Khan He Kick Ass?

An early candidate for the most intriguing bout of the year takes place at the Manchester Evening News Arena this Saturday. Andy "TKO" Houghton provides the UK take on Khan-Barrera

They say the best response to falling off a bike is to get back on. Those who almost drown should get straight back in and learn to swim. Bolton lightweight prospect Amir Khan, though, seems to be taking the idea to extremes.

Barely six months after shockingly losing his unbeaten record when he was demolished inside 54 seconds by unknown Colombian Breidis Prescott, Khan steps into the ring with a modern day legend in three weight world champion Marco Antonio Barrera. The fearsome Mexican sports 43 knockouts in a professional record of 65 wins with just six losses. In a pro career spanning almost 20 years, the Mexico City resident has mixed with opposition of the caliber of Daniel Jiminez, Kennedy McKinney, Erik Morales, Junior Jones, Naseem Hamed, Johnny Tapia, Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Barrera is 3-0 against British opposition, having demolished Paul Lloyd inside a round on his previous visit to the UK in addition to a third round stoppage of Richie Wenton and his career-defining win over Hamed in 2001.

Khan, meanwhile, has fought only two rounds, an impressive but essentially meaningless blowout of Ireland's Oisin Fagan, since losing in embarrassing fashion to 9/1 underdog Prescott. Whilst he claims to have learned all manner of new techniques since teaming up with American trainer Freddie Roach, and has tighten up that leaky defence, the suspicion remains that the old adage "you can't put muscles on chins" has never been more apt. Khan claims that making the 9st 9lbs limit previously left him weak at the weight, whereas having reduced muscle mass from his upper body, he will now be stronger at the weight. Stronger or not, however, the suspicion remains that if Barrera lands that feared left hook, the chances are it will be lights out.

The flip side of the coin, however, is the fact that Barrera is clearly not the fighter that he once was. At the age of 35, having started out as a 15 year old flyweight and having fought a lot of wars, the Mexican has a shopworn look about him. He is also unproven at the lightweight limit, having fought there just twice against fairly nondescript opposition. Nevertheless, the fighter known rather wishfully these days as "The Baby Faced Assassin" had enough left just two years ago to take the elite level Marquez to a disputed decision loss, dropping him in the process. In November 07, he lasted the distance with Pacquiao in their rematch, though the performance was distinctly safety-first. Nonetheless, the fact that the veteran from Mexico City announced his retirement after that fight, only to later reconsider, suggests that his heart may no longer be totally in the sport. It is in such circumstances that fighters can sometimes take the kind of defeats that demean a once-great record. The odds makers, for what it is worth, believe that this is more likely to be the case with Barrera a slight outsider at 6/5 (Khan is 5/6).

So what of Khan? The 2004 Olympic silver medalist clearly has all the offensive attributes. In addition to blazing hand speed, punch picking, movement and good power, he is technically correct and can throw every punch in the book. With 15 stoppages in his 19 victories against the sole defeat to Prescott, Khan has shown the ability to hit with either hand. He may be a more versatile puncher than Barrera, whose signature punch is his left hook to head and body. There is always the possibility, however, that if Khan is feeling some discomfort at the weight, those hefty body shots will take a toll if the fight is long. Barrera demonstrated against Pacquiao that he still has the durability and he has been the 12 round distance on 18 occasions, compared to Khan's one (the 12 round sparring session with Gairy St Clair last February). If the fight goes into the trenches, he is not likely to be the man found wanting, even taking into account Khan's relative youth at just 22.

The fight will be decided by which Barrera shows up. At 35 and after a long, hard career and recent inactivity, the Mexican may just be ready to be taken out in spectacular fashion by a hungry up and comer. Nonetheless, if he shows up as half of what he once was, the fight will be over well inside halfway.

On the same card, former WBO cruiserweight titlist Enzo Maccarinelli attempts to get back on the title trail as he takes on Ola Afolabi for the interim belt. The title was vacated by David Haye, who demolished the Welshman inside two rounds a year ago. Last time out he recorded a fairly meaningless two round stoppage of heavyweight journeyman Matthew Ellis. The American has just five stoppages in his 13-1 record and this is one fight where the suspect chinned Swansea man, 29-2(22) should not have to worry about his opponent's power. He should take care of business against a much less experienced opponent. The real tests, however, remain to be seen.

Possibly the best bout of the night may be at featherweight, where WBO titlist Nicky Cook, of Dagenham takes on unbeaten Puerto Rican Roman Martinez. Cook won the belt last time our with a convincing 12 round out boxing of Scotland's Alex Arthur, having been unsuccessful in a previous shot against Steven Luevano at 126lbs.

The 26-year-old challenger, 21-0-1(12) stands a narrow favourite at 8-11 (Cook is 5/4). Nonetheless, he does not appear to be a huge puncher. In his last fight, he was taken the distance by Walter Estrada, who had previously been stopped four times including a fifth round loss to Arthur's fellow Scotsman, Scott Harrison, in 2004. Cook is in the prime of his career and may be worth a punt in a bout which is likely to head towards the 12 round distance.

Questions or Comments? Email Andy "TKO" Houghton