Amir ‘King’ Khan marked his return to the welterweight division by climbing off the canvas in the second round to unanimously outpoint Samuel Vargas at the Birmingham Arena. The scorecards read 119-108, 119-109 and 118-110, but did not reflect the bruising nature of this high-tempo encounter, nor answer the questions that surround Khan about his ability to get back to fights at the highest level.
Before the fight the Bolton-born, former world champion had promised that we were going to see a totally different Khan in the ring. What we got was more of the same – which in fairness, was not necessarily a bad thing. Whilst he may not currently be king of the welterweights, he still has a loyal army of adoring fans. He is still blessed with blurring hand-speed. His jaw is still an unreliable last line of defence. But most importantly for fans, he still provides fascinating and unpredictable drama when he steps into the ring.
It was that famed hand-speed that caught Vargas with surprise in the first round, as Khan unleashed fluid combinations on the Colombian visitor before stepping out of danger. He also made Vargas pay when the Colombian fell short with his own attacks, with fast and spiteful counter-punches. Vargas was looking out of his depth and it looked like a real possibility that Khan would be ending proceedings early.
The pattern followed early on in the second round. As both fighters held their ground and threw punches it was Khan’s furious flurry that overwhelmed Vargas and sent him tumbling to the canvas. As Vargas regained his senses, he went on the attack, cutting off the ring to restrict Khan’s movement and banged hard, with left and rights to the body. After poking out a throwaway jab, he connected solidly with an overhand right, reminiscent of the one that knocked Khan out when he fought Canelo Alvarez – and left the Brit flat on his back. The Birmingham crowd were stunned but Khan was saved by the bell and given the opportunity to recover.
Khan was able to bounce back in the very next round by dropping Vargas once more with a right hand, despite his opponents complaints that the punch landed on the back of his head.
By the fifth round Khan was finding his groove once more and boxing with better discipline, circling his opponent before springing into range to unload a barrage of combinations on his bewildered foe. This culminated with a sustained attack that had the referee closely observing the stricken Vargas before he wisely clung onto Khan and prolonged his involvement in the fight.
Despite Khan clearly being the superior technician, there were still plenty of moments for concern, as the unheralded Vargas ploughed forward. He scored frequently with raking body shots, occasionally trapped Khan against the ropes and connected cleanly on numerous occasions with the same overhand right that dropped the ‘King’ in the second round. This was highlighted in the tenth round when Vargas stalked Khan around the ring before unloading a left to the body and a crunching right hook to the head that momentarily turned Khan’s legs into jelly, only for him to once again be saved by the bell.
Going into the latter rounds, Khan deployed a more disciplined strategy, boxing off the back-foot and finished the fight strongly by hurting a tiring Vargas in the last round.
Based on this display, it would be hard to envision ‘King’ Khan annexing another world title from the current welterweight title holders. Equally unappealing to Khan is the long mooted, domestic grudge-match against Kell Brook. Even though the Birmingham crowd cheered loudly at the mention of this possible bout, something about it seems to leave Khan cold and disinterested.
What really lights his fire is a meeting with Filipino legend, Manny Pacquiao as he once again called out his former training partner. Now older and far removed from his prime, the ‘Pac-Man’ would present a lucrative, mega-event that Khan has long craved – and maybe provide the ‘King’ with the perfect stage to bow out from boxing and abdicate his crown in front of his legion of followers.