By Paul Mason
Amir Khan returns this Saturday night at the Echo Arena, Liverpool, after a near two year break from the sport. His last outing was a bold leap up to Middleweight, where he was flattened cold in six rounds by the then WBC Champion, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. He is eased back in against the Canadian/Italian, perennial fringe contender, Phil Lo Greco. Sky Sports televise in the UK. Here I preview “King” Khan’s” comeback.
Amir Khan (31-4, KO19) v Phil Lo Greco (28-3, KO15) 12 Rounds Welterweight
Amir Khan returns to the ring after a 22 month hiatus, and returns to the UK to box for the first time since April 2013 this Saturday in Liverpool. After a profile enhancing stint in the Australian jungle on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, Khan gets back to business under new trainer Joe Goossen, following former trainer Virgil Hunter’s recent hospitalisation in the USA. He meets Phil Lo Greco in a fight that is surely designed to make Khan look spectacular and push him towards a summer blockbuster with rival Kell Brook. He also makes his promotional debut under Eddie Hearn and Matchroom.
Amir Khan was a precocious amateur, and was only denied Olympic Gold in Athens in 2004 by the outstanding Cuban great, Mario Kindelan. Khan would have to settle for Silver. Before turning professional, Khan defeated Kindelan in his last amateur bout, leading a scramble for his signature. This was won by Frank Warren, and Khan duly turned pro in his hometown of Bolton in July 2005. David Bailey (boxer not photographer!) was to be the opponent, and a spectacular one round stoppage ensued to announce Khan’s arrival.
Eleven straight wins followed over the usual learning and limited opposition before he met Willie Limond for the Commonwealth Lightweight Title in July 2007. The O2 Arena, London was to be the venue. It was in this fight that Khan first showed his future Achilles heel and vulnerabilities. The usually light punching Scot floored Khan in the sixth round, and the Bolton man seemed to be the recipient of a generous count from referee Marcus McDonnell. Khan recovered in the seventh to score a knockdown of his own, eventually forcing Limond’s corner to throw the towel in with Willie suffering a broken jaw.
Three defences of the belt (Scot Lawton, TKO4, Graham Earl, TKO1, Gairy St Clair, Unanimous decision) followed, as well as a seventh round stoppage win over Martin Kristjansen to pick up a WBO Intercontinental belt. Khan then met Mancunian Wildman Michael Gomez in Birmingham. Gomez was considered a shot fighter, but after being floored in the opener, he decked Khan in the following round. After a wild scrap, Khan recovered to drop Gomez with a body shot in round five and forcing the stoppage shortly after.
The warning signs were there for all to see, but Khan joined up with new trainer Oscar Rubio, who mistakenly identified little known Columbian banger, Breidis Prescott as Khan’s next opponent. Prescott proved to be Khan’s worst nightmare, ruining the Bolton man inside a round with a savage knockout win. Khan was forced to rebuild, this time under the tutelage of legendary trainer, Freddie Roach, and duly stopped the limited Oisin Fagan in two rounds. Khan’s promotors took another risk, this time one that paid off in landing Marco Antonio Barrera in Manchester in March 2009. Khan ran rings around the Mexican legend for five rounds, until the contest was forced to a halt due to a horrendous Barrera cut. Khan triumphed widely on the cards.
This opened the doors to World level, and Khan gobbled up the opportunity, dethroning Andriy Kotelnik on points in a hard fought scrap in Manchester, to lift the WBA Super Lightweight Title. He then stopped the hapless Dmitry Salita inside a round, before making his US debut in New York, thoroughly outclassing Paulie Malignaggi, before stopping him in eleven. Next up was a Vegas debut, and a real gut check for the ever improving Khan. He met Marcos Maidana at the Mandalay Bay in an absolute classic. Khan dominated the fight early and knocked down Maidana in the 1st round with multiple body shots. However, Maidana recovered and battered Khan to the brink with a furious assault in the tenth, sending him wobbling toward the ropes. Khan managed to ride out the storm in a fight of the year for Boxing Writers Association of America.
Khan returned to Manchester to easily beat Irishman Paul McCloskey (Technical Decision, head clash after six rounds) and went back to New York to add the IBF Title to his WBA strap by knocking out Zab Judah in five. Khan was on the crest of a wave, but was bought back down to earth in a bizarre contest with Lamont Peterson in December 2011. After knocking down Peterson in the opener, Khan was deducted points in rounds seven and twelve for “pushing”. Khan was to lose by split decision in a fight he looked to have won. It is more remembered for a mystery man in a hat, later identified as Mustafa Ameen. He was affiliated with the IBF and had a credential arranged by the IBF as a courtesy, but was not at the fight in an official capacity. However, he was seen on video at ringside apparently touching the scoring slips, which is against the rules, and distracting a judge. He was also seen in the ring apparently celebrating with the Peterson team after the fight. A rematch was arranged, but then scrapped in 2012 after a Peterson failed drugs test.
Khan came back seven months later to challenge for the WBC belt, but after a bright start, was derailed and stopped in four by Danny Garcia. His career now lay at the crossroads. He again changed trainers, this time to Virgil Hunter, and defeated Carlos Molina via tenth round retirement on his comeback. In another return to the UK, this time in Sheffield, Khan squeaked past Julio Diaz on the cards after being knocked down in the fourth. This prompted a move to Welterweight, and he impressed in thrashing Luis Collazo in Vegas on his debut at the weight. He backed this up with solid, wide points wins over Devon Alexander and Chris Algieri.
He would then receive an opportunity to fight for the WBC Middleweight Title against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. He would weigh a career high 155lbs for the contest in Las Vegas. Khan was well in the contest, ahead on one card going into the sixth, when he was flattened by a wrecking ball of a right hand which crumpled Khan on impact, knocking him out cold. Khan hasn’t boxed since due to mooted fights not coming off, marriage troubles and an appearance on Im A Celebrity. It will be interesting to see what he has left come Saturday.
Phil Lo Greco is designed to be the opponent Khan needs in order to look extremely good on his return. He has also played his part in the ticket selling, by trash talking about Khan at every available opportunity. The Toronto based “Italian Sensation” comes to Liverpool with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Lo Greco had built up a 25-0 record on a diet of journeymen and fighters of little to no ambition, which naturally catapulted him into World class level. He fought in his native Canada, USA, and also Hungary, Italy and Germany.
He would come unstuck in May 2013 against the talented, and future IBF Welterweight Champion, Shawn Porter. Porter dominated the contest in Atlantic City, drubbing Lo Greco. Lo Greco was knocked down in the tenth and final round, and Porter won every round on two scorecards, and only lost one on the third to expose Lo Greco’s limitations.
It’s no surprise to see that in his last six fights, he holds a 3-3 record. The pattern is usually set as he steps up and loses, and eases back with a win against limited opposition. After an eight round comeback points win against Rafael Cobos, Lo Greco was blown away, dropped and stopped in three rounds by another hot prospect, this time the fast rising Errol Spence Junior in Las Vegas.
Pablo Munguia was then defeated in five rounds (retirement) before Lo Greco was surprisingly unanimously outpointed over ten by the unheralded Joseph Elegele in June 2016.
Lo Greco has fought once since, in June last year in his native Canada. He scraped a majority eight round decision over the 24-11-3 Jesus Gurrola, so this doesn’t bode well for Saturday’s assignment on Merseyside.
I have a feeling that this fight will depend on the effects a long break has had on Amir Khan. But to be honest, I don’t think it will tell us much. I see Khan stopping the limited Lo Greco before halfway, maybe inside the first four rounds, with lightning quick combinations that the Canadian will just be incapable to avoid. We will then find out if the plan is World Titles and America, or Kell Brook in a summer stadium fight.