Khan, Ortiz and the Usefulness of Their KO Losses
By Brian Gorman, Doghouse Boxing (May 14, 2010) Doghouse Boxing  
It was 2004, and three present or future stars of the sport would suffer knockouts that would send their careers in different directions.

Future heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko would run out of gas and get hammered by an inspired Lamon Brewster for the WBO title. Young future cruiserweight champ and heavyweight titleholder David Haye also overexerted himself against durable veteran Carl Thompson and, like Klitschko, succumbed in five. Meanwhile,
the once-great “Mr. Unstoppable” Roy Jones, Jr. became very stoppable on two unthinkable occasions that year.

For each, the early nights had lasting but very different effects upon their career. As we now know, Jones would never again regain his form, becoming – or perhaps revealing himself as – a shell of his former greatness.

Yet, for Haye and Klitschko, the knockouts arguably made them better. Haye learned the vitality of conditioning, pacing and never underestimating an opponent, which he’s used repeatedly since, most recently in a WBA defense against John Ruiz last month. Klitschko unveiled a prudent and masterful, yet painfully boring, style that has catapulted him leaps and bounds beyond the ordinary crop of current heavyweights, save his brother Vitali and perhaps Haye.

Fast forward to May 15, 2010: HBO will feature, via Madison Square Garden in New York, two potential future stars in Great Britain’s Amir Khan and America’s Victor Ortiz, both facing venerable veteran opposition in Brooklyn’s Paulie Malignaggi and Floridian Nate Campbell as they reach for stardom in spite of their embarrassing KO losses at the tender boxing ages of 21 and 22.

Their reputations, and presumably their egos, took a major hit, as those resenting that they were offered stardom without earning it reveled in their comeuppances. Boxers’ stock often resembles the Dow Jones, though, so who knows in another decade whether these defeats will only appear as blips on otherwise excellent careers?

Like Haye, Ortiz just might learn that his phenomenal physical gifts and presumed superiority are all well and good, if only to serve as a good start while he develops his technique and savvy. It also might have helped him in the long run to become acquainted with one of the many men tougher than he, whom he’ll have to smartly outbox and resist their call to engage in a firefight.

And like Klitschko, Khan may evolve into a safer and less watchable but exponentially more effective boxer who will unleash his weaponry only when his opponent is hopeless.

By making adjustments to their mental and physical approaches, these young guns will perhaps avoid the infamous fate of old man Jones, a vulnerable and fragile fighter after the physical skills that protected his chin eroded or he lost his legs when he dropped 30 pounds in 2003, whatever your theory. But should that be their goal, to choose Ws over oohs and aahs?

Unquestionably, Jones’ fall was nothing short of precipitous, beginning with the one-punch knockout at the hands of Antonio Tarver. But when fighters like Jones and Naseem Hamed, another trainer’s nightmare, competed in style in their prime, they delivered some unforgettable moments that transcended the sport and made them rich.

In fairness to Klitschko and others of his cautious ilk such as Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather, Jr., only a select few, like the Sugar Rays, Robinson and Leonard, and now Manny Pacquiao, can be as exciting as they are great. You wonder whether this is a decision that frustrates, confuses and perhaps even damages some fighters.

As for Khan and Ortiz, due to the quality of their opposition, leaving with a notch in the left-hand column will probably suffice this weekend. More likely than not they’ll both accomplish at least that, Khan in part due to wise matchmaking and Ortiz because of ghosts of brawlers past. Both, it seems, have already grown and are maturing into competent, top-notch professionals.

Good for them I suppose, but as the years pass, perhaps there’s something to be said for youthful indiscretion, which can be so much damn fun.

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