There are a handful of attributes found in most boxing superstars: skill, charisma, box-office appeal and a willingness to fight anyone, just to name a few. There are exceptions, but by and large every top-level guy has them.
Oscar De La Hoya had them. The Golden Boy was fearless in the ring, fighting toe-to-toe wars with the likes of Ike Quartey, Felix Trinidad and Shane Mosley. Outside the ring De La Hoya's
Floyd Mayweather has them. Granted, Mayweather's resume will continue to be a little light until he faces Manny Pacquiao, but wins over Genaro Hernandez, Diego Corrales, De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton (among others) make him a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Mayweather is the biggest pay-per-view draw in boxing history and -- thanks in part to the push provided by HBO's
Amir Khan is getting closer to adding his name to that list. On Saturday, Khan (25-1, 18 KOs) added another quality win to his resume, knocking out slick veteran Zab Judah in the fifth round with a vicious body shot. The punch was borderline legal -- Judah insisted it was a low blow -- but replays clearly show it hit Judah right on his waistband, which was hiked up above his belly button.
"It was very legal," Khan told SI.com. "It was right on the belt line. Look at where his belly button is. The belt line was way above his belly button."
The win over Judah is another feather in Khan's cap. Khan has won eight straight since getting flattened by Breidis Prescott in 2008. That loss led to the decision to move to the U.S. and team up with Freddie Roach, a choice that has paid big dividends. Roach's game plan -- "stay away from [Judah's] big back hand, take his power punches away from him and use my jab," Khan said -- was perfect and Khan's execution was flawless. He swept the first four rounds on all three judges' scorecards and was in complete control of the fight before the referee counted Judah out.
Important note, Part I: Saturday's fight marked the return of strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza to Khan's camp. Ariza, a fixture in the corner of many Roach fighters like Pacquiao and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., was publicly (and rather bizarrely) dismissed after Khan's win over Marcos Maidana. Without Ariza, Khan looked shaky in a win over Paul McCloskey in April. The two patched things up shortly after that fight and Khan was quick to credit Ariza for preparing him for Judah.
"Working with Alex helps me mentally more than anything," Khan said. "He pushes me so hard. If I don't work with him, in the ring I think to myself, Am I still going to be as strong as I normally am? Am I still going to be able to knock opponents out?"
Important note, Part II: Fighting Judah illustrates why Khan is quickly becoming one of the most popular fighters in the sport. After chasing Timothy Bradley for months (more on that below), Khan could have settled for a less dangerous opponent than the 33-year-old Judah, who brought a significant edge in experience into the ring. But Khan has never shied away from a dangerous, crowd-pleasing fight which Judah -- despite the abrupt ending -- represented.
So where does Khan go from here? The logical next opponent is Bradley, a fellow unified titleholder who earlier passed on a $1.8 million offer to face Khan. But Bradley has shown no indication that he wants the fight, and industry sources believe Bradley won't take it as long as the possibility of a spring fight with Pacquiao is still on the table. More likely, sources say, Bradley will take a smaller fight on the undercard of Pacquiao's November date with Juan Manuel Marquez, with the idea being that Bradley would be next in line for Pacquiao should a showdown with Floyd Mayweather not materialize next year.
In fact, there is a good chance Khan-Bradley will
Then there is this: In a move Khan thought would entice Bradley into the ring, he had previously offered a straight 50-50 split of all revenue, including the U.K. money that he singlehandedly generates. That offer, Khan says, is off the table. Khan says he will split the U.S. revenue down the middle but wants 100 percent of the U.K. profits.
"Bradley needs me for the big payday," Khan said. "He isn't getting any big payday without fighting me. I can get the crowd. I'm the money man in the division. It's his hard luck. He will be out of the game [sooner] if he doesn't man up and fight me."
It would be a shame if Khan-Bradley never happens. They are, indisputably, the two top dogs at 140 pounds. And the winner, as Roach has pointed out, could make the rare claim to being the undisputed champion in the division. But Khan is right to not wait too long for Bradley. He has essentially conquered the division -- besides Bradley and Devon Alexander (who himself is plotting a move to welterweight), there really are not many names left for him to fight. Also, his 5-foot-11 frame would seem to be well suited for a move up to 147, where lucrative fights with Mayweather, Victor Ortiz or Andre Berto could be put together. A Bradley fight would be big, but it's certainly not the only big fight in Khan's future.