Wednesday 27 May 2015

Amir Khan can rule welterweight division for years - Hunter

The trainer of Amir Khan measured the corner conference room at the New York Marriott Brooklyn Bridge Hotel, watching intently as a gaggle of writers peppered his pupil with a string of questions about Manny Pacquiao, Kell Brook, Danny García, Brandon Rios and – of course – Floyd Mayweather.

Seemingly everyone was mentioned except Chris Algieri, Khan’s opponent Friday night in a 12-round welterweight fight at Barclays Center, the latest instalment in Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions series. Not until the conversation was steered to the task at hand did Hunter break his silence from beneath a grey flat cap.

“Thank you,” Hunter said abruptly upon the first mention of Algieri, nearly 20 minutes in. “Everything’s Floyd, Floyd, Floyd. I respect all you guys, you know that. But he’s got to fight Algieri. It’s just Floyd, Floyd, Floyd, Floyd, Floyd. And then if he loses, then you guys are going to rake him over the coals. He’s got to focus on Algieri. That’s who we should be talking about.”
Mayweather towers so high over boxing that a chance to share the ring with him represents an achievement in itself, not least due to the untold riches it augurs. Even more enticing for the Bolton fighter is the sense the timing is right – that Khan’s twice being left at the altar by the American shot-caller, despite the blows to his ego, may have been a blessing in disguise. He is 28 now, more than a decade on from his breakthrough at the Athens Olympics, and a better, more complete fighter.

Yet a pragmatist like Hunter, the phlegmatic 61-year-old retired probation officer who rose to prominence as the trainer of Andre Ward, knows how rapidly the prospect of a lucrative showdown with the sport’s box-office king will unravel should Khan take his eye off the ball. Fortunately, the fighter seems to know it too.

“I can’t afford to make any mistakes,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure on this fight in that sense, where if you make a mistake you’re done.”
In Khan’s immediate path is Algieri, a former kickboxer who holds a master’s degree in clinical nutrition and still lives in his parents’ basement in Huntington, Long Island. A virtually anonymous club fighter until a breakthrough win over Emmanuel Taylor thrust him into the world rankings, Algieri made the most of a shot at Ruslan Provodnikov’s junior welterweight title and twice came off the canvas to win the belt on a split decision. That set up a pay-per-view showdown with Pacquiao which ended in a predictable one-sided defeat but thrust his name into the mix of what’s become the sport’s prestige division.

Algieri is a lengthy, competent boxer, but enters as an 8-1 underdog against Khan, who is widely expected to win and look good doing it. What message would it send if an opponent floored six times by Pacquiao made for a problematic night?

Khan insists he won’t be compromised by those expectations, that he has tempered the eager taste for reckless combat with a tactical restraint. Much of that is attributable to Hunter, a teacher who champions the technical brilliance of Ward and Mayweather even as it denies the public thirst for bloodlust.

“You don’t have educated fans today,” he said. “And the people on TV, with all due respect to them, they try to program the fan into thinking that, if it’s not a certain way, it’s not a good fight. But that same fan will watch a good strategic soccer game or a basketball game. Strategy, always strategy. Success in life comes from strategy.”
Thus the conversation inevitably returned to Mayweather, so completely does the pound-for-pound kingpin obscure the sport. Hunter, who has emerged as one of boxing’s more lucid pop-philosophers, expounded at length over the underwhelming public reception to Mayweather’s win over Manny Pacquiao – and what it says about a culture’s fistic sense and sensibility.
“When you see a master, isn’t he supposed to make it look easy?” Hunter said. “If you’re getting your home remodeled and you have a carpenter come in there and every other nail, he’s slamming it into the wood crooked and then pulling it out, you’re going to get rid of him, right?

“More yet, if you had a son and he wanted to box and you took him to a coach and he said, ‘Look, I’m gonna teach your son how to go toe to toe. If he get a black eye, he’s gonna give one. If he get a bloody mouth, he’s gonna give one.’ You take him to another coach and he says, ‘I’m gonna teach your son how to hit and not get hit,’ you’re gonna leave him with that guy.

“It gets me today about the science of boxing. ‘Oh, he ran.’ Where you going to run in the ring? Now if he jumped out the ring and ran to the dressing room, yeah, he ran. But he has a right to use every inch of that ring. That’s like telling a great tennis player, you can only play up the middle, you can’t use the whole court. That’s like telling a great soccer player, you can only go past the midfield, you can’t go no further. That’s like telling a football running back, you can’t run to the sidelines, or like telling LeBron James, ‘You have to shoot 3s, you can’t go to the hoop.’”
The stirring yet understated sermon pressed forward as Hunter evoked the names of Meldrick Taylor, Terry Norris and Gerald McClellan, crowd-pleasing warriors who laid it all on the line at extreme personal costs.
“I don’t see none of their fans giving them a check,” he said, matter-of-factly. “[The fans] don’t see the end result of that dumb stuff, when they’re wearing diapers at 40. Don’t know their names. I’ve seen them looking up. They come to the gym and sit there and look up. I’ve seen them walk on the hills. I’ve seen them at 45 forget who they are.

“If it was your house like I said, or your life, you’re going to want a master to do it. If I’m a master, I’m supposed to make it look easy. It’s not supposed to be difficult. That’s where it goes wrong because it’s not [Mayweather’s] fault he don’t have a challenge. That’s not his fault. If Freddie Roach didn’t teach Manny Pacquiao how to cut off the ring, that’s his fault.”
Hunter believes the rebuilt Khan, who has traded in his recklessness for technical maturity, is poised to rule this division for years to come. That journey begins not in September against Mayweather, but Friday in Brooklyn.
“With his ability, with his speed, with his intelligence, he should dominate the welterweight division,” he said. “That takes time, that takes work, but that’s what I’m in it for. The bar is set high because he has a gift. I don’t want to sit around if I can make it to 85 and training fighters and say I failed this kid because I was just in it for a check. As long as we’re together, he has to be great because he as all the ingredients to be great. All the ingredients, from his gift to his family to the support he has. He’s at the right age, he’s at the right weight. You just don’t squander those kind of gifts.

“There’s a fight in him that the world hasn’t even seen yet.”
Credit: Bryan Armen Graham/Guardian Sport

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