- Steve Bunce
Round one to Hunter as Khan bounces backSteve Bunce December 18, 2012
Saturday night's tenth-round stoppage of Carlos Molina was everything that Amir Khan needed, and everything that his backers had hoped it would be.
Molina was the perfect choice for Khan to kick-start his career after back-to-back defeats to Lamont Peterson and Danny Garcia in the past 12 months for all manner of reasons. The Mexican-American was unbeaten, he was local, he looked good and he was brave. However, Khan's team also knew that that Molina couldn't hurt their man, and for them that was the most important thing.
In many ways it was a cynical but legal piece of matchmaking, and it worked: Khan won comfortably, looked good and can now move back into the world title mix.
More importantly, Khan had Virgil Hunter in his corner for the first time. The pair have only been together for 10 weeks, but I believe that there were signs that the man behind the rise of super-middleweight champion Andre Ward has started to make an impression on the boy from Bolton.
Freddie Roach, Khan's former trainer, is less convinced - he remains committed to the theory that Khan will always become reckless when he's hurt, and there's certainly something to Freddie's thinking.
But on Saturday, with Hunter watching on, Khan was more controlled, stayed far more relaxed and stuck to his game plan - albeit while he had very little in front of him that could force him to change. But this was a positive start, and certainly round one to Virgil Hunter in the trainers' stakes.
The way boxing works - the way it has always worked - is that Khan can now easily be matched in a world title fight. Nobody knows what is happening with Peterson: he was stripped of one of the two titles he left the ring with after beating Khan a year ago after failing a drug test in the run-up to their rematch in May - bizarrely, he still has his IBF belt - but it remains to see what the future holds for the 28-year-old.
I can't see Khan being risked in any other fight than a Garcia rematch. Having stunned Khan in July, the American with roots in Puerta Rico mounts the second defence of his WBC, WBA and The Ring light-welterweight titles in February against Zab Judah, a lively veteran who Khan stopped to take his IBF belt back in 2011. That should be a straightforward defence which will pave the way for Khan, which will be a big fight, almost a super-fight - and here's why.
First there's Khan's unfinished business from the first fight, which was warming up nicely before he got caught on the neck and was eventually pummelled in the fourth round. However, the subplot here - there's always a subplot or six when Khan is involved - is Garcia's foul-mouthed father Angel, who hardly does his name justice, but is entertaining nonetheless. He may have grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons with his racial taunts last time out, but will help sell the fight once more.
Assuming Garcia walks through Judah, I can see a Khan-Garcia showdown set for some time in May 2013. They don't need six months off - Garcia is only a baby. When you're 24 years old you can take a couple of weeks out in February, get back into the gym in March and April and be ready to go again by May - that's the way it should be. It'll be a big fight, not quite a super-fight, but a special world championship bout.
There was a big show in Britain this past weekend with Billy Joe Saunders going the distance with Nick Blackwell to win the British middleweight title, young Liam Smith from Liverpool claiming the vacant Commonwealth light-middleweight title on points against Steve O'Meara, and George Groves making a statement by coming through against veteran former light-heavyweight world champion Glen Johnson.
It's safe to say that Saunders, Smith and Groves will feature in bigger and better fights in 2013, but the weekend surely marks the sad end to Johnson's remarkable career. This is a man who first fought for the world title back in 1997 when he was stopped by Bernard Hopkins. He hasn't been knocked out since, and eventually won the IBF light-heavyweight world title in 2004 before shocking the world when he defended it by knocking out Roy Jones Jr.
Finally, at 43 and on the back of this fourth defeat, it looks like his career in the ring is over.