Three years ago, it seemed Amir Khan was on the verge of a descent that was as precipitous as his rapid climb to becoming a unified 140-pound champion. Khan was coming off back-to-back losses to Lamont Peterson and Danny Garcia, and the fourth-round stoppage by Garcia raised questions about whether his suspect chin would allow him to succeed at the top level.
But resurrections are common in boxing, and Khan's decision to switch trainers from Freddie Roach to Virgil Hunter has him back on the path to the biggest prize imaginable in boxing -- a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. But don't mention that name in Hunter's presence.
"We're not taking no Mayweather questions," Hunter said Tuesday during an interview with a small group of boxing writers.
The reason, of course, is that Long Island's Chris Algieri (20-1, 8 KOs) is on Khan's plate at the moment in a 12-round clash at 147 pounds as the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions show Friday night at Barclays Center.
The 28-year-old version of Khan (30-3, 19 KOs), who has won four straight under Hill including a lopsided decision over former champion Devon Alexander in December, is a far more professional and well-grounded fighter than the flashy, reckless fighter who responded to an insult from Garcia's father about his Pakistani heritage by engaging in a foolish slugfest. The stoppage was the second of his career after a first-round KO loss to Breidis Prescott in 2008.
"The shots I've been caught with against Prescott and Garcia were big punches," Khan said. "Whoever was hit with those shots would have been put down. One thing I can say is I've always got up and been stopped on my feet by the referee."
Hunter looked at those stoppages and drew a different conclusion about Khan's chin. "He always got up," Hunter said. "The Garcia punch [a third-round knockdown before two more in the fourth] told me he was real strong. He got up, hit back and made it to the corner. He did his job. He came back out reckless. I don't know what the corner said, but he got caught again.
"He had no problem boxing Garcia. I would have told him not to be reckless. But he trained to shut Garcia's father up, not to win the fight."
Since joining Hunter, Khan has focused more on defense and footwork and working on specific game plans for each opponent to maximize his hand speed. Hunter also taught him the importance of training between fights to develop his skills and stay in shape rather than doing nothing.
"I just put a philosophy of boxing in his head and gave him a vision of who he can be," Hunter said. "Once we accepted it, we attached the IQ to the vision."
"I'm more of a professional fighter, a smarter fighter and I understand more about boxing," Khan said. "You know it's your job."
Khan knows he can't afford another loss against Algieri because of what is at stake. "The next few years are big years for me," Khan said. "I'm at the peak of my career, and I have to maximize it."
A Mayweather fight in September is the pot of gold. With Hunter out of earshot, Khan couldn't resist offering how that might go: "It would be speed versus speed. Who's the better and smarter fighter? This is a good time to catch him because he's getting older."