One advantage Amir Khan had over Kell Brook in the build-up to their long-awaited showdown in Manchester was the quality of his training and training partner – because Khan was with the absolute best in boxing.
In a plot hacked unabashedly from one of Sly Stallone’s films, the Bolton boxer prepared for Saturday night against his bitter rival by teaming up with the last man to beat Khan himself: Terence Crawford. After a phone call initially made by Khan’s wife to Crawford trainer Brian ‘BoMac’ McIntyre, the Briton trained at altitude in Colorado Springs alongside a master boxer uniquely positioned to advise him on the way to defeat Brook.
Mainly because Crawford beat Brook himself (by fourth-round knockout in 2020), because he’s an elite hitter like Brook (something few sparring partners can replicate), and for small business that Crawford is probably the most gifted boxer on the planet. Canelo Alvarez tops most pound-for-pound rankings – rightly so thanks to his recent accomplishments and relentless improvement – but the ‘eye test’, looking at skill level and adaptability, suggests that Crawford is still the best all-around boxer in the sport.
The fact that the 34-year-old multi-weight world champion with a perfect 38-0 record (29 KOs) doesn’t even have anything that comes close to Canelo’s global appeal or fanbase has frustrated many observers for years.
By right, Crawford should be the natural successor to Floyd Mayweather Jr: a brilliant American welterweight with an exorbitant ring IQ who sometimes starts out slow but has a great ability to figure out any opponent. Crawford may not have Mayweather’s defensive genius (who does?), but he offers more in terms of high-octane offense.
“Bud” is currently on a remarkable nine-fight stoppage streak dating back six years – all world title fights – and you wouldn’t even name punching power among his best attributes.
But while Mayweather was a master promoter, an extrovert who created his brash “Money” persona to antagonize and lure casual sports fans, Crawford is the polar opposite. Self-contained and taciturn, Crawford is a huge draw in his native Omaha, Nebraska, and his skills are hailed by die-hard fight fans. Yet he can’t even come close to the crossover appeal of a Canelo or a Mayweather.
A twist in this story came in January, when news broke that Crawford had taken legal action against his former promoter Top Rank, alleging that ‘outrageous racial bias’ on the part of general manager Bob Arum had harmed his his career. Arum called the trial “frivolous” and the charges “reckless and indefensible”. But Crawford cannot have taken such an incendiary decision lightly.
When it comes to his next battle in the ring, Crawford’s path is hopelessly unclear. There is a fear that the end of his climax will slip away without defining fights. To call him an underachiever is an overstatement – he won world titles in three weight classes, became an undisputed champion at 140lbs (a feat since matched by Britain’s Josh Taylor) and even his latest win highlighted some of the abilities that separate him from almost anyone. if not in boxing.
Facing Shawn Porter – a former world champion who narrowly lost to Brook and Crawford’s potential rival Errol Spence Jr but was never stopped – Crawford was putting on a competitive fight. He was also boxing within himself. In the corner before round 10, someone at ringside yells at Porter, “Hey, this fight is close. The wearer is standing [on points].” Crawford, mouth back “He’s up?! How?” with a look of utter disbelief on his face. At the same time, BoMac reads the riot act in the corner. “Come on, Bud, watch out for me. We have to overtake, like we’re… Hey, we have to go!
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Crawford gets up, adds another “Is he up?” to his friend at ringside, then fixes his jaw in a look of steely determination: “OK.” Fifteen seconds later and Porter is on the canvas thanks to a sharp counterpoint with the right hand. A minute later, the fight is over.
That kind of seamless shifting against a high-caliber opponent is the answer any trainer dreams of from their fighter. Whether BoMac is able to get such a response from Khan on Saturday night is another matter altogether.
Khan skipped coaching throughout his career. Oliver Harrison, Jorge Rubio, Freddie Roach, Virgil Hunter, Joe Goossen and Clarence ‘Bones’ Adams all filled the roles. A case of too many cooks, perhaps. Hunter was in the corner when Khan suffered his bizarre stoppage loss to Crawford in 2019, unable to continue after a low blow but with debate over whether Khan knew it would result in a TKO loss. Brook questioned Khan teaming up with BoMac, saying, “He was the man who pointed his finger at Amir Khan and called him a quitter and released him.”
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But Khan, naturally, spoke in glowing terms about how it all turned out, posting videos of himself working on the pads with Crawford. “I’m more confident,” Khan told Sky Sports. “The way I went to training camp, and I had a few practice rounds with Crawford, and my practice and pad work with BoMac and everyone – it’s back. I feel like when I was 25, 26 and at the height of my career. I can’t see Kell Brook fighting me.
Sheffield’s Brook, meanwhile, is back at Ingle Gym where he first learned his trade, working again under Dominic Ingle after the trainer was out of his corner for the loss to Crawford. Some might say that with the two fighters now 35 years old and very experienced, a trainer – new or old – can only contribute so much. That this fight is likely to be settled by what each fighter already has – or more accurately, what they have left – as opposed to new tricks they have learned.
But the fact that Brook has doubled down on what he knows, while Khan has branched out with an entirely new team, adds another talking point to their volatile grudge match. As for Crawford, he is only a year younger than the two Brits, but he still feels like he is at the peak of his powers. Deep down, any boxing fan should hope we see Bud fight the best at 147 pounds before one of modern boxing’s most enigmatic careers finally comes to an end.
Amir Khan vs Kell Brook is live and exclusive on talkSPORT from 10pm on Saturday February 19
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