khan may very well get the Mayweather fight in September but only his friends and family would pick him over the pound-for-pound champ. 

But both persevere. We are left with the more-than-serviceable remnants of two hyped talents. They have done their best to carry on despite the types of major pratfalls that have felled many careers. No one would have been surprised if Linares and/or Khan collapsed after demoralizing back-to-back defeats but both have returned from those low periods with significant winning streaks (Linares – 8, Khan – 5). 

Khan and Linares should be applauded for their professionalism and resiliency. Not every fighter can be the best and not every prospect lives up to expectations. But not every boxer has such recuperative powers outside the ring either. Khan and Linares both faced the abyss and resurrected their careers. When they do finally retire, both fighters will have impressive trophy rooms. They also will have the satisfaction of knowing that they gave their best to the sport. 

If their careers ended today, neither Linares nor Khan would likely be Canastota-bound, but such distinctions trivialize their efforts. They beat talented fighters. They overcame significant hindrances and issues of confidence. Sure, Khan wishes he had a better chin and Linares would want skin that wouldn't unravel but they never let those deficiencies stop them on their quest to reach the top of the sport. Yes, they lost a few that they shouldn't have. There have been real failures but neither has let himself been defined by them. For that, they deserve real praise.  

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook

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