Khan vs. Vargas, hitting the wrong note

By Ben Thomsett on September 9, 2018
Khan vs. Vargas, hitting the wrong note
The only people cheering were either drunk or Khan’s family. (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

“My god,” I said to my partner, “this is more bizarre than those singing Beatles transvestites we saw today…”

The dying moments of the pre-fight entertainment were as weird as I’ve ever witnessed. Buffer craned his perfect hair towards the Pakistan flags and joined in with the last lines of “Sweet Caroline.”

“My god,” I said to my partner, “this is more bizarre than those singing Beatles transvestites we saw today.”

“No it isn’t,” she replied. She was wrong, but some images leave a mark on people that never scratch the surface on others. Which is almost as good a metaphor as any to try and explain the Amir Khan vs. Samuel Vargas fight last night in Birmingham, UK.

Once upon a time, Khan was the 17-year-old darling of the British boxing scene. He was an exciting Olympian who had almost done the unthinkable and beaten Mario Kindelan in the gold medal fight at lightweight. I watched that fight. Khan justly deserved his silver medal but, boy, what a fighter he was. When he turned pro a year later the media slavered like hungry pigs. Me too. He was going to be a true star.

We all know how Khan hits the deck. But we forgot how he can box when he’s upright. I was hoping Samuel Vargas wouldn’t upset that narrative for me. I was wrong. For starters, during the weigh-in, Khan had to strip to make the weight which, considering his barbed comments that day about Kell Brook being unable to make 147 lbs. if his life depended on it, is called ‘egg on your face, hands, knees, and any other body part you want to show to a woman on Skype.’ But we’ve all forgotten about Amir and Skype…

Khan boxed well from the opening bell. He looked out of shape (not that weird considering his weigh-in issue I guess) but his hand speed was almost there and when Vargas hit the floor after a staccato combination I thought this was a mixed blessing and an early shower for Amir. When Vargas launched a good straight right into Khan’s jaw later that round, he collapsed like Buffer’s top C note from earlier. I shook my head and wondered what Khan could have done if he hadn’t had that two-year break from boxing. Glass jaw. Heart not in it. [Insert whatever Khan cliché you like here].

Khan got straight back up. I liked that. I was happy. When he clearly broke Vargas’ nose in the 5th I thought the Colombian looked a little unsure of how much free plastic surgery his contract entitled him to, and backed off. But boxing is an exciting sport; despite your utter convictions that you know everything you ever needed to know about it, you will almost always be wrong. Round 6 and Khan was beginning to suck in more air. Vargas was on the end of the punches, but he wasn’t going any place.

When Khan decided to dance around in the 10th even the partisan crowd couldn’t manage more than a bit of random shouting. Then he danced into another good right from Vargas. They’d seen this all before but, like boxing goldfish, another circle around the tank and “Whoa…Khan’s legs have gone!”

The bell saved Khan.

When the inevitable points win came—119-108, 119-109, 118-110—the only people cheering were either drunk or Khan’s family. Even Eddie Hearn looked sad. Vargas, the next supposed patsy on the Khan comeback train, had stuck it out with Matchroom’s “World Class Fighter” with no disgrace. And more than that, he had almost knocked Khan out.

After the fight, Khan said he’d “wanted experience,” and “could have put him away but I wanted rounds.” I didn’t believe that any more than Vargas did. Kell Brook was ringside. He offered to make 147 to fight Khan, but Khan didn’t sound like he needed the kind of whipping Brook could bring. He shouted about a fight with Pacquiao that no-one outside of TV land thinks is relevant in any way other than as a freak show.

If Khan knows anything, it’s that he’s not the same fighter who promised so much in his early twenties. His arch-rival knows that too. So does Samuel Vargas. And now, thanks to last night’s broad coverage on DAZN, Facebook, and SKY, so do the rest of us.

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  1. procopy 08:19pm, 09/09/2018

    Funny how many people called for Pacquiao’s retirement for many years now saying he’s old and damaged goods and yet these younger fighters are catching up real fast. Matthysse was first. Maybe Khan next. Who knows we’re gonna see him with Garcia now that he lost to Porter. And hell maybe with Maidana. I think the Pacman now becomes the boxing version of the paper shredder.

  2. Harold White 06:17pm, 09/09/2018

    Pacquiao vs Khan will be a freak show. Khan will be laid flat on his back. Khan has always been a laughing stock in boxing.

  3. John Reyberts 04:15pm, 09/09/2018

    Khan should hang-up his gloves. Pacquiao will knock him out to dreamland.

  4. Chico Salmon 01:57pm, 09/09/2018

    Lucas McCain… Tanks for the 411. Looks like the Bosox have used this song for better than 20 years. Had no idea that this song was adopted by the Red Sox and a few other sports teams. Still has a long way to go to top the John Denver, “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” though. The Orioles have used that tune since 1975. Always thought of Neil Diamond as a poor man’s Elvis. Speaking of Elvis, like so many other songs, he took this song and made it better than the original.

  5. Lucas McCain 12:18pm, 09/09/2018

    Chico,
    Good question.  Oxford United has also adopted the song.  Check out the section in the Wikipedia entry for the song.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweet_Caroline

    Maybe the use of Gerry and The Pacemakers “You’ll never walk alone” at Liverpool started the trend of sentimental oldies.

  6. Chico Salmon 10:06am, 09/09/2018

    What is the deal with the limeys (only kidding) and “Sweet Caroline?” Is it some kind of theme song at boxing events over there? Kind of like, “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” for the hapless Orioles during the stretch. Michael Buffer, the Ken doll lives, the man with the best hair since, Jack Lord. Oops, Lord wore a rug. Wonder if Buffer wears one? Speaking of rugs, RIP Burt Reynolds.

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