Clinching and tying an opponent up when hurt is not a form of surrender or viewed as weakness. At least not by those who know boxing or have been in the ring.
This past weekend former junior welterweight title holder Amir Khan 26-3 (18) was stopped in the fourth round by Danny Garcia 24-0 (15). This was the second time Khan has been stopped, yet he's been hurt multiple times throughout his career by a single punch and looked as if he were a punch away from being stopped.
It's obvious that when watching Khan on the attack, he's a great offensive fighter who can throw every punch with speed, accuracy and power. But his chin liability is a problem and looks as though it may derail his career. His mechanics of reverting to being too upright with his head held high leaves him open to getting nailed with counters can be corrected with a lot of work.
Then again, it's foolish to think that his trainer Freddie Roach doesn't see this and at least attempts to correct it in the gym. But doing it in the gym is a lifetime different than doing it in the heat of battle on fight night in front of a few million fans watching live and on television. Also, along with that Khan needs to improve his inside game so he doesn't get nailed with tail end punches between flurries as he's stepping away.
For the next few weeks we'll be fed articles that detail everything that Khan should do and the style adjustments he needs to make in order to continue on as a world class championship caliber fighter/boxer. And I'll cede that stylistically there are some things he can do in order to not get nailed so cleanly and getting hurt, only to rush in again and repeat the same sequence of tactical errors. But getting hit is something that can't be prevented. So he needs to learn what he must attempt to do in order to extend the fight the next time he's hurt and in trouble.
That said, what'll be overlooked is what apparently seems to be the biggest issue — and that's Khan's mindset of seeing clinching and holding as a form of surrendering. Any knowledgeable fan understands that's not the case at all.
Former six division champ Thomas Hearns was a destroyer who could box and punch. He had speed, two handed power, could box from out side and also bring it as the aggressor behind his piston like left jab. He had the heart of a wounded lion and fought everybody between 147-175. However, he could be hurt and shook pretty good by one punch. Granted, he never completely mastered clinching and smothering his opponent when he needed time to recover. But he at least checked his ego and tried it.
Hearns saw clinching as a tactic and a means of survival in order to extend the fight so he could continue on and eventually win. No doubt that clinching and holding carried him through his fight against James Kinchen and his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard. Obviously Amir Khan is not in the same stratosphere as Thomas Hearns as a fighter, but he can learn from him if he's willing to check his ego.
Someone close to Amir Khan has to instill in him that all fighters have strengths and vulnerabilities. He must realize that clinching and tying up his opponent when he's hurt or in trouble is a strategy and a tactic, not a sign of weakness. For two and half rounds he was taking Danny Garcia apart. Garcia was cut and looked as if he was on the verge of perhaps stepping off and not engaging Khan so much. Only he's a super-tough and gritty guy who figured that his only chance was to make the fight a test of toughness and durability more so than skills, something that probably had a lot to do with his father/trainers' comments about Khan before the fight with the hopes of making him fight more recklessly than he normally would.
See, there again is an example of Khan's gumption and willingness, how those traits are to his detriment. So what happened? He dominates until he gets caught with a counter left hook that Garcia threw out of desperation just trying to stand his ground and halt Khan's assault. He gets hurt and goes down. He makes it through the round but in the next round he's willing to go right back at Garcia and tries to show him that the fight is not over and now he's gonna put Garcia away. Instead of making Garcia work for the stoppage, Khan obliges him and slugs it out on the inside while he's still shook. Well it just so happens that inside is where Garcia can make his living and soon Khan is dropped again and stopped.
For a brief time it looked as if maybe Khan could make it out of the fourth round, that Garcia may have punched himself out and the fight would've came down to a skills contest. No, we'll never know but if Khan gets out of the fourth round and boxes Garcia, he may have pulled the fight out.
If Amir Khan wants to continue on and be a factor in the 140-147 divisions, the first thing he must do is accept that clinching and tying up an opponent when hurt doesn't signify ones weakness. It's a tactic and strategy. It would be a major overhaul to reform Khan and there's no guarantee that it would be completely successful for him. However, it's his only option if he wants to try and hang around a little longer and again perhaps be a top contender, because if he continues to fight, regardless of who trains him or whatever style adjustments/corrections he makes, he's going to get nailed real hard again.
No one but Khan can prevent himself from repeating the same mistakes over again that keep him from regrouping after he's hurt badly and in trouble.
Other fighters greater than Amir Khan went onto become HOFers and all-time greats using the tactic and strategy of clinching and tying up their opponent when they were hurt or in trouble.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com