By Jack Sumner @Jack_Sumner_
Amir Khan attempts to take another step along the road to redemption on Saturday night, when he takes on former two-time world champion Julio Diaz at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena. Billed as the “Return of the King”, it’s the first time Khan has fought in the UK since April 2011 and headlines Golden Boy’s first card on British shores.
Promoted under Oscar De La Hoya’s Los Angeles based firm it will likely be a long time before we see Khan in action in the UK again, with the Bolton native hoping a happy homecoming will see him back in big fights across the pond. Many consider Diaz to be a stepping stone for Khan with some viewing the bout as a mismatch, but if there’s any fighter who should understand the dangers of overlooking an opponent it’s Amir.
Khan (27-3, 19 KO’s) comes into the bout with Diaz off the back of December’s 10th round stoppage of previously unbeaten Carlos Molina, but that victory followed back-to-back defeats and a terrible twelve months for the 26-year-old. The previous December, Khan lost his WBA light welterweight title on a split decision to Lamont Peterson, scuppering plans for a bout with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather. Then, given a chance to regain a world crown and restore his reputation in July, Khan was brutally stopped by Danny Garcia in four rounds.
The Garcia defeat prompted a switch to a new trainer in Virgil Hunter, the defensive mastermind who has been the long time coach of super middleweight champion Andre Ward. Khan’s first fight under the tutelage of Hunter saw him turn in a defensively astute performance by his standards, but work remains to be done if he is to the protect the seemingly fragile chin that has been the thorn in his side thus far.
The biggest task for Hunter is to suppress Khan’s urge for a tear-up, his undoing against Garcia and Breidis Prescott earlier in his career, with all rational thought appearing to go out of the window whenever he’s caught with a big shot. It will certainly serve Khan well to avoid a tear-up in this Saturday’s encounter. A Mexican with a brawling style, Diaz possesses decent power and will favour a fight at close quarters.
The 33-year-old Diaz (40-7-1, 29 KO’s) has fought his last five bouts at welterweight and has stopped three of his opponents at 147, with one defeat in that sequence a third round TKO loss to Kendall Holt. Last time out he battled to a draw with unbeaten American prospect Shawn Porter. The fight this Saturday takes place at a 143lb catchweight, with Khan packing on additional weight after a long run at 140.
The extra muscle mass could serve Khan well though with plans for an eventual move to welterweight having long been discussed and despite moving down in weight for this bout, Diaz’s best days came at 130lbs many years ago. Amir has had one eye on the welterweight scene for some time now, though there remains unfinished business in the light welterweight division. Whatever his direction, he needs to have both eyes on Diaz this Saturday. Stepping stone or not, a lack of focus could lead to a costly slip.