(Julio Diaz, left, connects on a shaky Amir Khan)
Former amateur heroes Amir Khan and Audley Harrison have spent a good deal of their professional lives attempting to convince people that they could play alternative roles. In that sense they are UK sport’s answer to Mark Hammill and Christopher Reeve. Khan has been pigeon-holed as a high-speed yet brittle boxer whose instinct in a tight spot is to slug rather than play safe. It is this Butch and Sundance homage that has led to his undoing on several occasions already. One of life’s great dreamers, Harrison has long protested that he would achieve more than his extreme fragility has frequently implied. Unfortunately for both, they reverted to type at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena on Saturday.
Khan, Bolton, England, managed to creep home against former lightweight world titlist Julio Diaz, but once again, he was dipped in and out of a dark fog along the way. Diaz, Coachella, California by way of Michoacán de Ocampo, Mexico, had been pegged as a respectable but safe opponent. Halted by the likes of Rolando Reyes and Kendall Holt over recent years and now aged 33, “The Kidd” seemed like the perfect foil for Khan’s rehabilitation.
While Khan uncorked rat-a-tat combinations in the opening round, Diaz calmly put his feelers out and landed a hard right that snuck home over Khan’s left shoulder. The Mexican landed a solid left hook in round 2 and while Khan’s often frantic activity banked him a two point lead, Diaz had just about calibrated his aim. A farrago on fast-forward at times, Khan, 28-3 (19), nicked the 3rd despite fielding further telling shots before Diaz, decked out in blue shorts that had his name stitched along the reverse of his beltline, managed to break through in round 4.
As Khan dallied in range after landing a jab, Diaz, 40-8-1 (29), smashed him with a left hook that froze him to the spot. With his legs too close together for him to manoeuvre, a second left hook put him down. Up in a flash but wobbly with it, Khan managed to ride out the round but looked an accident waiting to happen.
Khan circled and swooped on Diaz from range over the next two rounds after trainer Virgil Hunter realigned him in the corner. The former junior welterweight world titlist looked to have turned a page in the 7th when he nicked Diaz above his right eye and scored with an authoritative left hook. Diaz, though, was far from done. As Khan lost concentration in round 8 in launching three consecutive right hands, Julio rolled underneath and then fired back with a short stabbing right of his own that jellied Khan’s knees once again – but he was unable to capitalise.
Back on red-alert, Khan fenced assuredly in the 9th but he hadn’t yet had the worst of it. Diaz cracked him with a left hook in round 10 that softened his legs. Khan, in yet another moment of career crisis, enveloped Diaz in a bear-hug. It was reminiscent of the tactics the post-Marvin Hagler version of Thomas Hearns would used in order to clear his head, and while it bought Khan some time, Diaz bossed the remainder of the session.
As the pair tore into one another in the penultimate frame, Diaz put Khan back on Queer Street with a volley of violent head shots that had the Bolton man skittering and moon-walking about the ring. Diaz coolly stalked after him and a subsequent short right and winging hook left Khan dangling over a crevasse. Showing a new-found compulsion to grapple rather than skirmish, Khan possibly should have been docked a point for excessive clinching – but it got him through his toughest stretch of the fight. Diaz hunted his man from a crouch in the final round and he clocked Khan with another meaty right as the sands drained away but it would prove to be too little too late.
Phil Edwards scored the bout 114-113, Steve Gray 115-113 and Terry O'Connor 115-112. TQBR had it 114-112 for Khan. The referee was Marcus McDonell of Twickenham.
“Julio was tough, I mean he’s a tough, tough Mexican fighter,” Khan admitted afterwards.
Diaz was magnanimous in defeat. “I think I gave up too many rounds trying to break him down,” he said. “This guy has a lot of heart -- people don’t see that but he does”. Khan will need every bit of it, if he hopes to gain revenge over Danny Garcia and Lamont Peterson.
Heavyweight Deontay Wilder torpedoed Audley Harrison in just over a minute with the first right hand punch that he tried. After sizing Harrison up, Wilder, Alabama, USA, walked his circumspect opponent into a neutral corner and into position for his pay-off punch. Harrison sensed that it was coming and turned away and to his left but it buried its way into the point of his chin regardless. Instantly discombobulated, Harrison, London, England, covered up along the ropes but he was tagged again with a right hook and the contest was as good as over. As Wilder hacked at his man like a bushwhacker, Harrison sank to the canvas with howitzers fizzing and bombing overhead. Referee Terry O’Connor did everyone a favour in waving it off at 1:10 after Audley hauled himself back up to his feet.
“I’m a beast,” the likeable Wilder, 28-0 (28), claimed post-fight. “Mentally, I already had Audley before he stepped into the ring. I saw it in his eyes”. “The Bronze Bomber”, an intriguing player in an evolving division, desperately needs more rounds -- if anyone can stand up to him long enough in order to provide them, that is.
Humiliated once again, the 41-year-old Harrison, 31-7 (23), has reached the end of an unforgiving road. “It looks terrible on my part,” he admitted. “I kept myself quiet this time, focused on training -- felt great, felt comfortable, felt calm -- and I get banged out”. Something of a national joke, it is to be hoped that he can find success away from such a cruel stage. Like Khan, he carries a glaring weakness that makes boxing an uphill task against those that aren’t similarly encumbered.
English junior lightweight champion Gary Sykes scored a 10-round decision over Ashton under Lyne’s Jon Kays lower down on the bill. Dewsbury’s Sykes had too much experience for Kays and took a unanimous decision 97-94, 98-94 and 98-93. He moves to 24-3 (5) while Kays slips to 16-3-1 (4).
Olympic bronze medallist Anthony Ogogo made an exciting debut at middleweight. The Lowestoft man knocked out Telford’s Kieron Gray in the 2nd round with a chopping right hand. Gray falls to 5-14-1. Khan’s younger brother Haroon also made his professional bow in a four-round super flyweight contest but looked less polished in outscoring Fenton’s Brett Fidoe 40-37.
Manchester southpaw Terry Flannigan moved to 20 fights unbeaten (6 inside schedule) after he forced former lightweight king Nate Campbell to quit at the end of four rounds. Campbell was a mere husk of the fighter that once warred with the likes of Juan Diaz and Robbie Peden and Flannigan probably showed him too much respect, despite scoring at will. Campbell, Jacksonville, Florida, fell to 36-11-1 (26).