Feature Story

Fightwriter: Khan-Salita

By Graham Houston

After wins over Marco Antonio Barrera and Andreas Kotelnik in his last two fights, Britain’s Amir Khan has put the one-round shocker against Breidis Prescott firmly behind him. Now Khan hopes to embark on the next phase of his career, which is to become a global superstar. The Khan camp is believed to have spoken with HBO executives in Las Vegas last month — introductions were made when the British fighter was in town for the Pacquiao-Cotto fight. I had a few words with Khan and it was clear to me that he would love to see his name in lights on the famous strip.

So, Khan’s WBA 140-pound title defence against Dmitriy Salita in Newcastle on Saturday (Sky Box Office in the U.K.) is of far-reaching importance. Khan is a big name in Britain. An impressive showing against Salita would be the ideal launching pad to widen his horizons.

Khan’s promoter, Frank Warren, made one of his rare slips when Prescott was approved as an opponent, but one-round endings can be misleading. Some very good fighters have been caught cold, as they say.

The way that Warren has brought Khan back has been brilliant, of course, with matches that looked dangerous on paper having been made with impeccable timing — it might seem odd considering how easily Khan won the fights, but some experienced observers were giving Barrera and Kotelnik a good chance.

Saturday’s fight is a WBA mandatory, and one that I think will give Khan a chance to shine.

Salita is unbeaten, a good, game boxer who believes in himself, and he should put up spirited opposition. Khan, though, looks on a higher level.

Khan moved and boxed, very fast on his feet and with his punches, in the fights with Barrera and Kotelnik, seeking to score points and not get involved in toe-to-toe fighting. I think we could see Khan standing his ground more and putting extra body weight into his punches in the fight with Salita, who is not considered an especially hard hitter. Khan told me in Las Vegas that he believes he is not just a better fighter but a smarter one since hooking up with master trainer Freddie Roach. He boxed to orders in the Barrera and Kotelnik fights, and now I get the impression that Khan will be let off the leash to some extent.

There has been no attempt to play up the ethnic angle — British Muslim against a New York Jewish boxer. This is a meeting of pleasant-mannered, intelligent young men, each respectful of the other.

The fight represents a huge step up in class for Salita. He is undefeated in 31 bouts but has never met anyone remotely near Khan’s level of talent. Salita showed a big heart when coming back from two first-round knockdowns to earn a draw against Ramon Montano, and he is a stronger, more mature fighter since that scare almost four years ago. The fact is, though, that he was in a desperate struggle with a tough but fairly ordinary fighter.
Salita suffered a flash knockdown against journeyman Rob Frankel and it seemed to me that he looked a bit shaky when the Midwest trial horse Grover Wiley caught him with a right hand in the second round.

This doesn’t mean that Salita is what the British call a “chinny” fighter, but he has shown vulnerability against boxers not noted for firepower.

Khan’s punch-resistance, of course, has not been exactly of the highest order. The Prescott disaster now seems almost to have been an accident, but knockdowns suffered against the Scottish boxer Willie Limond (who had stopped only one of his last seven opponents) and a faded Michael Gomez are cause for concern. Khan feels that he was getting hit due to impetuosity and carelessness and that he is now a much more controlled and complete fighter. British fans will be able to judge for themselves the extent of Khan’s improvement on Saturday.

As closely as I have looked at this fight, I cannot see how Salita can win. Salita has mastered the fundamentals of boxing, he jabs very well, his punches are usually thrown with good form, he looks strong physically and we know that he possesses pride and courage. Khan, though, just looks better in every area. This is a fight where, I believe, every moment of success from Salita will be answered by something better from Khan.

I am expecting Salita to provide a determined challenge. I don’t believe he will win, but I don’t see him being disgraced or embarrassed. Salita will, I think, get Khan’s respect — but not the victory.

When previewing the fight for Boxing Monthly I went for Khan to win by stoppage in about 10 rounds. I have revised this opinion slightly, in that as the fight gets closer I am envisaging a slightly earlier win for Khan. I don’t think I need to consult well-meaning pal Mike Marley’s clairvoyant in picking Khan to win by TKO, in the eighth or ninth round.

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