The May 29, 2015, fight between Amir Khan and Chris Algieri at Barclays Center surprised a lot of people.
Khan made his mark in boxing as a 17-year-old silver medalist for the United Kingdom at the 2004 Olympics. He turned pro in 2005 and was being groomed for stardom when reality intervened in the form of a first-round-knockout loss at the hands of Breidis Prescott in 2008.
Amir rebounded from that defeat with eight consecutive wins, including impressive victories over Paulie Malignaggi, Marcos Maidana, and Zab Judah. Then back-to-back losses to Lamont Peterson (on a razor-thin split decision) and Danny Garcia (KO by 4) derailed him. More recently, Khan scored an impressive unanimous-decision triumph over Devon Alexander. His record going into the Algieri fight stood at 30-and-3 with 19 KOs and 2 KOs by.
Algieri brought a 20-and-1 (8 KOs) ledger into the contest. His biggest win was a controversial split-decision verdict over Ruslan Provodnikov at Barclays on June 14, 2014. In his only fight after that, Chris was knocked down six times by Manny Pacquiao en route to a lopsided decision loss.
The assumption going in was that Khan could do everything Algieri could do and do it better.
“I take every fight seriously,” Amir said in a May 5, 2015, teleconference call. “I've fought some fights that I thought were going to be a walk in the park. I got hurt; I lost the fight. I can't take this fight lightly and think it's going to be easy and lose my fight. Then all my dreams are shattered.”
That said; Khan was a 12-to-1 betting favorite.
It was a spirited fight. Algieri surprised by coming out aggressively, forcing a fast pace, and fighting aggressively for most of the night. Khan spent a lot of time counterpunching in retreat, which he did with increasing effectiveness as the bout progressed.
The refereeing of Mark Nelson (an import from Minnesota) left a lot to be desired. Algieri kept trying to work on the inside, and Khan kept putting him in a headlock (seven times in the first three rounds alone). Also, there were many times when Amir held onto Chris’s left arm in a clinch but Algieri was still scoring effectively to the body with his right, and Nelson broke them.
By round nine, the area around Algieri’s left eye was bruised, swollen, and starting to close. Round ten was Khan’s best of the fight, highlighted by a brutal hook to the body that caused Chris to wince and slowed his advance.
It was a hard bout to score. Many of the rounds could have gone either way. I thought it was even. The judges favored Khan by a 117-111, 117-111, 115-113 margin.
There’s a school of thought (which I subscribe to) that the judges were kinder to Algieri than they should have been when he fought Provodnikov at Barclays last year. Perhaps the judges in Khan-Algieri were trying to avoid that mistake and over-compensated in the opposite direction.
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If Al Haymon was boxing’s invisible man at Barclays Center, Paulie Malignaggi was the man who wasn’t there.
Malignaggi had been scheduled to meet Danny O’Connor in a co-feature bout on Friday night but was forced to withdraw after suffering a deep cut above his left eye while sparring during training camp.
Paulie is 34 years old now and nearing the end of his ring career. But he’s holding out hope for one last run on the theory that, in his words, he has “matured late physically” throughout his life.
“I grew up late,” Paulie told me at the Boxing Writers Association of America dinner last month. “I started puberty late. I didn’t lose my last baby tooth until I was in high school.”
“I was in ninth grade,” Paulie elaborated. “The tooth had been loose. I wasn’t sure if it was an adult tooth or a baby tooth. Then one day, I was eating lunch in the school cafeteria and I felt it come out. I spit it out, and a friend said, ‘Bro! What’s happening?’ But everything was cool. After that, a new one grew in, so I knew it was a baby tooth that fell out.”
“There’s a peak age for everything,” Paulie continued. “I’m thirty-four now. Since I matured late physically, I’m hoping that my peak as a fighter is still ahead.”
“And one thing more,” Paulie added. “In all the years I’ve been fighting, I’ve never lost a tooth. I’m proud of that.”
* * *
After Khan-Algieri ended, I found myself sitting next to Lennard Jackson on the subway going home.
Jackson fought professionally in the 1990s, compiling a 14-and-1 record against non-threatening competition. He retired in 1995 and now teaches boxing, mostly to white-collar clients.
The subway ride passed quickly in animated conversation.
“I love body punching,” Lennard told me. “I tell all my students, ‘Hit Superman hard to the body, and he’ll become Clark Kent.’”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (Thomas Hauser on Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.