Over and over Amir Khan watched his last fight with Danny Garcia, growing more and more frustrated each time. Why did I do it? Khan asked himself. Why did I turn a tactical fight into a brawl? For two rounds Khan was brilliant, sticking Garcia with combinations, moving in and out effortlessly. Then he decided to stay in the pocket. Then it all went south. Khan was dropped by a left hook from Garcia in the third round and two more times in the fourth before referee Kenny Bayless mercifully stopped the fight.
"We made mistakes," Khan said. "Jumping into a war when we don't need to have a war, the game plan going out the window and me getting overconfident. I started to forget the things that got me far in my career and started to focus more on the power of speed or aggression. I tend to get ballsy where I should be more smart."
This has been an ongoing problem with Khan: His manhood often overrules his mind. After being knocked out by Breidis Prescott in 2008, Khan picked up a reputation as a chinny fighter. He quieted many critics in 2010, when he stood toe-to-toe in a win over Marcos Maidana. But Khan, 26, has always let the criticisms fester, has always felt the need to prove someone wrong.
Khan cites his sparring with Manny Pacquiao, a former stablemate at Freddie Roach's Wild Card gym, as part of the reason for his recklessness in the ring.
"I was in the gym with Manny and he had a very similar style to me," Khan said. "Offensively [he is] a great fighter, and defensively we're both not the best. We did a couple tough, tough sparring in there where we have to prove a point. They're used to guys coming from all over the place all over the country to spar with, and we do spar that way. The way we spar is the way that we used to fight."
In the aftermath of the loss to Garcia, Khan made some changes. He asked Roach to stop training Pacquiao and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and when Roach declined, Khan left him. He hooked on with Virgil Hunter, the man behind super middleweight champion Andre Ward, and vowed to change his style. With Hunter, Khan said, he has polished his defense and become "a very settled and mature fighter."
"When someone hurts you in the sparring, you want to knock their head off, you want to go into a war with them," Khan said. "That totally got in my system. Now if I do get caught with a shot, [I] regroup. It's all about thinking instead of jumping, rushing and making mistakes because when you're not thinking enough you do start making more mistakes and you do start getting caught more."
On Saturday, Khan (26-3) returns to the ring against Carlos Molina (17-0) at the Los Angeles Sports Arena (10:30 p.m. ET, Showtime). Molina, Khan said, represents a "make-or-break fight."
"I've lost two fights in a row," Khan said. "A lot of fighters don't get big opportunities to come back after that. I need to win."
Against Molina, a light-hitting 135-pounder moving up to junior welterweight for this fight, he should. A win would set up a big 2013 for Khan. A hyped matchup with Floyd Mayweather isn't in the offing, but a rematch with Garcia could be. Khan remains one of the most popular fighters in boxing and there will be no shortage of high-profile opponents waiting in line to fight him.
"I will be in the best condition ever," vowed Khan. "Conditioning-wise, boxing-wise, everything is going to hopefully come together and we're going to win this fight, finish the year off strong and then put us in a good position coming into next year."