Freddie Roach: I'm Telling Amir to Go for the Kill

As told to Peter Owen Nelson

Photo: Will HartAfter Thursday’s press conference at the Mandalay Bay Casino, Freddie Roach and his peripatetic caravan of fighters headed to the IBA gym off the strip, in a residential area of Las Vegas. There, the five-time Boxing Writers’ Association of America Trainer of the Year discussed privately some of the core strategic planning for Amir Khan to defend his WBA title from IBF champ Zab Judah:

To take away Zab’s power, Amir is going to land combinations and move to Zab’s right. Zab crouches down a lot, and Amir will be able to the uppercut nicely as he times Zab dipping down. My aim for Amir is to land two to three punch combinations and move out. In sparring he would throw three or even four hooks to the body at a time. He even knocked down a sparring partner with those shots, but in the fight we want him to throw one and then pivot to get an angle on Zab and further take advantage of openings from there. You can’t stay in one place for too long in front of Zab. His best punch is rolling the right hand and countering with the left — either an uppercut or straight. As long as Amir isn’t falling into the pocket after his own right hand and keeps his footwork clean, he should be able to take that shot away from Zab. When Zab walks away from Amir, as soon as his back foot is up in the air, Amir is going to pounce on him because it’s a habit Zab has that leaves him off balance and defenseless. If Zab walks to the ropes, Amir also can’t just follow him in. He has to use his feints well to open Zab up and then attack. We are going to be the aggressor in this fight. When I see Zab begin to fade, I’m going to tell Amir to go in for the kill — with caution, but we’re going to go for the knockout if it’s there for us.

Khan-Judah: Bert Sugar's "Keys to the Fight"

As told to Peter Owen Nelson

Photo: Will Hart

KEYS FOR ZAB JUDAH:

1) Pace: Zab is often a fast starter, quick out of the gate. Zab had great success in the early going against Miguel Cotto (stunning him twice), Floyd Mayweather (scoring an unacknowledged knockdown when Floyd’s glove touched the canvas), and even Kosta Tzsyu (before being knocked out). Against Khan, he will need to keep up the work rate he has in the early rounds through the later rounds. Zab’s timing combined with his hand speed can contend with Khan’s overall speed, but only if he maintains his stamina.

2) Pressure: Zab is the harder puncher of the two, but to use it to his advantage he has to stay with Khan if Khan won’t follow him. If Zab cannot set traps that the younger fighter will fall for, then he cannot allow Khan to throw flurries and flutter away. Zab can counterpunch, but must do so every exchange and not let up.

3) Footwork: While Zab may have the faster hand speed, there is no doubt that the 9-year younger Khan has the faster foot speed. Zab will need to counteract this with timing. He’ll have to cut the ring off on Khan to disrupt his rhythm and find openings by taking Khan off guard.

KEYS FOR AMIR KHAN

1) Jab: Amir out-jabbed Malignaggi and the jab is a terrific one. It is one of the best jabs in boxing today. He will have to double up and triple up on the jab to prevent Zab from ever developing a rhythm of his own or finding openings to counterpunch.

2) Range: You cannot will what nature did not provide, and an indomitable chin is not an asset Khan has. He was knocked out in a single round by a journeyman and Marcos Maidana had him looking like a drunk in search of a lampost in the tenth round of their fight in 2010 (though Khan never went down). In the early rounds against Judah especially, Khan will need to show a good defense through a good offense, and a good offense means using his longer reach to stay out of Judah’s range.

3) Exploit the later rounds: as Zab slows down, Khan will have to take greater risks to achieve greater ends. To stop Zab, he will need to take chances on throwing three or four punch combinations. This may expose him to danger, but if he fights intelligently, Amir should be able to open up with his right hand and use his youth and conditioning to outwork the elder Judah and possibly stop him through volume-punching. Zab’s will has been questioned in the past. Amir’s job will be to convince Zab of a definitive answer: that if Zab knows what’s best for him, he’ll quit.

Rival Boxers Offer Their Predictions for Khan-Judah

As told to Peter Owen Nelson

HBO caught up with WBC welterweight champion Victor Ortiz and former Amir Khan foe Marcos Rene Maidana to hear their takes on Saturday’s junior welterweight championship unification bout between Khan and Zab Judah.

Photo: Hoganphotos.comVICTOR ORTIZ

Amir is the younger guy. He’s got youth. But out of mutual respect for both fighters, I’d rather not say what I think the result will be. To be honest, I haven’t been studying tape of either guy. That’s not my focus right now. My focus is on knocking out Floyd Mayweather on September 17.

MARCOS RENE MAIDANA

Both Judah and Khan are fast and skillful, so I guess it'll be a tactical fight. If Khan is able to get through the first five or six rounds when Zab is usually more effective I have Khan winning on points.

Amir Khan vs. Zab Judah: Sparring Partner Perspectives

As told to Peter Owen Nelson

Photo: Peter Owen NelsonBesides sparring with Amir Khan, Cleotis “Mookie” Pendarvis (10-3-2) has worked with world champions Oscar De La Hoya, Diego Corrales, Rickey Hatton, Shane Mosley, and Antonio Margarito. He fights this Friday on a show at the Hollywood Park Casino in Inglewood, CA.

Amir was some of the fastest sparring I’ve done. In the early going, it took some time to cope with his speed. I had to up my level of competition to help him prepare.

He throws a lot of punches at different angles. He’s in and out. He’ll step the right and attack. He’ll end up on the side of you out of nowhere. I haven’t sparred anyone who fights like Amir.

Because he jumps in, he can be vulnerable to a southpaw’s right hook. It took me about two days to understand and pick up on all his mistakes — but he picked up on my mistakes, too.

If Amir can box, but remain aggressive — if he can dictate the pace, but also keep on the move — he will win a unanimous decision.

David Rodela (15-4-3) has served as a longtime sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao. In addition to campaigning as a lightweight, he manages a boxing gym in Oxnard, CA.

I worked with Zab for a week toward the end of his sparring. A lot of guys now spar three times a week, but he spars everyday. I went six to eight rounds on five consecutive days with him.

I’m not going to lie: he can crack. He has power on his punches. But he’s going to have to land them.

One day after sparring, Zab asked me, “Who’s faster, me or Amir?” I know the expectation is that I’ll tell him he is because he’s paying me to spar, but I’m an honest guy, so I tell him, “Amir is.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Amir is faster than you, bro. I’m not going to lie to you.”

I know Zab is now trying to do more Pernell Whitaker-style moves. At one point, I threw a body shot and he leapt back with both feet. I was like, “What the hell was that?” But Pernell began shouting that he couldn’t have done it better himself. I was like, “What the hell is this?”

I think Amir is simply too quick for Zab and the fight will be stopped in round seven or eight.

Amir Khan vs. Zab Judah: The Last Workout

By Peter Owen Nelson

Photo: Hoganphotos.comLAS VEGAS — On Wednesday afternoon, in a raised boxing ring inside a flood-lit bar of the Mandalay Bay Casino, Zab Judah arrived an hour late for his final workout in preparation for his Saturday showdown with Amir Khan (25-1) to unify the WBA junior welterweight crowd with his own IBF strap.

Judah (41-6) has not lost since 2008 to Joshua Clottey at welterweight. He is now three years older, five victories maturer, one weight division lighter, and one world title better. The press awaited his arrival for an hour, but it was only fitting that a man who appears to have turned back the hands of time would appear to have no concept of it.

Performing a light workout, Judah ran several perfunctory rounds of mitts as his head trainer and new defensive guru Pernell Whitaker watched from a neutral corner. The techniques seemed more to be perfunctory than strategic. Perhaps the mitt work could be said to have been “perfunctorily strategic,” an attempt to prevent the Khan camp (which had arrived by then) from seeing anything of use.

With as little fanfare in his exit as his entrance, Judah jumped rope on the floor, as Lakers center Andrew Bynum absorbed the media, having arrived in tow with Khan’s trainer Freddie Roach to continue his off-season boxing regimen.

Khan then climbed into the elevated ring to applause, while Judah’s mother chanted “Suuuuuper Zab!” to him as jealousy flashed across his eyes peering over at Khan’s hoard of admirers. They would not see much work of their champion. Khan did not have a public workout, so much as a public warm-up.

Photo: Hoganphotos.comNinety minutes after lightly shadowboxing for the crowd at Mandalay, Team Khan piled into a Cadillac SUV and headed over the IBA Gym off Flamingo where a private workout was conducted. The Briton would do his final four rounds of mitt work with Roach with no air-conditioning in 110-degree heat.

As Roach mimed Judah’s postures and movements, Khan refined his approach to attack, incorporating feints and angles to exploit Judah’s occasionally blundering footwork. “It’s been a great camp,” said Khan, whose training has lasted ten weeks (two more than he has trained with Roach in some previous camps). The extra preparation appears to have paid dividends, as strength coach Alex Ariza said, “Amir’s exactly where we want him right now.” We will see if Ariza repeats these words after Judah has his say on Saturday night.

Wladimir Klitschko Defeats David Haye

By Peter Owen Nelson (Photo by Will Hart)

Saturday night, at the Imtech Arena in Hamburg, Wladimir Klitschko (56-3-0) won another belt, but fought for his legacy.

In despoiling the Briton of his WBA belt, Klitschko with his brother Vitali have now successfully unified all four major titles of the heavyweight division (WBA, WBC, WBO, and IBF) - perhaps a defining legacy unto itself. However, after out-jabbing David Haye to an unanimous victory (117-109; 118-108; 116-110), Klitschko finds himself still lacking a signature victory. Klitschko's legacy is now in peril of becoming synonymous with the eventless dominance of his cautious perfection.

Read the rest of the Klitschko-Haye Fight Recap at HBO.com

Prefight Interview: Trainer Emanuel Steward

By Peter Owen Nelson (Photo by Will Hart)

HBO caught up with Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward on the eve of his charge Wladimir Klitschko’s showdown with David Haye for the unified heavyweight championship. 

Wladimir came in at 242 at the weigh-in, but that was after eating, so he’s probably closer to 238. Wladimir stays in excellent shape, so from the beginning of camp that’s never a concern. The first time we weigh him is at the weigh-in. I have to check my weight more than him. Right now, I’m about 172. 

I’ll be 67 next week [July 7], and I know now that if I ever take a break from working mitts, I’ll never be able to do it again. At the end of the day, I get a lot of throbbing in my shoulder and hands. That’s why I wrap hands. I’ve never seen another trainer do it, but my hands feel better when I do it. In 1992, I began wrapping my hands for mitt work. But it wasn’t until this camp that Wladimir suggested I start taping my hands, too.

Read the rest of the prefight interview with Emanuel Steward at HBO.com.

Klitschko-Haye Weigh-In

By Peter Owen Nelson

Photo: Will Hart

By noon, Friday, in old town Hamburg, the red carpet was out along with droves of rowdy Britons and polite Germans elbowing one another in anticipation of two men weighing themselves inside a sporting goods store. Security had to inform many attendees that beer would not be allowed into the sporting goods store, even when transferred to water bottles or, as one ambitious Brit attempted to do, a plastic bag.

Due to the limitless of the division, having a scale at a weigh-in for heavyweights is a bit like having a speed gun on the Autobahn for Bugattis. It makes little sense, but then again, neither does braving the odds in a fight against a man nearly four inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than you — and yet David Haye will do exactly this on Saturday against Wladimir Klitschko.

After the undercard weigh-in ended, ring announcer Michael Buffer took to the podium to announce the fighters. Haye was up first and the crowd, overwhelming British, erupted in song. England currently has 2.43 million people unemployed, and all of them appeared to be present at the weigh-in. They chanted for Haye, heckled Klitschko, and were in general awe of Buffer’s impeccable tan.

Haye came in at 212 3/4 lbs to Klitschko’s 242 1/2. As the math became clear to crowd, the Britons quieted, until they spotted Lennox Lewis, and were reminded of brighter days. Perhaps the brightest yet will come for them on Saturday night.

Bert Sugar on Klitschko-Haye

As told to Peter Nelson

Photo: Will HartThis fight is the first glimmer of interest America has had in a heavyweight fight in some time.

It could be an exciting fight, particularly if David Haye can get inside or force Klitschko to fight going backwards (something Klitschko can’t do). Haye has little chance because of Klitschko’s phenomenal jab. If Wladimir’s seated in his corner, he can hit you with it in yours.

Since his last defeat [in 2004], Klitschko has become a grabber and a holder. His trainer Manny Steward taught him that. But he needs to do more than jab in this fight — not to win, but to prove himself to American fans. For each fighter, how the fight unfolds will be as important as who wins and who loses. As the favorite, Wladimir cannot lose and gain, but as the underdog, Haye can. He will have to take sizable risks to do so.

While Wladimir can win with just the jab, the union limit on hands is not limited to one. During a Klitschko fight, I once had a man in Madison Square Garden ask me, “Stop snoring because you’re keeping me awake.” I blame this style and consequent decline of the heavyweight division on Lennox Lewis, because he showed that a man who is 250 pounds can move and box.

Wladimir took this fight for greater acceptance, achievement, and identity. Boxing around the world does not notice the heavyweights. We no longer have a universally appreciated World Heavyweight Champion. Over the years, Wladimir has become a star in Germany. In taking his heavyweight titles to that nation, he has become a world heavyweight champion who is celebrated in Germany, instead of being celebrated all over the world.

They give us an exciting fight and it will help that division.

Final Workouts: Klitschko-Haye

By Peter Owen Nelson

Photo: Monica Sears for Golden BoyWednesday, in the south of Hamburg, Germany, David Haye (25-1) entered a makeshift ring inside a Mercedes Benz dealership for his final public workout before his heavyweight unification showdown this Saturday against Wladimir Klitschko in the 50,000-seat Imtech-Arena.

The Ukrainian Klitschko (55-3), his older brother Vitali (also a current heavyweight champion), and trainer Emanuel Steward watched in anticipation for 45 minutes as the underdog Haye wrapped his hands and warmed up, while his trainer Adam Booth donned specially constructed platform boots (to simulate Klitschko’s 6’6 1/2” height) and grabbed a boxing mitt as well as a glove taped to a foam stick (to simulate Klitschko’s 81” reach).

The entire scene was plenty bizarre, but at this point, it got plain weird: Haye, who is right-handed, began to shadowbox from a southpaw stance. After gloving up, Haye, 30, maintained the lefty stance, circling his trainer. After one single punch landed on the mitt, Booth feigned being knocked out and Haye bowed to the assembled audience, and exited the ring. Of the spectacle, Klitschko sparring partner Ola Afolabi said, “I’m not a southpaw. Neither is Haye. He’s read the Art of War. He’s just trying to mess with Wladimir. But Haye’s getting knocked out in under seven rounds — unless he runs the whole fight.” Vitali Klitschko summed it up, “Haye makes a show, but he’s not a good actor.”

After his own workout, Klitschko, 35, commented, “I wonder if David Haye sits in his hotel room, thinking, ‘What else can I do to piss Wladimir off?’”

Trash-talk, a t-shirt depicting Klitschko and his brother decapitated, and signing fights with both Klitschkos only to back out due to claims of injury are only a few of the annoyances that Haye has inflicted on his nemesis.

While Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko have promised their mother that they will never go toe-to-toe in the ring, according to Vitali, “We both wanted to teach David Haye a lesson so badly, that it got heated between us. Fighting over which one of us would get to fight David Haye became the closest we will ever come to fighting each other.”

Hall of fame trainer Steward was also unamused with Haye’s antics, explaining, “David made this fight with hype and theatrics.” When a British reporter, overcome with his own patriotism, compared Haye’s ascent to Muhammad Ali’s, Steward snapped, “Please, don’t insult Ali like that. Just don’t. Haye’s a talented fighter, however, and Wladimir needs to win. This will be a career-defining win. Wladimir’s whole prior career no longer matters if he loses this fight.”

Steward’s candor underscores the weight of this fight on Klitschko’s legacy in a languishing heavyweight division. Klitschko, a former Olympic gold medalist, has not lost in his past 13 fights, including 10 title defenses, but none of those wins has been a signature victory that a domination of Haye would provide.

Should Haye pull off the upset, he would look to fight the winner of the September 10 bout between contender Tomasz Adamek and WBC champion Vitali Klitschko. The unification of all four major heavyweight titles would be an unprecedented feat, but beating both Klitschko brothers would be one far more impressive.

As Haye began walking out of the dealership, Klitschko implored the Brit (whom Klitschko has nicknamed “50” from the belief that Haye will be Klitschko’s 50th knock out): “Fifty! Please, stay! Watch my work out now.” The invitation perhaps rang insincere to Haye as he departed, while members of his own team began taking photos of Klitschko’s workout.