Amir Khan – The Road to Freddie Roach

by Fran on July 9, 2010

Amir Khan and Freddie Roach – A Match Made in Heaven?

Amir Khan is potentially the best boxer ever to hail from the UK, up there shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, Jimmy Wilde, Joe Calzaghe and whoever else you care to mention.  A superbly talented amateur who entered the paid ranks to great fanfare and carrying the weight of expectation on his shoulders.  However, within the space of 10 pro fights he had arguably developed more technical faults than were ever present when he was competing in the amateur code.  In my view, he was making fundamental errors the like of which he would have been rightly reprimanded for by his amateur boxing coaches.  In this article, I want to explore in very specific terms what these technical problems were, how they affected his ring performances and what Freddie Roach may have rectified during Khan’s time at The Wild Card Gym in LA.

Amir Khan – The Amateur Years

Amir Khan was clearly a boxing prodigy from the outset of his amateur career at the age of 11.  By the time Khan really got into his stride, he had won multiple domestic titles and progressed to become World Junior Champion, European Youth Champion and Junior Olympic Champion.  This glittering march culminated in his attendance at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens where he, at the tender age of 17, reached the final and was prevented from winning gold only by uber-boxer Mario Kindelan,the mesmerising 3 time Olympic champion from Cuba.

So let’s take a look at one of Khan’s bouts from the Athens Olympics, his quarter final bout against tough Korean Jong-Sub Baik.  Khan is aggressive from the outset, but is happy to fire intense barrages of shots on the back foot.  The Korean is floored once and is ultimately stopped before the end of round 1.  Notice the perfect balance of Khan, his body weight remaining central or on the back foot.  Notice also that whilst he is unloading shots with power, he is doing so under total control and is comfortable moving in and out of range with speed and aggression.

9 months after his Olympic exploits,  Khan was ready to enter the professional ranks.  Amir Khan was primed by the amateur game to accelerate toward paid glory.  Surely nothing could go wrong, could it?

The Transition

In May 2005, Amir Khan signed his first professional contract with Frank Warren.  His coach was Oliver Harrison who guided him through his first 17 pro contests.  Harrison and Khan parted company in 2008 and Harrison was replaced by Jorge Rubio, former coach of the Cuban national squad, who was to guide him through his next 2 contests.  These 2 contests were against Michael Gomez and Breidis Prescott, Gomez an experienced (if a little long in the tooth) campaigner who could punch a bit, and Prescott a fast, hard-hitting Colombian.  These 2 contests were arguably the worst that Khan had been involved in, certainly in his pro career, the contest against Prescott culminating in a devastating one round KO.

So what actually happened to Khan during the formative years of his professional career?  There were insults exchanged between the Khan camp and Harrison, and Harrison and Rubio, all of whom pointed the finger of blame at each other when it came to explaining Khan’s apparently inexplicable loss of form.  OK, in the same way that scientists analyse an ice core to examine the conditions in the world at a particular time, lets look at some of Amir’s contests and examine his technique.

The first fight we’ll look at is Khan’s 2006 contest against Colin Bain (his 8th paid outing.)  Bain held a record of 11 bouts with only one loss, so a reasonable opponent for Khan early in his career.  The video is below, have a watch then read on.

I have some issues with the changes in Khan from his late amateur days to here.  I’d like to draw your attention to 3 specific issues:

  • Amir’s body weight, for significant periods of the contest, seems to be over his front leg.  If you’ve checked out the article on the boxing stance, you’ll know why this can cause problems and for me this is a critical fault in Khan’s boxing technique.
  • When Khan throws his jab, he seems to be launching his weight behind the shot.  Check out the article on the boxing jab and draw your conclusions.  This issue of trying to hit too hard seems to be a problem for many UK-based professional fighters, so Khan is not alone here.
  • Amir seems very willing to drop his hands, particularly his left hand, when he is within the ‘strike’ range of his opponent.

It has to be said here, these are the type of errors that Khan would simply not have made as an amateur.  So what’s gone on here, I mean it’s only 12 months into his professional career!  That’s a very short period of time in which such dramatic and fundamental technical problems should become evident in the style of an Olympic silver medalist.  Shouldn’t someone be identifying this?  Well, I’m sure he’ll grow out of these nasty habits as his career progresses, and anyway, he does take Bain out in round 2, so let’s move on.

No Longer a Newbie!

We’ve jumped ahead a couple of years here, to Khan’s 17th fight against Denmark’s Martin Kristjansen.  Now, I’ll give you a tip.  Khan wins the fight via a 7th round TKO, but right from the outset it is apparent that the same 3 problems as described previously are still in evidence, and if anything the over-commitment with the jab has become more pronounced.  Feel free to watch the whole fight, but to get the point you need only watch the first few minutes.  By the way, this is the last fight that Khan has with coach Oliver Harrison before moving on to Jorge Rubio, and he’s been a professional for 3 years.

The next fight we see (after Khan’s lacklustre performance against Gomez in which he was wobbled on more than one occasion) is the tipping point in Khan’s career, his September 2008 fight with Breidis Prescott.  Now, Prescott is a whole different ball game than any of Amir’s previous opponents in that he can punch…hard!  After this fight, more accurately described as a one-sided thrashing, Khan takes stock and realizes that there needs to be a sea-change in his approach if he is to fulfil the massive potential he was was shwoing as an amateur.

The Road to Roach – America Here I Come!

After the Prescott fight, it’s unsurprising that Khan felt like a change!  He joined Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Gym, looking to re-ignite his career and rediscover the depth of talent that he undoubtedly possessed.  So, without dragging this out anymore than is necessary. Let’s look at Khan’s 2010 clash with Paulie Malignaggi.  Have a quick look at these highlights:

OK,you spot any of the critical 3 errors (left hand dropping, weight going over the front leg, over-committing with the jab)?  I certainly don’t.  I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.  Was it Khan getting carried away with himself early in his career?  I find this scenario unlikely as Amir is a very self-effacing and modest character.  Did he just plain forget how to box properly?  Again,unlikely.  What about this for a scenario; Khan had 3 fundamental technical errors that had developed within his style during his first 19 fights, and after a short period with Freddie Roach these flaws were identified and rectified.  Could this have been a failure in the coaching setup during his early pro years?

Freddie Roach, as the great coach that he is, knows that a great boxer does the simple things, but does them extremely well.  He has reinforced the basics with Khan, and now Khan can look ahead to a great career.  Will Khan be involved in the kind of historic fights that have made many other fighters?  Unlikely I think because the more conservative style he now employs means that he will seek to ‘manage’ opponents as opposed to blowing them away.

Whatever happens though, it will surely be an interesting ride!  I’d be really interested to hear any of your thoughts on this, so please post a comment below and let’s get this worked out!



Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

markzima June 2, 2013 at 5:12 am

Fran, I thought your analysis did an excellent job of making vivid the importance of your instructions to take care to avoid letting the left hand drop, letting one’s weight go over the front leg, and over-committing with the jab. Quite valuable. Thanks!


Fran June 3, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Absolutely Mark, the simple fundamentals. Glad the article assisted and thanks for leaving a comment.


Val July 17, 2012 at 4:54 pm

I would like to share with you the comment on Amir Khar Statement after his loss to Danny Garsia recently. This comment is from Timur Dyussembekov, Gent, Belgium:

Amir, you are phenomenally gifted atlet. I think this is a moment, you have to turn into something more than a talented guy. You can become what we love in seasoned fighters: the mastership, the ability to fight in different pace, no unneeded urgency. You need to get that comfort inside and to fight with domination, with understanding, having no haste.

I would love to see you not taking unnecessary shots either extensive running or haste… but moving your upperbody, using different angles, not taking shots on your block. To think out before your opponent does that move and to surprise him with yours completely! This requiers becoming a little bit different personality, some meditative deeper look. With your power and talent, you may become the most intriuging master of the ring!

I applause your courage in the last fight and wish you full recovery from all that!
I wish you to become that Master that makes us love this game! )

God bless you.


Fran July 18, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Fantastic. Thanks Val, brilliant contribution. Never too late to put in place changes that can lead to prolonged success.


Karl July 14, 2010 at 4:03 am

I really like this sort of in-depth analysis, because isn’t that what we should be doing with ourselves when we’re learning how to box? It really is so technical. The other day my trainer suggested that I pick a pro or amateur boxer to emulate until my own style begins to emerge. Now, he doesn’t want me to try and be another fighter. I think he was just suggesting that I pick one boxer and really focus in on what he is doing, really pick it apart technically and try to learn what I can from it. So these videos you’ve provided along with your comments about Khan are really useful ‘roadmaps’ on how to do that.

For example, I think I’ve mentioned that I take a lot of shots when I spar. When I first began I could be counter-punched quite easily with a jab or a right. Eventually I understood enough to shuffle back, or to do the lay-back (thanks Fran) after my attack. This worked well, I could almost always see the first counter-punch coming and avoid it. However, if they kept coming forward I would usually get caught with the second or third punch. It was pointed out to me that I’m being to linear by ALWAYS moving back in a straight line. My opponent sees this and knows that if he keeps pressing he will eventually catch up to me.

Back to fighter analysis and emulating the pros…

In the third video, I ask myself the specific question of ‘How does Khan avoid the counter-attack’. There are lots of answers to this question of course, but I see two prime example that I will try to copy in the coming days. Basically, he’s non-linear. He drifts away to the right immediately after he throws. You see an example at 0:44, and really good example at 1:48.

So now it’s a little clearer in my mind when I hear the trainers yelling ‘don’t stand in front of him, don’t stand in front of him’. They mean angle off, circle away from the power hand


svenjamin July 10, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Nice historical analysis!

This seems like a good time to put in a request for an article or series of articles that discuss how to exploit common technical flaws like overcommitment on the jab. Sometimes the best way to break a bad habit is to have all of your training partners learn how to exploit it!

I remember training jiu-jitsu many years ago and being warned that a particular reflexive defense to a certain position was dangerous, as it left one vulnerable to a quick submission. But no instructors ever taught people how to actually apply that submission lock! Perhaps because they assumed that no well-trained opponents would ever be vulnerable to it. So I sat down with a friend and worked out how to exploit the mistake and trained that technique. We then had fun whipping out spinning armbars on our training partners until they learned to escape knee-on-belly mount the proper way!

I’m currently in a similar situation where most fighters in the area routinely overcommit on their punches. I have my ideas about how to deal with this, but am not a very proficient boxer, and I am sure you have better ways of exploiting this!


Fran July 11, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Leave that one with me Svenjamin. I’m sure I can come up with some scenarios to promote thought and discussion. Cheers for the request!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: