2004 British Olympic silver medalist and former unified WBA/IBF junior welterweight champion Amir “King” Khan (27-3, 19KOs) made a successful return to the ring Saturday by stopping California’s previously unbeaten contender Carlos Molina (17-1-1, 7KOs), in the 10th frame of a 12 round junior welterweight main event from the L.A. Sports Arena in Los Angeles, CA. SHOWTIME televised the debut of Khan under the guidance of 2011 Boxing Writers Association of America “Trainer of the Year” recipient, Virgil Hunter.
Khan was looking to reconstitute the faith in his fighting ability, as well as a level of assurance in the capabilities of his new trainer Virgil Hunter. Khan and Hunter had eight weeks to get familiar with one another leading into the fight, following Khan’s split with BWAA five-time “Trainer of the Year” Freddie Roach, who saw the worst run of training career in 2012 as his three-headed monster of Pacquiao, Khan and Chavez Jr., all fell.
After experiencing his first professional defeat in 2008 by knock out, at the hands of Breidis Prescott, Amir sought out the services of the Wild Card’s Roach. Khan and Roach had a good run that saw the Brit win eight bouts in a row while attaining two junior welterweight world titles, which he unified. Khan rose to the top of the food chain defeating the likes of Zab Judah, Marcos Maidana and Paulie Malignaggi during that time period. Their successful stretch came to an end in December of 2011 when Lamont Peterson lifted Khan’s WBA/IBF titles with a suspect split-decision victory.
Before Khan could challenge Peterson in a revenge bout, Peterson tested positive for PEDs in the lead up to their rematch. Subsequently, the WBA returned the title to Khan, setting up a unification bout between Amir and undefeated WBC junior welterweight champion Danny “Swift” Garcia. The Garcia fight put an end to the working relationship between Khan and Roach.
En-route to wresting away Amir’s WBA junior welterweight strap, while at the same time unifying the titles, Garcia dropped Khan three times, resulting in a 4th round knockout. It was the second time Khan was whacked out of there in brutal fashion, the first coming when Briedis Prescott starched him in one. Thus began Khan’s search for a trainer with a more defensive philosophy than Freddie. Virgil Hunter has a calm, level-headed demeanor, and the quiet confidence of a man who lets his actions speak for themself. More importantly, Hunter had the style that Amir thought could help him better protect himself from his own chinny ways. And with that, Khan took his talents to Hunter’s city of Oakland, California, where the military style trainer would attempt to rebuild the Brit after devastating knockout losses, with his own ideology concerning the art of war.
Roach’s feet were put to the fire by Virgil Hunter, who implied Freddie had no strategy or good advice for Amir once he was found himself in trouble against Garcia. Virgil also called into question camp Khan’s leadership, implying they didn’t have their fighters back when they allowed Danny Garcia’s father to verbally demean Khan during the pairs pre-fight press conference without stopping it. According to Hunter, Roach put Khan’s future in doubt.
After the knock out loss to Danny Garcia, Khan was matched carefully with Molina who is stationary and not very fast, lending itself well to Khan’s offensive style. Nor does Molina hit very hard, which would allow Khan to employ his explosive offense with little fear that he would be short-circuited in return.
England’s 26-year-old Khan was in complete control of Molina from the outset and never acquiesced in his dominance over the out-classed Mexican. Khan was tripling up on a sturdy jab and having success with his uppercuts, as well as the overhand right, which had Molina bruising and bleeding from a cut over his left eye in the 1st frame. Deviating from the past, Khan was not excitably leaping all over the ring but methodically moving around it in a show of patience and focus.
Molina, 27, landed a couple power punches in the 2nd, including a big right hand and left hook to the jaw of Khan, which threw him of balance and got his attention. Khan’s hand speed was just too much though as he lit the tough Californian up with blazing combinations. Molina was moving up in weight and didn’t have the size, or the power, to blunt the speed and determination of Khan. Amir began working the body in the 4th, and landed some blistering left hooks and uppercuts to the head of Molina, who was not cutting off the ring but following Khan around. Molina was busted up, and between the 4th and 5th rounds his corner was already asking him if he wanted to continue while threatening to stop the fight.
Though he was hampered by heavy bleeding, Molina gave it everything he had, making a fight out of it and landing several good punches, but it wasn’t enough to deter the bigger, quicker, and more technically sound Brit. Before the 11th round, on the advice of Molina’s corner, referee Jack Reiss waved off the contest because Molina was too bloodied and bruised to continue. There was little to no chance Carlos could come up with a dramatic knock out and his corner made the intelligent decision.
With the victory Khan rebounded, improving his record to 27-3 with 19 knockouts. While the game Carlos Molina was defeated for the first time, falling to 17-1-1 with 7 stoppages.
Khan showed off his offensive skills that we’ve come to know, like extremely fast hands, good combinations, and superb agility and athleticism. You could see the results of his time spent with new trainer Virgil Hunter, as his defense was better, but there were still openings in Amir’s renewed defensive facade that could be exploited, especially from a bigger hitter than Carlos Molina. The vulnerabilities inherent in Khan are still there, and will always be, even in spite of any defensive wizardry bestowed upon him by Hunter. Khan is what he is, a great offensive fighter who is terribly easy to hit when idly exchanging strikes. That hasn’t changed.
What has changed is that Hunter has Khan fighting smarter in terms of knowing who he is and who he isn’t as a fighter. Recognizing his offensive boundaries and the need to pull back at times, so as to not go overboard and leave himself vulnerable. Of course it’s boxing, and Khan has a ballsy, reckless bravado that will lure him into toe-to-toe action at times, but you could tell he was cognizant of displaying more boxing and science, and less brawling and violence.
Hunter had Amir moving around the ring in a smoother more harmonious manner, instead of skittishly flying about the canvas off-balance while throwing caution to the wind. Amir was instead choosing his spots to stop and box with higher intelligence. He exercised personal restraint during exchanges, and got out of there when he needed to after inflicting damage upon Molina with fast, accurate combinations.
“I thought I stuck to my game plan, which meant sticking to my jab,” explained Khan. “Carlos took some really good shots, and he was still coming forward, and that’s when I thought to myself, ‘I’d better stick to this game plan.’”
It wasn’t as if Khan was tremendously hard to hit all of a sudden either. While he did get hit less than he normally does, it was often enough for a guy like Danny Garcia to take painful advantage of. Hunter and Khan are still a work in progress and with time the Brit’s defense will no doubt improve, with his offense, as Hunter is no one-sided coin. He brings a wealth of knowledge in that department too; as he’s displayed in his work with 2004 Olympic gold medalist and current super middleweight boss Andre Ward.
Freddie Roach’s more aggressive application to offense wasn’t the best suit for a fighter such as Khan. Hunter brings a safer approach to the art of attack, with intentions of teaching Khan to box better, as opposed to brawl.
“Virgil is a great trainer, and I’m getting better at boxing and being a complete fighter,” said Khan. “He’s teaching me boxing, speed, patience, and picking the right shot and when to throw it. Sometimes I’m too brave for my own good, but now I know it’s better to stick to the game plan.”
“I will become a world champion again soon,” declared Khan.
There’s speculation that Khan’s next foe could be the tough-as-nails “Riverside Rocky” Josesito Lopez. Josesito would be a good selection in determining whether Khan has a chance at making it back to the top. Lopez is a good fighter with tremendous drive, who can compete with any 140 pounder on the planet. Lopez hits harder than Molina, but not hard enough to cause major concern, and he loves to trade. A potential Khan-Lopez pairing conjures images of fireworks and could be “Fight of the Year” material. I see that one being a close competitive fight that could go either way.
Khan, however, has hinted that he’ll possibly face Danny Garcia next in a rematch, should Garcia get past Zab Judah in February at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Garcia, the man who took King Khan’s head off, was in attendance Saturday night scouting Khan for improvements. The young champion is only getting better and more confident in his abilities and worth. Danny hits like a mule and his signature punch is the left hook. Khan got caught with numerous left hooks versus Molina. If Amir’s defensive doesn’t continue to improve at a rapid pace under the direction of Hunter, he will find himself on the end of another “Swift” knockout loss.
In support of the card, 30-year-old Alfredo “Perro” Angulo (22-2, 18KOs) of Mexicali, Mexico, made his second successful appearance in the ring since returning from an extended stay in an immigration detention facility, that saw Perro detained with little transparency in terms of reasoning and merit. Angulo went to war with Tijuana, Mexico’s 20-year-old Jorge “Pantera” Silva (19-3-2, 15KOs), beating him by unanimous decision in a 10 round junior middleweight contest, with scores of 97-93 across the board. In an exciting fight, Angulo showed that’s he’s fully back, by sustaining and overcoming a heavy dose of adversity against the young Pantera. Silva made a fine account of himself too, hurting Perro several times. At 20, he’s one to keep an eye on.
27-year-old undefeated American heavyweight hopeful Deontay “Bronze Bomber” Wilder (26-0, 26KOs) of Alabama, beat previously undefeated 37-year-old Kelvin “Price is Right” Price (13-1, 6KOs) of Florida, by 3rd round knockout in a 10 round heavyweight bout. Wilder, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, barely through any strikes through the first two frames before abruptly getting Price out of there with a massive overhand right in the 3rd round, and that was that.
They day got started with the return of boxing on CBS Sports’ airwaves for the first time in 15 years, as fast rising 24-year-old undefeated IBF bantamweight champion Leo Santa Cruz (23-0-1, 13KOs) of California by way of Mexico, defended his strap with a victory over Mexico’s previously undefeated 22-year-old Alberto Guevara (16-1, 6KOs) by unanimous decision in a very competitive, action packed fight. The scores for Santa Cruz read 116-112, 118-110 and 119-109. The fight was closer than the latter two scores would indicate. Both men put on a fine performance in a great return to CBS for boxing.