Why didn’t Amir Khan get to face Mayweather?

More than one person has been made a fool of trying to predict Floyd Mayweather Jr’s next move. Not so very long ago after all, it was seemingly guaranteed that Mayweather’s next opponent would be Amir Khan. The announcement never happened… and next came a fan poll on who it would be. The results of this were somewhat confusing; on most boxing sites the answer was Marcos Maidana but on the official poll Khan (helped by a lot of twitter advertsing) had a late surge to take the lead. And of course, there had been rumours and “exclusive reports” long before that.

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But now it looks somewhat definitive. Khan himself says that he’s out of the running and that Maidana is the one about to earn millions of dollars and the chance, however remote, to enter his name in boxing’s history as the man who defeated Mayweather.

I’ve been pretty dismissive of the Khan bout previously but despite that I can see why it was an attractive option. Khan has many flaws but what he undoubtedly has is speed. Khan would be the fastest opponent Mayweather has faced since at least Judah and arguably the fastest he’s ever faced. Much of Mayweather’s success has been built on being the faster man, pot-shotting and picking off opponents from the outside; could he do the same against someone quicker than him? Maidana in contrast, despite technical improvements shown in his recent run that culminated in his defeat of the heavily hyped “new Floyd Mayweather” Adrien Broner, is still very much a brawler, an aggressive and powerful puncher who likes to draw boxers into a fight. We’ve seen Floyd against those repeatedly… and he tends to win and win well.

Outside the ring Khan also seemingly offers a lot. Floyd likes to tap into other fanbases… it’s one of the reasons he boxes many fighters with Latino heritage, especially around Mexican Independence Day as it opens up that lucrative market. Khan may not bring them, but he does bring the UK fans and the UK has frequently proven itself as a solid money maker for boxers. Maidana in contrast may be a popular TV fighter but he has no real constituency to fall back on; fans of Maidana tend to be boxing fans as opposed to fans of individual boxers and thus would have probably watched anyway.

So how is it that Khan didn’t get the bout when he had so much in his favour?

First, he hadn’t earned it.

People will say a lot about Floyd’s matchmaking, normally in the negative sense. I’m not sure that’s always fair but one thing that has to be noted is that since his comeback from an early… and brief… retirement he’s tended to face boxers who are coming off either an exciting bout or an impressive victory… and especially if the two were combined. His last opponent Saul “Canelo” Alvarez may have already been a superstar in Mexico but he didn’t get to face Mayweather until he’d earned a win over Austin Trout. Guerrero got the call after beating Berto… as did Ortiz after a fight of the year contender. All three were career best wins for the respective boxers. Mosely had just flattened Margarito in one of his impressive performances and Marquez was coming off a fight of the year victory himself in his war with Juan Diaz. Cotto falls somewhat outside that picture but his rematch victory over Margarito was impressive enough and Cotto was more than proven at world level, a PPV draw in his own right and one of the few fighters who can legitimately say Mayweather avoided them.

Khan… Khan would be coming off a nervous, close victory against Julio Diaz, once upon a time a 135lbs title holder but now reduced to gatekeeper at 140 and 147lbs. It was by no means a victory against a top level opponent. And while it may have been exciting, neither was it a good performance. Khan was dropped, wobbled and made to look like the worst stereotype of himself at times; a boxer with all the tools but no ability to use them.

Floyd wants opponents who have put themselves in the boxing public’s mind in the recent past with a good performance and make a great highlight reel. Khan’s last truly good performance was against Judah two and half years ago. Since then he’s lost (albeit controversially) to Peterson and been knocked out by Garcia before rebuilding with a routine win over the lesser known Carlos Molina (an untested prospect that no-one was excited about) and the aforementioned Diaz bout. Being 2-2 in your last four and performing as Khan has isn’t the stuff a Mayweather opponent in made of.

Maidana in contrast? Since losing a hugfest against Devon Alexander he’s 4-0 with three of those bouts being high profile wins and each of them… against Soto Karass, Joselito Lopez and the previously mentioned Broner bout… being exciting contests. The Broner bout had a huge profile and brought Maidana about as much good will as any boxer I can recall in recent years. Maidana is a popular fighter who puts on exciting bouts and appears to be in the form of his life. That’s exactly the sort of opponent Mayweather goes for. As for Khan’s close victory over Maidana? That was many years and many bouts ago… it becomes less and less meaningful to hark back to it.

It could have all been so different if Khan hadn’t pulled out of a bout with Devon Alexander. Scheduled for November last year, the bout would have given Khan the chance to prove himself at a world level once again and win a world title at 147lbs. Any sort of win would have likely brought him the Mayweather bout… an impressive one would have probably guaranteed it. And considering how Alexander performed against Porter in the bout he took instead, it was a winnable contest for Khan. But instead… and for whatever reason… Khan decided to play it safe, not fight and wait for the Mayweather bout to happen.

It looks like that didn’t work out for him.

A quick word on the monetary side as well. Khan has never been a big draw in the US, getting solid but not spectacular HBO ratings and not really putting bums on seats for live events outside of his opponent’s home town. And while he may be a well known boxer on this side of the Atlantic, is he a well loved one? The answer is pretty categorically no. Whatever the reason, people often want to see him lose and especially see him be knocked out. But are people willing to pay to see Mayweather… not exactly a loved boxer himself and not one known for his killer instinct in recent years… do it? Are they willing to pay £15-20 (or whatever the PPV cost ended up being) to stay up till five or six am on a Saturday night/Sunday morning to watch it?

I’m not so sure.

This isn’t the end for Khan. He’s already accused Mayweather of “running scared” and if there’s anything that get column inches in boxing it’s accusing Mayweather of ducking someone. If Mayweather does defeat Maidana and does look good doing it I can already see people calling Floyd out for avoiding the speedy Amir Khan in favour of facing the slow and crude Maidana. This delay also gives Khan the chance to get that impressive victory that Mayweater demands of his opponents. The Cold War between Golden Boy and Top Rank is still in effect, a bout with the winner of Bradley/Pacquiao 2 is still unlikely and the 147lbs division is still fairly empty. A good win for Khan and he’s right back in the mix for a September showdown with the winner.

And you never know, with Maidana tied up with Mayweather a rematch against Broner isn’t an option right now.

Is Khan/Broner a bad undercard bout to have?

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2 thoughts on “Why didn’t Amir Khan get to face Mayweather?

  1. I would quite like Khan v Broner as a match up. Otherwise I think the obvious option is a British fight vs Brook and get himself in line for a shot against Porter. Hard to feel much sympathy for him in the circvumstances though.

    • It’s entirely self-inflicted. There wasn’t even the pretense that Khan was injured or the like going into the Alexander bout… as is becoming more and more apparent he thought he was guaranteed the Mayweather bout and didn’t want to risk a loss so simply turned it down. A win there… even an ugly, scrappy one… would have presented Khan as someone who belonged in the mix at 147lbs and thus made the Mayweather bout more likely (and in truth, possibly signed before Maidana got to throw his hat in the ring by beating Broner) and an impressive victory may have pretty much guaranteed it.

      People will draw similarities to how Bradley turned down Khan to get the Pacquiao bout in mid-2011 and how that worked for him but there are some pretty clear differences. At the time Bradley turned Khan down Bradley was the man at 140lbs having just unified two of the belts (for the second time) with a win over Alexander. Khan is 2-2 in his last four having lost to the two top level opponents he faced and only just crept by a journeyman. Bradley was in the messy business of switching promoters (from Shaw to Top Rank) while Khan is for the moment still with Golden Boy. And Bradley at least had the decency to have a bout in the interim and look good… even if it was against a badly faded Casamayor. Khan… well, he just didn’t box and so the last memory we have of him is that bout with Diaz.

      I think Khan vs Broner makes sense and on paper it shouldn’t be that difficult to make. There’s a couple of other options at 147lbs as well; Thurman may be a stretch but Soto Karas and Joselito Lopez have taken on the role of B-sides for boxers before and the awkward Collazo just reappeared with his stoppage of Ortiz. If Khan wants to remain at 140lbs then there’s an option of a bout with Matthysse (again possibly on the Mayweather undercard) or a rematch with Peterson. Brook is clearly an option although the Matchroom feud with Warren/BoxNation may cause it to be difficult to make (not helped by Khan’s falling out with Sky Sports). Warren himself has some talented 147lbs on the books but I’m not sure Khan’s ego or purse demands will allow him to face someone who is essentially at the top of domestic level and few people outside the UK have heard of.

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