All the scuttlebutt in recent days points at pound-for-pound and pay-per-view boxing king Floyd Mayweather's next fight coming in May against Amir Khan, the leopard-quick Pakistani Brit with a China chin, a penchant for in-ring dramatics and a knack for outside-the-ring celebreality posturing (along with the kind of "love to hate" relationship with the public that goes along with it). Scuttlebutt being scuttlebutt, and with no official announcement in hand, it could be false. But all the evidence points to this being the fight for Mayweather. Reliable Mayweather news outlet FightHype last week tabbed Khan as the frontrunner for the gig, Showtime's Stephen Espinoza drizzled the match-up with praise in an "exclusive" today on how Khan would get Mayweather in May and Khan hasn't signed a contract with planned December opponent Devon Alexander despite that bout being in the works for months.
Boxing's hardcore fans are already displeased, both rightly based on any hope of a competitive affair next for Mayweather (above, left) and wrongly because the pickings are slim. On the first count, the best case you can make for Khan (above, right) is that he is, at least, fast. Very, faster than anyone Mayweather has faced since Shane Mosley or even further back to Zab Judah. You can argue that because he's tall and long, maybe that will trouble Mayweather a la Oscar De La Hoya. The arguments run out right around there, and even those hold little promise. Maybe they held more promise back before Khan lost to junior welterweight contender Lamont Peterson and then got knocked out by then-junior welterweight contender and now-junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia and then got rocked by blown up lightweight Julio Diaz in what was meant to be a "get well" bout -- maybe around the time Khan proved he could win a life-or-death war with a big puncher in Marcos Maidana or when he boxed so masterfully against Paulie Malignaggi or Judah or Andriy Kotelnik. But to get there we'll need a time machine set for 2011, and as of this moment Khan has demonstrated that the knockout-waiting-to-happen who couldn't take a punch from Breidis Prescott is still in there, and that the knockout timetable in any given fight moves up and up regardless of who he's fighting because he stubbornly insists in every fight on proving just how macho he is -- when all his machismo proves is that he has more machismo than he ought to and that it is the exact opposite trait that should be coming into play for a light-hitting, low-punch resistance boxer who could be using his quick fists, quick feet, length and capacity for defending himself well to easily outpoint the same men who have wrecked or nearly wrecked him.
The arguments run out "about there" because if the fight is signed, we will no doubt hear about how Khan's punch resistance bugaboo is merely the result of fighting at a weight unsuitable for his frame, and that he'll be A-OK once he moves fully to welterweight. Except we hear the same every time Khan moves up in weight -- the Diaz fight was at 143, don't forget -- and next thing you know Khan's a rag doll flopping around the ring at the gentlest contact.
What he does bring is that penchant for drama outside the ring that could lead to some sales. It's not clear to me what kind of fan base he has in the U.K., if any; I certainly don't know any fans of his in the U.K. personally, and his driving habits or overall tendency to be in the public eye (rightly or wrongly) for unsavory reasons or frequent U.K. negative remarks about the U.K. (again, rightly or wrongly) don't speak to someone who is likely to be particularly beloved in his homeland. Still, maybe he rallies some nationalistic U.K. fans a la Ricky Hatton on a smaller scale and ups the overseas money factor. What's more likely to make him sell in the U.S. is that he's also booed here from time to time, and he's likely to say something dumb that leads to a headline, and maybe his Muslim faith makes him a subject of talk generally. His tendency to be in needless brawls in the ring serves him well when it sells even his most unworthy opponents as capable of springing an upset, something that doesn't project to help the bottom line much against a master like Floyd Mayweather, who would probably come in as a betting favorite beyond the margins of any of his bouts in recent years. No, if anything, this fight could very well be the bout where more people want to see Mayweather knock someone out than to see him get knocked out.
This is how slim the pickings are at this precise moment in the life of Mayweather's multi-fight Showtime deal: Were Khan to take on and defeat Alexander in December, he very well could have been sold as a more competitive opponent for Mayweather, albeit not much more of one than before, but everyone seems to realize that the risk of Khan losing to Alexander is high enough that it's not worth it to potentially spoil what marketability remains in Amir. Khan might have enough marketability to outsell Mayweather-Robert Guerrero, and for that matter he could have more marketability than anyone else who's even a conceivable option. Does Garcia bring more to the table financially, really? Aged, infirm middleweight champion Sergio Martinez is the better competitive option, but does he for sure outsell Khan, and can we even guarantee that he would make it through camp with his body intact? And is there any sign that Mayweather is suddenly going to be interested in a Manny Pacquiao fight, or that such a fight could even be made given the hostility Pacquiao promoter Top Rank harbors for Mayweather? Khan is arguably the best of a bunch of options that fall into one of three categories by comparison: more competitive and nearly impossible; more competitive and probably less profitable; or both of the above.
We knew that after Mayweather took on the ultra-marketable Canelo Alvarez that it would be downhill for Mayweather after that, at least for a while. Now that the future is potentially upon us, it's possible we didn't realize how steep the hill would be.