Virgil Hunter: "If Amir Khan wants a stay of execution, he will have to maintain his composure"
By Gabriel Montoya, MaxBoxing (Dec 13, 2012) Special to Doghouse Boxing
Trainer of the Year Virgil Hunter has proven what many always question
in a trainer of merit: he can mold from a fighter from scratch. The
trainer of Andre Ward, Olympic gold medalist and current super
middleweight kingpin, Hunter is now enjoying the kind of credit and name
recognition that years of hard won lessons inside Hunter’s King’s Gym
in Oakland, CA. have yielded. Hunter’s last name is apt. He speaks of
the ring as “terrain” and of his fighters’ opponents as prey, spouting
casually “The Art of War”, military strategy and fighting philosophy
learned and developed over a lifetime spent observing, learning from and
Saturday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, Hunter will get to display
another facet of a trainer’s many challenges: the reclamation of a
fighter coming off a loss. Like Emanuel Steward who brought Lennox Lewis
and Wladimir Klitschko back from devastating knockout losses (both men
had two such losses apiece) Hunter will attempt to bring Amir Khan back
and then forward from his second knockout loss and third overall.
Khan has all the tools to win any fight. At 5’10” with a 71” reach,
Khan is taller and longer than most 140 pounders. Against his opponent
on Saturday, the game but 135 pounder Carlos Molina, (17-0, 7 KOs), Khan
will enjoy a 4” height advantage. Khan also possesses the fastest hands
I’d seen at the Wild card when he trained there under Freddie Roach.
His power, while not devastating, could be set up by his technically
sound combinations and speed. Khan’s footwork, while amateurish in that
he sometimes moves too much and without purpose, burning much needed
later rounds energy, is sound and quick. Long to medium range are his
best games and he’s uncomfortable in physical fights that move to the
first loss came against unheralded Breidis Prescott back in 2008. Khan
was caught cold in the first minute of the fight and knocked out soon
after. While he didn’t lose complete consciousness, he was badly hurt
and the fight ended in shocking fashion. However, he was caught cold and
it could have happened to anyone. One fight later, Khan fired his head
trainer and moved to Hollywood’s Wild Card Boxing Club where Freddie
Roach and Manny Pacqauio were enjoying their greatest successes.
a time, Roach and Khan seemed to work. Together they picked up belts at
135 and 140 and beat the likes of Marcos Maidana (despite a late scare
when Khan was hurt badly by a surging Maidana. He survived to win by
decision), an aging Marco Antonio Barrera, Paulie Malignaggi, and Zab
Judah among others.
Khan was picking up momentum and discussing fights with the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr.
December, Khan lost to his mandatory defense Lamont Peterson via split
decision in a rough and tumble twelve round fight. The outcome was
protested by Khan’s people, claiming hometown bias as the fight was held
in Peterson’s hometown of Washington, D.C. Months later in the lead-in
to the rematch with Peterson it was discovered through anti-doping tests
conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association discovered synthetic
testosterone in Peterson’s system. He later revealed he had received a
synthetic testosterone pellet injection before the first fight. No
penalty has ever been levied on him for that admission or the positive
moved forward, fighting Danny Garcia. He was winning handily through
much of four rounds, pasting Garcia with right and lefts. Khan has a
jackhammer jab when he wants to employ it. He did against at times
against Garcia and cut him in the second round.
in the third stanza, Garcia began adjusting to Khan’s all-out speed
attack and started punching with him. Once Garcia figured out he could
land his left hook if he just kept punching with Khan instead of waiting
to counter, it was over. A brutal left hook landed on Amir’s neck and
ear area and down he went in a discombobulated heap.
to the man, Khan rose bravely and fought hard through two more
knockdowns in the fourth before referee Kenny Bayless halted the bout
after Khan appeared concussed following his rise from the third
talk of Mayweather went out the window. So did Khan’s whole approach.
But rather than return to the U.K. to look for his roots and a new path
to the top, Khan went to Oakland to work with arguably the hottest
trainer in boxing, Virgil Hunter.
always has a slant on a traditional idea that translates into his
fighters viewing the ring world just a little bit differently than the
rest of us. Like when I related meeting Khan for the first time on his
first day at Wild Card following the Prescott loss.
was hitting the speed bag. We’d interviewed already while he had his
hands wrapped and he was now finishing up. I came back for one more
question, asking if he wanted revenge with Prescott.
He stopped and said into my eyes, “Absolutely. I have the heart of a lion.”
immediately believed him. I related this to Hunter who explained it is
better to have the brain of a lion than an overly brave heart. Lions
don’t rush into danger without checking out the terrain first. They
certainly don’t stick around in the pocket after a combo and let a guy
land the left hook he has been trying to all night.
Khan went from the sunny climes of SoCal to the familiar rainy weather
of Northern Cali’s Oakland. From the glitz of Hollywood and the hubbub
of the Wild Card to the no-frills all business King’s Gym.
we first spoke of Khan, Hunter described him as a leopard that had yet
to understand how his speed truly worked. It doesn’t always have to be
top speed. Changing gears can be essential in confusing an opponent and
making him do what you want him to.
the speed under the control was really a matter of getting into his
mind that if he wasn't in a hurry, he'd see the terrain better,” Hunter
told Wednesday in L.A. at the final press conference for the Showtime
televised bout. “So as he began to spar and do certain things in
sparring he had never done before and saw them work, he embraced it.
He's not lost in his speed. He knows when to use it and when not to use
it. He is more relaxed in the ring, which makes him to me, more lethal.”
a training camp featuring the likes of Andre Ward, Alfredo Angulo,
Fernando Guerrero, Mike Dallas, Jr, Karim Mayfield and Brandon Gonzalez
among others, Khan is learning all kinds of new things. Hunter has
always taken the approach that the fighter themselves will teach him how
to teach them. He spends time getting to know them, imparting
philosophies and techniques to think about. But he first observes their
habits in the gym and the ring.
take five steps when you can take one?” asked Hunter when I asked him
about Khan’s habit of expending too much energy through movement. “Again
that comes from being an excellent fighter but not having the
understanding of a boxer. You don't waste steps. There's a reason why
you take a half step back or a full step back. There's a reason why you
walk away. These are philosophies I've conveyed to him that are
astounding me he's never heard or embraced before. They are benefiting
him. I told, whatever I tell you, whatever I suggest to you is going to
work. You will see it work because I am not going to tell you anything
that is going to go against the grain of your abilities.”
the losses to Peterson and Garcia and the scary late moments with
Maidana, Khan was roughed up in fights that became more street than
squared circle. In Oakland, home of Andre “Inside Fighting Master” Ward
and his teacher, Khan is learning a thing or two about how what to do
when things go inside.
think over a period, though it’s not really necessary for this fight,
there are a couple things that we worked on in the inside,” Hunter
explained. “He definitely has to protect on the infighting. Most of it
is understanding right where he needs to be. [Khan] needs to understand
when to fight inside, why he is fighting inside. Any fighter with
natural ability can adapt. I think he will surprise people because he is
someone who can come inside. He just didn't know what to do.”
much is evident in the last stages of the Garcia fight and in parts of
the Peterson fight. When things get rough, Khan pushes away or moves
inside partially while squared up and in a kind of no man’s land that
allows him to get hit with big shots he can’t defend properly. It’s what
got him dropped that first time against Garcia in a fight he was
In some ways it sounds like Hunter is simply sharpening or tightening what Khan already had all along.
actually safer inside,” said Hunter. “You have to convince the fighter
because early on it don’t make sense to him. Once he gets on the inside
he understands he has more control. He is safer there. Then he gets
relaxed and then they can exhibit the type of ability that they have.
He's not all the way there yet but he can throw a couple shots to the
body that can definitely hurt you if he hits you with them. He can hurt
you to the body even though he is not what you would call an infighter.”
looking at the opponent, Carlos Molina, a solid all-around fighter with
not much pop but a commitment to his technically sound punches but who
is also a mere lightweight, Hunter said “What I am looking for in Molina
is a fighter who is going to fight a little over his head. If he stays
within himself, where he is in 18 fights, this in his backyard. He's got
a lot of pressure to win. He's got more pressure on him than Amir
Wednesday’s press conference, Molina, who hails from Los Angeles,
essentially said he was going to make the bout a street fight wherein he
would defend his neighborhood. It is very clear this is Super Bowl.
Molina believes he can win and his conditioning and overall demeanor
Hunter feels he saw a key into Molina’s mental pressure.
said it himself. He gave it away himself,” said Hunter. “[Molina] said
he is representing the ‘hood. Well the ‘hood make some real punk demands
on you. ‘Either you’re a punk or you ain't. Don't let this Arab whoop
you.' You know, the ‘hood makes some real serious demands on you. So if
[Molina] wants to continue to walk in that ‘hood as a hero, then he is
going to have to come out of him so that's what is going to make it
dangerous for him. [Molina] has pressure to perform.”
no mistake, Amir Khan is not exactly on easy street in this fight.
Molina is tough, game, and he has a crisp inside left hook to the body
and head. If there is still weakness in Khan’s defense, Molina is likely
to find it. He’s a smart, well-schooled fighter in the best shape of
his life fighting in his hometown. He’s capable of doing some things.
lot rides on this win for Khan and Hunter understands this. The
challenge was always clear for Hunter. He welcomes it. Saturday night,
we’ll see at the very least, the beginnings of those results.
got an execution date, too,” Hunter said. “If he wants a stay of
execution, he will have to maintain his composure. Look, anybody who
fights Amir Khan or intends to knock Amir Khan out, has got to be
willing to take a beating to do it. You’re going to get hit when you
fight Amir Khan. You’re going to get hit hard. You’re going to get hit
often. So if you are willing to take a beating and try and knock him
then that's more power to you. The thing is that now that [Amir]
understands that he can put a beating on you without putting himself in
harm's way, it's going to make him a little bit more difficult to deal
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