Amir Khan returned to his brilliant best on the undercard with a dominant performance against Luis Collazo who struggled to cope with the pace and skill of the Bolton welterweight.
Amir Khan is now a fully fledged welterweight, worthy of respect and a shot at a world title. His discipline and concentration in a wide points victory over the former world champion Luis Collazo on his debut at 10st 7lb were so far removed from his wild and vulnerable days as a light-welterweight as to make him almost unrecognisable.
Finally, he showed the improvements his trainer Virgil Hunter has been demanding since taking up with him after his devastating loss to Danny Garcia, in July 2012, and he now owns the WBC’s “Silver” welterweight belt, a daft invention but worth some leverage at the negotiating table.
“This is the first time I spent a good amount of time with Virgil,” Khan said, grinning through swollen lips, and dabbing at minor wounds around his left eye. “He was very awkward. It was a great thing to have a one-year lay-off. Collazo has only lost close fights, but I beat him convincingly tonight.”
The two women judges, Cathy Leonard from North Carolina and Las Vegan Adalaide Byrd both saw it his way 119-104, while Jerry Roth scored it 117-106. I had it 118-106.
Strangely, the fight was closer than the points difference suggests. Khan had Collazo over in the fourth and twice again in the 10th, but was under constant pressure. He held his nerve, though, and resisted the temptation to get involved in a red-mist brawl, as he has done too often in the past.
He started edgily, landing a low blow in round one that went unnoticed but sneaking the points with a lead right.
Collazo complained about more rough-housing by Khan in the second, and finished the round reddened and a little dispirted at the bell.
The New Yorker, normally a smooth operator, started swinging – and missing – from the hip in the third, as he continued to eat Khan’s combinations.
Ricky Hatton, who just out-lasted Collazo eight years ago in his first fight at 10st 7lb, warned Khan beforehand he would feel the difference in the physical chore moving up (just as he did at light-welter against the drugs-assisted Lamont Peterson). But a neat, short right bang on the chin had Collazo over for a quick count in the fourth.
He recovered quickly and stalked Khan with his hands down, inviting him to test his power on his chin again. But the Bolton boxer kept his composure, another lesson learned from Hunter – and past painful experience.
His punches were bouncing off the tattooed head of an opponent who seemed to revel in the punishment. Although the sixth was closer, it was still Khan’s. His straight right hardly missed the target.
As they entered the second half of the contest, Collazo was still strong, still shipping those right hands and still walking forward. He landed less frequently but more heavily than Khan, including a low blow, and finished the seventh with a glare.
A second low punch cost Collazo a point at the start of the eighth, making a hard night’s work even harder for him, and he did his best to make up the growing points deficit with some wild charges, and got through with a cracking left hook that brought a smile and wobble from Khan. Khan then lost a point for hanging on, and he was looking weary.
For 24 minutes, Khan had remained admirably calm under pressure, but the examination was about to get serious. He just edged the ninth, but had to do a lot of his work on the back foot.
As they settled in for the championship rounds, 10, 11 and 12, Khan seemed just a little concerned that his best punches had failed to deter the 33-year-old Collazo, who has spent his entire career at welterweight. A body shot took the stuffing out of the older man, though, another one put him down and then he was decked by a left jab-hook in the middle of complaining to his corner.
Retreating to the ropes, he stood there and just soaked it up. It was a weird spectacle, as Khan did not seem to be able to conjure the single-shot power to put his man properly away. But he won the round 10-7 and needed only to stay upright to win.
Collazo for most of the fight had whinged to the referee, Vic Drakuvich, and his corner, frustrated by Khan’s high guard and his grabbing in the clinches. In the 11th he seemed all but resigned to defeat, although he kept trundling forward.
Khan went down from a seriously low blow amidships in the final round and looked in a good deal of pain. Collazo, somehow, escaped a point deduction but lost the round – and the fight – anyway.
“I had to be disciplined tonight,” Khan said. “Collazo’s a great fighter. This was my first fight in 13 months. I’m still improving and will sit down with my team and look at the tape.