In many ways, controversy drives the sport of boxing. As fans, we complain about poor officiating and dirty fighters, but those factors make for dramatic news items, which help prizefighting grow. Publicity is good for the continued future of the sport, and so we revel in those controversial decisions, arguing and debating back-and-forth for weeks after the event, often long after the actual victims, the fighters, have come to accept the outcome.
Too often, however, we get so wrapped up in what should have happened that we forget what did happen. In the case of the Mayweather vs Maidana fight card, what happened was a great night of fights with some stunning displays of heart and, my favorite, technique.
Hence, this analysis. Join me, for a few moments, in forgetting the contentious officiating and just focus on the skills that these world class athletes put on display. Today, we focus on Amir Khan, who put on a savvy performance in a dominant win over Luis Collazo.
TACTICS AND DIRTY TRICKS
Don't listen to the critics--that was the best Amir Khan we've ever seen. Powerful, lightning fast as ever, and equipped with the correct strategy to maximize his strengths and minimize his well-known weaknesses.
The above GIF makes for a pretty good microcosm of the fight. Khan shoots a beautiful counter right down the pipe and ties Collazo up, frustrating the American boxer only to hit him with his free hand when Collazo goes to complain to the referee, before finally using his clinch to nullify his opponent against the ropes.
It was the right hand, particularly as a counter to the right hand of the southpaw Collazo, that did most of Khan's damage for him in this fight, but the real credit belongs to his tricky left hand, which probed, stabbed, and grabbed whenever and wherever necessary. One of Khan's most reliable left hand tricks was to use his jab as a post, both to blind Collazo and keep him at arm's length, where neither his left hand or dangerous left hook could be put to use.
Khan throws out a flicking triple jab, making it difficult for Collazo to see him and forcing him to move to find a way around it. You can see Collazo not only slip under the jab, but step past Khan's left foot with his right foot--it is at this point that Khan realizes he's probably in for a counter unless he does something. Instead of covering up or moving away, Khan uses what's available to him: with his jab already in Collazo's face, he simply glues his glove to Collazo's head and applies a little pressure, essentially stiff-arming Collazo and preventing him from coming forward. After, Khan attempts a right hand that Collazo blocks, but the posting with the lead is the real highlight of this exchange.
This opportunism was the hallmark of Khan's performance. Instead of resorting to textbook boxing, Khan consistently turned his punches into grappling techniques, pinning, turning, and holding Collazo. As the fight wore on, he began to use these techniques more and more to set up power shots.
I'll be honest: I'm not even sure if this is a real missed left hook, or a collar tie thinly disguised as a left hook. Given Khan's craftiness with dirty moves in this fight, the latter wouldn't surprise me at all. In any case, this is an excellent example of Khan using opportunities presented to him.
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As his left hook wraps around the back of Collazo's head, Khan could easily just pivot out, or shove Collazo away. Instead, he turns that punch into a grip, pulling Collazo's head in close and battering him with two hard punches. The first, an uppercut to the body, makes perfect sense given Collazo's high guard. The second punch proves exactly why "holding and hitting" is a foul in the sport of boxing. Normally a tight guard like the one Collazo's holding in this GIF wouldn't stop a punch right down the middle altogether, but at range the boxer's body can move back with the impact, preventing the punch from landing solidly or even slipping through the guard at all.
Once the grip is brought into play, however, Collazo's head has nowhere to go. His guard might still take some of the sting off the punch, but Khan's short, powerful hook still has enough pep to land solidly on the center of his face. Anyone who watched Robbie Lawler fight Johny Hendricks for the UFC welterweight belt will testify to the effectiveness of holding and hitting when it comes to increasing the impact of power punches (GIF).
COUNTERING THE COUNTER
Khan also used the blinding and distracting effects of his jab in more traditional ways, such as with the set-up to this beautiful counter right hand that stunned Collazo in the 7th round.
Here, Khan's back is to the ropes. He jabs, ostensibly to keep Collazo off, and Collazo reacts with a counter that had proven effective for him earlier in the night. Unfortunately for the American, Khan's jab was a trap. As his left hand extends, Khan dips down under the line of Collazo's hook, and plants his lead foot far to the outside of Collazo's, closing the distance for a very short, very powerful right hand.
This is what counter punching is all about. In the words of Mike McCallum, "good fighters capitalize on your mistakes; great fighters make you make mistakes." That is precisely what Khan did here, using his jab to simultaneously force the expected counter out of Collazo and obstruct his vision so that he couldn't adjust to Khan's actual position in time.
And, true to form, Khan doesn't just try to skip out of range as once he might have done. Instead, he laces his left arm under Collazo's right and shoves him face-first into the ropes as he pivots back to center ring.
This sort of opportunism was also behind Khan's most frustrating (for Collazo) and most frequently used technique of the fight.
As Collazo slips a left hand, Khan's body collides with his, and Collazo ends up under Khan's armpit. Victor Ortiz already proved how dangerous Collazo is on the inside when he has control of his posture and is able to manipulate the distance, so Khan smartly doesn't try to recover his whiffed punch, instead using his already extended arm to nullify Collazo, first pulling his elbow tight to his body to trap his opponent's head, and then leaning forward and pressing down, putting tremendous pressure on the neck and upper back of Collazo.
This GIF also shows exactly how Collazo gave the fight away. A blatant low blow such as the one he lands here is not the response of a boxer who feels he is in control. In fact, it makes Collazo look downright petulant. Responding to dirty tactics with dirty tactics is perfectly justifiable, and is part of the gamesmanship of boxing, but there was a craft and cleverness to Khan's dirty fighting that Collazo's own attempts lacked.
Check back tomorrow for my breakdown of Mayweather vs Maidana.
For more analysis, as well as fighter and trainer interviews, check out Heavy Hands, the only podcast dedicated to the finer points of face punching. Coming this week, Connor talks to Bloody Elbow's Pat Wyman, martial artist and professional fight scout, about recent matchups and the science of analyzing fights.