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Can Amir Khan Beat “The Legend” Barrera?

BY David A. Avila ON March 12, 2009
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In the past six months or so the young upstarts have been knocked for a loop by the ageing master boxers like Bernard Hopkins, Sugar Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez.

All three master fighters prevailed despite critics picking them to lose due to their age.

Now we have another young firecracker in Great Britain’s Amir Khan (19-1, 15 KOs) challenging Mexico’s other master boxer Marco Antonio Barrera (65-6, 43 KOs) on Saturday March 14, in Manchester, England. The fight will be shown on pay-per-view.

Can Khan beat the trend?

A major difference from those other fights can be seen in the style of fighters that were tagged with almost embarrassing one-sided losses. There was hard-hitting Kelly Pavlik, whirlwind punching Antonio Margarito and punching machine Juan Diaz.

Each one was beaten by fighters who could be called the Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi and Thomas Edison of boxing. Boxing geniuses all of them.

Barrera easily falls into that same vein.

In his fight against Marquez, if not for an inaccurate ruling by the referee, Barrera could have been the winner of that fight. Still, many boxing writers including myself had him winning that fight by a single point. But any fight that closely combated can go either way. The decision by the judges to rule Marquez the winner was not an injustice.

Barrera gave Marquez the hardest fight he’s had since losing to Manny Pacquiao.

One major difference is Khan is not a slugger. Sure he has the power to knock a guy senseless but overall he is still a prizefighter who relies on his legs, speed and height to overcome his opponent.

Khan is a boxer.

The British-born boxer whose success in the 2004 Olympics created an instant sensation when he returned to British shores with his silver medal in hand is now a household name. Thousands follow his every turn and gyms are now flowing with youths from Asian countries.

Khan’s success has led to a flood of boxers from Pakistan, India, and other parts of Asia visiting the local gyms to mimic their hero.

“Before Amir there weren’t many Asians in boxing,” said Shajaad Khan, Amir’s father about his son’s influence. “Now the gyms are filled with Asians.”

Whenever Amir Khan walks the streets of England he’s recognized by fans, women and fellow Asians from Pakistan, India,  the Philippine Islands and other parts of the eastern world.

But sometimes Khan needs solitude.

California calling

After losing his first fight last September to Colombia’s Breideis Scott he realized he needed to refine his skills for the pro fight game.

“I left England to train and get away from all of the distractions,” said Khan, 22, a very likeable athlete who’s been training in California the past two months. “In England, everywhere I go the gyms are full of people wanting to see me.”

So he picked up his boxing gear and headed to an unlikely destination of Hollywood, California. Gone are the hundreds of gawking fans and heart-throbbing females. All that remain in the Wild Card Gym are boxers, pure and simple as that.

“When it comes to a fight it’s time to focus,” Khan says with maturity. “I think L.A. is a perfect place for that to come and get focused.”

Khan also asked Freddie Roach to work on his pro skills. The Irish-American boxing trainer has built a golden reputation directing the careers of a number of world champions including today’s most powerful fighter Manny Pacquiao.

“The highlight of my training here has been sparring with Manny Pacquiao,” says Khan, who helped Pacquiao prepare for his last fight against Oscar De La Hoya. “I’ve watched him on TV and seeing how quick he was, then sharing the ring?”

Sparring against talented lightweights that are abundant in California has been an added plus.

“He’s got great speed and moves very well,” said Roach, who owns the now world famous Wild Card Boxing Gym. “He’ a very good listener too.”

Roach quickly changed a few things defensively that could be exploited by an expert boxer able to spot the chinks in prizefighters. The chin has been tucked in, the punches are crisper and shorter and Khan has lost weight in the upper torso.

“You don’t need weight up there,” said Roach, who favors leg strength. “He’s got enough power.”

Roach knows all about Khan’s next opponent Barrera. Twice his fighters have faced the Mexican fighter known as “the Baby-faced Assassin.”

“Barrera is a very clever fighter,” Roach said carefully. “He’s really good at making you do what he wants you to do.”

Khan loves the challenge.

“I never fear anyone,” Khan said. “Knowing that there is so much criticism, proving them wrong and shutting them up will be (a delight).”

A major criticism has been a lack of competition.

“When people find out I’m fighting Barrera they’re in a state of shock,” Khan said. “I’ve got everything to beat him. If I didn’t think I was going to win this fight, I wouldn’t have taken it.”

Khan returns to more familiar surroundings for this ultra challenge.

“I’m taking a massive step fighting Barrera,” says Khan. “Barrera is a legend in boxing.”

While in Los Angeles a month ago, Barrera summed up his fight with Khan succinctly.

“He’s a very good young fighter,” said Barrera who has made a career of dissecting world champions and contenders. “I will be ready.”

Mexicans worldwide

While Mexico City’s Barrera is in England, a number of other Mexican fighters will be engaged in important showdowns worldwide.

WBA featherweight titleholder Oscar Larios (63-6-1, 39 KOs) of Guadalajara defends his title against Japan’s Takahiro Aoh (16-1-1, 8 KOs) in Tokyo on Thursday March 12.

In Mexicali this Saturday, Acapulco’s Giovanni Segura (19-1-1, 15 KOs) challenges Cesar Canchila (27-1, 21 KOs) in an elimination bout for the WBA junior flyweight title. Canchila won an earlier fight against Segura.

Mexico City’s Cristian Mijares (36-4-2, 15 KOs) meets Nehomar Cermeno (16-0, 10 KOs) in an elimination bout for the vacant WBA bantamweight title in Torreon, Mexico.

Fights on television

Fri. Showtime, 11 p.m., Lucian Bute (23-0) vs. Fulgencio Zuniga (22-3-1).

Sat. Azteca, 8 p.m., Giovanni Segura (19-1-1) vs. Cesar Canchila (27-1).

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