Kotelnik could be too tough a test for Khan
Amir Khan is already the caliber of star in the UK that the brain trust of Victor Ortiz had hoped he would eventually develop into in the U.S.
Ortiz’s rocket to stardom was shot down by rugged Marcos Maidana, who stopped the promising up-and-comer in a thrilling six-round brawl last month in Los Angeles. The 22-year-old prospect wasn't ready for the more experienced power puncher.
Is Khan, who became a household name in Britain when he won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games, jeopardizing his potential to become the UK's biggest attraction by taking on tough Andreas Kotelnik at age 22?
Khan will challenge Kotelnik for the veteran's 140-pound title this Saturday at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, the site of the Bolton, England native's crushing knockout loss to Breidis Prescott last September.
Although Kotelnik doesn't punch nearly as hard as Prescott, he is by far Khan's most dangerous opponent since the Colombian slugger. The 31-year-old Ukrainian titleholder is battle tested against quality opposition, including Maidana, who he outpointed in a grueling 12 rounder in February.
However, Khan has looked so sharp under the tutelage of Freddie Roach that some have forgotten that he is only two fights removed from the Prescott disaster.
Odds makers have installed the 22-year-old speed demon as a 2-to-1 favorite to beat Kotelnik.
That’s because Khan is more naturally talented and athletically gifted than Kotelink. Khan is taller, rangier, faster, stronger and the harder puncher.
And many (including his promoter, Frank Warren, and Roach) believe he won't have to worry much about his opponent's punches Saturday night.
Kotelnik has only scored 13 knockouts in his 31 victories.
However, beating Kotelnik (31-2-1) could be a much harder task for Khan than it appears.
One veteran fighter who believes that Khan will have his fast hands full with Kotelnik is former 140-pound beltholder Junior Witter, who outpointed the Ukrainian in a tough title defense in 2005.
Witter, who spoke to RingTV.com from Sheffield, England, where he’s preparing for his Aug. 1 title bout with Devon Alexander, says Kotelnik is more dangerous than he looks.
“Kotelnik is a very deceptive fighter,” Witter said. “He’s easy to underestimate because there’s nothing flashy in what he does, but he’s a lot tougher than he seems.
“He’s solid all the way through, in everything he does. Every punch is correct in form. He’s got a good work rate, he’s got decent speed, he mixes punches well to the body and head. He does whatever it is he needs to do in order to win, and he does those things well.”
Witter says Kotelnik punches well, too.
“He doesn’t have the kind of power that makes you stop and say ‘Whoa!’, but he’s got enough pop to get your respect,” Witter said. “If he tags you, you know you’ve been hit.”
Kotelnik says his low knockout percentage has caused most of his opponents to overlook his other attributes.
“It’s the main reason my opponents think they can beat me,” Kotelnik told RingTV.com through interpreter Cristof Hawerkamp. “However, they always think differently once the fight is on. I think I proved against Marcos Maidana that punching power isn’t everything. He had knocked out most of his opponents, but I showed him that I’m prepared to fight 12 hard rounds and that I can handle power with my technique.”
Witter says Kotelnik handles power because of a world-class chin.
“That’s the one thing about him that’s special, that really stands out,” Witter said. “He can take a punch.”
Witter, whose nickname is “The Hitter” because of his ability to whack with either hand, says he nailed Kotelnik with his best shot — a left uppercut — and it had no effect on the Ukrainian.
“It was in the second or third round,” Witter said. “I landed a clean uppercut right underneath his chin. It was a sharp punch, right on the button, and it rocked his head way back, but he took it and carried on without missing a step. I thought to myself ‘OK, it’s going to be a long night.'”
Witter believes Khan will also have a long night with Kotelnik, which is why he favors the defending titleholder.
“I can’t see (Kotelnik) not connecting with something clean to Khan’s chin at some point during the fight, and there is the problem for Khan,” Witter said. “Kotelnik may not be a big puncher, but I don’t think you have to be to knockout Khan, who’s been down against old junior lightweights.
“I can’t see (Khan) lasting the distance.”
Kotelnik doesn’t believe Khan will last the distance either, but he doesn’t think it’s because of the young man’s chin. Kotelnik, who won a silver medal at the 2000 Olympic Games, just doesn’t think Khan is ready to fight for a world title.
“I was really surprised when his promoters contacted mine to make this fight,” said Kotelnik, who is promoted by Germany’s Universum. “He seems immature to me. That’s why he has said some of the things he has about me, such as I’m the worst champion in boxing. It looks like he’s got a big mouth and that he’s disrespectful, but I don’t think he is. I just think he’s young. Too young to fight me. It’s astonishing, really, that Frank Warren wanted this fight.
“I don’t know if (Khan) has recovered from being knocked out by Prescott. The Barrera fight was a nice win for him, but I don’t know if that was enough seasoning for him to be ready for a world title. I won my world title seven years after I won my silver medal. Maybe he needs seven years, too.”
Witter, who is 35, agrees that most fighters aren’t ready to step up to the highest level of the sport in their early 20s.
“I was 26 when I fought for my first world title (against Zab Judah in 2000) and I definitely was not ready,” Witter said. “My mindset was all wrong going into the fight, and that’s how it is for most young fighters.
“I think Ortiz’s mind was all wrong going into the Maidana fight. He was physically ready to win, but not mentally. Sometimes that youthful energy can work against you. I’m a better fighter at 35 than I was at 25. I’m fully confident of my conditioning, my speed and my power. I don’t feel like I have to go out there and prove anything to anyone. I just do my job.
“Young guys like Ortiz and Khan are trying to prove something to the world, and that’s why they get caught. Ortiz fought the wrong fight against a more experienced, more mature fighter, and we saw what happened. Khan loses his cool, too. He boxes well for a while and then he goes crazy. He did that with Barrera once Barrera got cut. He started piling on the pressure and jumping on Barrera and at the end of one round, I think it was the third, Barrera hit him with a left hook. I thought to myself ‘He’s lucky he’s in with an old featherweight.’ If that was a bigger man landing that punch the fight could have been over.”
Witter isn’t counting Khan completely out of the Kotelnik fight, but he says the 22 year old must box with more poise, patience and maturity than Ortiz did against Maidana if he hopes to win.
“If Khan is going to beat Kotelnik, he has to resist the urge to go for a knockout,” Witter said. “He must stay tall, keep it a long-range fight and hit and move at every turn. He has to be quick and he has to be sharp in there. When he lands a good shot he can’t go for the kill. I know he’s going to land a good shot. Can he resist the temptation to try and finish it?”
Kotelnik doesn’t think so.
“So many opponents have thought they hurt me and have tried to knock me out, but they never can,” he said. “Most of them tell me how strong I am after the fight. Few respect me going into a fight, but after the fight 100 percent of them respect me.”
Kotelnik doesn’t just expect Khan to gain a new respect for him after their fight, he believes the boxing world will finally give him his due.
“The main reason I took this fight is because Khan is such a big name in Britain,” he said. “This is a very big fight in Britain. Beating Khan will earn my respect here and put me one step closer to fighting in America, where I hope to show my talent against the best in the world.”
Doug Fischer’s column appears every Thursday. He can be reached at [email protected]