Friday, July 17, 2009

Can Khan Crack the Kotelnik Code?

Amir Khan gets a shot at winning a world title when he faces Andreas Kotelnik on Saturday night in Manchester, England.

Freddie Roach and one of his other stars, Amir Khan, arrived in England about 10 days ago. Back on Khan's home turf, they have continued with their rigorous preparations leading up to tomorrow night's WBA 140-pound title fight against Andreas Kotelnik at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, England.

It's been Roach's job to re-build Khan's confidence and ensure that what happened last September against big punching Breidis Prescott never happens again. Namely, that Khan doesn't go overboard while trying to knock someone else's block off and forget all about what is coming back at him.

Prescott swamped the young British sensation in only 54 seconds. It was such a quick demolition job that many figured Khan's career as a contender was finished before it ever really began. While there is no question that Khan has all of the offensive tools in the world – the questions are still swirling about the strength and quality of his chin.

But since the debacle against Prescott, Khan has chalked up two quick wins over Oisin Fagan and Marco Antonio Barrera and now he and Roach find themselves on the verge of winning a title. Should they prove successful in that endeavor they will be on the precipice of what could be a succession of mega fights at or around 140-pounds.

Kotelnik is a capable fighter with sufficient determination who cannot be summarily dismissed.

After a training session in front of the media last week, Roach seemed happy about what he and Khan have been able to accomplish together in less than a year. Khan is only 22-years-old with a record of 20-1, 15KOs. Under Roach's watchful eye he has managed to tighten up his defense and regain the momentum he possessed before he ran face first into Prescott's fists.

“I'm happy about where we are, we're in a great place right now and we're ready to fight,” said Roach last week. “I think we peaked in Los Angeles and we've finished up with the hard sparring. The postponement of the fight threw us off our schedule a little bit. At this point we're just maintaining our form right now.”

The fight was originally set for June 27th at the O2 Arena in London, but Kotelnik developed a tooth infection, which resulted in the bout being pushed to tomorrow night with a change of venue to Manchester. Roach doubted (and still does) the legitimacy of Kotelnik's dental problems and he was unhappy because the postponement totally disrupted his carefully plotted training schedule.

“We re-grouped,” said Roach of the abrupt change in plans. “He's ready now. You know, we were ready for the fight to take place in June, then we had to travel back and forth from the U.K. When you are getting a fighter ready for a fight it makes it difficult when something like that happens. I wasn't too happy about it, no. But, I guess it's a part of life and I'm not going to make any excuses about it. We're ready now and that's all that matters.”

Pictured at his Wild Card Gym in North Hollywood, California, Roach is generally regarded as the best boxing trainer in the world.

Kotelnik will be no walk in the park for Khan. The Ukrainian is technically savvy, experienced and he's a tricky guy to break down. As usual, Roach has been reviewing tapes of the opposition and has been looking for weaknesses in the man who won a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and has compiled a pro record of 31-2-1, 13KOs since turning pro nine years ago.

“I've been studying him,” said Roach. “He does have a very good defense and he'll be very hard to crack. He has a passive defense, very straight-up. He's your typical European-styled fighter, but the problem I see for him is that he fights in what I call straight lines. We'll use lateral movement with him, we'll make him keep picking his feet up and he'll never be able to punch because he'll always be resetting his feet. I feel that Amir has a big advantage there, with his foot speed, and that's where we're going to win the fight.”

Khan will have to wage an educated fight and he will have to stay within the margins of the strategy that Roach has drawn up for him to follow. It deals with specifics and it calls for Khan to be patient and smart about his attack. Kotelnik has fought three times as many rounds as has Khan, so it's not a stretch to say that he is three times as experienced in the pro game. More importantly is at age 31, Kotelnik is not past his prime as was Marco Antonio Barrera when Khan beat him on the scorecards in a fight that was stopped because of a cut suffered by Barrera.

“I want Amir to take his time and see the openings,” explains Roach. “I want him to see the openings, land his perfect shots and then get out of harms' way. One thing I've seen in Kotelnik and one reason why he wins a lot of fights is because guys that fight him wear themselves out on his defense. He holds his gloves up high and guys just beat on those gloves and they get tired. Kotelnik starts slowly in his fights because he wants you to punch yourself out and then he comes on in the later rounds.”

Roach and Khan have put in many hours in the gym in an attempt to ensure that Khan is fully prepared for his first shot at a world title.

Many figure that Roach is giving Kotelnik more credit than he deserves, but the veteran trainer knows it's foolhardy to overlook any opponent. While Kotelnik is solid, he's not on the same level as the other top talent in the division. With a weight class that includes bonafide stars such as Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton as well as second tier titlists and former belt holders like Timothy Bradley, Nate Campbell, Kendall Holt, Junior Witter, Paulie Malignaggi and Juan Urango – it's tough to see where Kotelnik fits into the elite of that equation.

“The way that we're going to win the fight is by hitting and not getting hit,” explained Roach, sounding a bit like Archie Moore. “We're going to throw combinations, get in and get out. Land punches and get out of the way.”

But the big question on everybody's mind is what's going to happen when Khan gets nailed again on the chin? While the light hitting Kotelnik doesn't seem to be much of a threat with only 13 professional knockouts, Roach thinks he has the answer to what went wrong with Khan who some have called “mandibly challenged.”

“Amir is much more resilient since he moved up to 140 pounds,” explains Roach. “I think at 135 he was draining himself, dehydrating himself to make weight and he wasn't fully prepared. He's going to eat on the day of the weigh-in, he's going to be strong – mentally and physically – and he's going to be a much better fighter. All these guys drain themselves to make weight and doing that is way overrated. He'll be much stronger and a much better fighter now.”

And with any luck, Roach and Khan will crack the Kotelnik code.

July 2009

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