Drowning Man? Paul McCloskey Faces Amir Khan in Manchester


Amir Khan has finally secured an opponent for April 16 and will be facing Irishman Paul McCloskey at the MEN Arena in Manchester, England. The delay in opponent was not unexpected, since Team Khan seemingly does nothing without making sure it is as close to bedlam as possible.

As far as the business end of this fight is concerned, it makes more sense than most decisions do in boxing. Certainly Lamont Peterson, who could not come to terms with Khan, was not going to overload online checkout carts for Virgin Atlantic or British Airways. McCloskey, however, will draw backers from Londonderry across the Irish Sea, and will jack up domestic pay-per-view sales for a fighter—Khan—who has not always been a buy rate favorite in the U.K.

Thankfully, master junkball artist Junior Witter, who brings a whole new definition to the term GIGO, was jettisoned by HBO in an unusual show of force for the notoriously indiscriminate network. Breidis Prescott may have left Khan counting atoms in 2008, but he has since found his true level as an ESPN2 staple. When Team Khan sweetened its offer to McCloskey, the undefeated but unproven European champion accepted. With RTE suffering budget cuts that threaten to all but eliminate boxing from the telly, McCloskey may not have as many options as his promoter, Barry Hearn, claimed when talks with Khan initially broke down.

So, is McCloskey, 22-0 (12), the welcome mat most people seem to think he is? Perhaps a clue about his chances can be gleaned from the fact that the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Telegraph, and The Guardian have had little to say about McCloskey since it was announced that he would be facing Khan. No doubt McCloskey would like to torpedo Khan and leave his dreams as wrecked as the HMS Drake or the HMS Audacious, both submerged off the coast of Northern Ireland. But the general consensus seems to be that he will drown in the attempt.

McCloskey may not be heading to Manchester with the reputation of Finn McCool, but he has won the British light welterweight title and is currently the reigning European champion, although the competition McCloskey has faced over the right to that title has been negligible at best. On the other hand, faded veterans like Manuel Garnica, Toncho Tonchev, Cesar Bazan, and Colin Lynes litter his record. But with only 22 fights over nearly six years, McCloskey cannot possibly have perfected a style that needs as much work as a 1960 Shamrock recently unearthed from a peat bog.

A fine amateur, McCloskey, 31, is what is often charitably referred to as “awkward.” In fact, he is an example of the great contemporary boxing staple: the cutie. With unorthodox southpaw moves and a rubbery waist–when he remembers to put it in play–McCloskey has a little Brendan Ingle in him, but lacks the dynamism and speed of a prime Naseem Hamed or Ryan Rhodes. He will, however, occasionally chuck lead uppercuts from across the ring and wiggle his shoulders.

One of his most obvious flaws is the way he juts his chin up in the air at a precarious angle. Keeping your chin down is as basic in boxing as unzipping your fly at the urinal is in the real world, and the fact that so many fighters are unable to adhere to perhaps the simplest law of boxing is astonishing. McCloskey will certainly be surprised when his jaw is whiplashed to all points on the compass by Khan. McCloskey also has a terrible habit of doubling and tripling up a weak jab that starts from his beltline and returns, like a homing pigeon, to his hip with a regularity uncommon even for pigeons. This is practically an engraved invitation for Khan to sidestep and drop a straight right over the top.

In addition, McCloskey does not seem equipped to exploit two weakness all Khan opponents should well note: an inability to fight at close range and a tendency to throw combinations while standing straight up in the pocket for long stretches of time. McCloskey tosses his fair share of rabbit punches, but unless he vastly improves his infighting, Khan will only have to worry about jousting at a distance. Similarly, although he has stopped his last five opponents, McCloskey does not appear to punch hard enough to stun Khan, who has shown that he can be hurt, perhaps a bit more often than a topnotch fighter should be.

On the other hand, McCloskey is a decent counterpuncher, has fair hand speed, and appears to be a thinking fighter in the ring. And Khan has not faced a southpaw in four years—since the Stefy Bull debacle—and has never faced even a middling lefty in his career.

“Paul is so far ahead of most of the guys he’s been in with that he hasn’t been properly tested yet,” his trainer, John Breen, told the Londonderry Sentinel last year. “He’s world class and there’s no doubt in my mind that he can win a world title. People talk about Amir Khan but I think that would be an easy fight for Paul. He’s up there with the very best of them, he just needs the chance to prove it.” Well, McCloskey now has his chance, but he will certainly not be far ahead of Khan when the opening bell rings. And it will only take a few rounds to see whether McCloskey will be drowning and not waving.

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Tags: AMIR KHAN Barry Hearn John Breen JUNIOR WELTERWEIGHTS Paul McCloskey

  • funkybadger

    Nice article. Can’t see anything but trouble for McCloskey, but Khan’s due an easy(ish) ride after the Maidana inquisition.

    I’m starting to worry a bit about Amir though, about the only similarity he’s got with Nas is the out-of-control clown show that doubles as his entourage and managemnt support system. Oh, and his family. Never get your family involved in your business – how’s your Dad going to point out you’re ballsing things up and making awful decisions when he’s the one behind them…

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi funkybadger,

      thanks. I think McCloskey is going to be in a world of hurt, but it’s still a legitimate fight….it’s not Freddy Hernandez or these guys Golden Boy puts on in America who haven’t fought in 5 or 6 years. McCloskey is undefeated, has a UK fan base, and at least fights with confidence. If only someone could teach him to tuck his chin and not to bring his jab back to his thigh…brutal.

      Between the reckless driving, the “English are racist” bit, the Prescott fiasco, the sex texting, the Malignaggi press conference, and the Ariza craziness, it’s probably safe to say Khan’s a wee bit out of control…ditto his team. Let’s see if that crazy train gets to its destination…

  • http://safesideoftheropes.com/ andrewharrison

    I’m pretty satisfied with “Dudey” as an opponent. I’m planning on heading down to Manchester for the fight and the hiring of McCloskey over Witter and Peterson can’t fail to make for a better atmosphere.

    If John Murray grabs a spot on the undercard, Khan could find himself in hostile surroundings.

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hello Andrew,

      nice to see you in these parts again. Take care not to step in anything too grotesque around here.

      I’m sure you’ll have fun at the fights. Witter is awful to watch and Peterson looks like the type who is affected by big occasions….I hear even karaoke makes him nervous. You’re better off with McCloskey…I can’t recall ever seeing an Irishman fight with that kind of, umm, attitude….I spent a lot of time watching footage of McCloskey and, although I think he’s got little chance of scoring the upset, something memorable might happen…to him.

      One thing that was interesting watching the RTE video was how funny the announcers were. Man, they crack me up. One fellow said, “There’s still 10 rounds to go, half an hour, that’s a long time to punch a human punching bag.” Then he said McCloskey should get a job with NATO because of his “radar.” Jeepers….

      I might be wrong, but I’m guessing that even a Northern Irishman will have the home court advantage over Khan, who complained about heckling and racist taunts during his last few fights at MEN….It will definitely be more lively than the 4,000 or so roulette players who showed up in Vegas for Khan-Maidana.

  • nealo

    Hi Carlos

    Good article. Cannot see naything other than a Khan victory here but at least McCloskey should bring some attitude and self belief with him to the ring. How long that lasts as Khan jabs him silly and tattoos him with combinations, is another matter. I can see this being a little similar to Cotto / Jennings with the one fighter, Jennings, prepared to give his all but finding himself so far out of his depth that he did nothing. However, he is a better opponent than some of the others put forward such as Peterson and the insufferable Witter. The more fights Prescott has, the more the blowout over Khan appears his career highlight and, as you say, he has now probably found his level.
    If they do put John Murray on the undercard, it should guarantee a good live gate and PPV sales. Whether this a PPV fight is another matter altogether. Khan is not the most popular fighter in the UK with the perception that he has had it all too easy as he moved to a world title, apart from Prescott of course,. Khan himself seems a decent chap but the least said about some of his entourage, the better. I just hope he does not go down the NAS road, of family knows best,as we have seen where that can lead. Seems a very strange decision to remove a respected fitness trainer who turned you from a lightweight of suspect stamina to a light welter who could take hard shots in the later stages of a hard world title fight and still hang on to win.
    Lets just hope that its a decent fight as most of the bouts of 2011 so far have been rubbish. Haye and the brothers K seem content to call each other names from afar and the supposed super fight between Bradley and Alexander was anything but. I sat down with some friends (who are not boxing fans) to watch hoping that watching 2 champions would ignite their interest in the sport. Some hope, by the middle rounds, I was bored. What happened to fighters who actually fight.

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi Neal,

      thanks for checking in. I really, really, really hope McCloskey brings more to the ring than Jennings did against Cotto. That was really a sad show and poor Jennings looked like he was intimidated only seconds after the opening bell. McCloskey, at least, does not lack for confidence. He does a little showboating in the ring and tries his best to be flashy at times. I suspect he will come to win and fight as hard as his abilities let him. I also don’t think that the gap between him and Khan is as wide as that between Cotto and Jennings, or, to reach back a little further, Felix Trinidad and Kevin Leushing. And Leushing made things interesting for a while…..

      The mere mention of Junior Witter makes me tremble–please, Neal, don’t do that again! America certainly has its share of junk artists these days, but none are as unwatchable as Witter is….

      I read that Khan’s fight with Maidana sold roughly 200,000 pay-per-view units; I think this fight will supersede that, with McCloskey also being from the UK. He also has a little bit of attitude and has already done some talking–as has his trainer, Breen–about Khan’s lack of power, etc. Strange talk, if you ask me, but it will get people excited, especially when one considers the anti-Khan backlash that you mentioned.

      Khan’s team is very strange and the whole Ariza affair sounds bizarre. Ariza claims that someone from Khan’s entourage slipped into his hotel room and stole a sheaf of contracts! One thing to be thankful for, at least, is that Khan personally is not nearly as obnoxious as Hamed was. His team is absurd, but he seems a little more low key. I don’t know, honestly, how you withstood the Hamed era in Britain. Give me the quiet monsters any day–Nigel Benn, Tony Sibson, Paul Hodkinson, etc., although I did admire Lloyd Honeyghan very much when I was a teenager.

      You fell victim to every boxing fan’s nightmare–talking up a “big” fight to non-boxing friends and ending up embarrassed. It happens all the time. My worst experience with that was Trinidad-De La Hoya…. I can only say that Devon Alexander didn’t get much play here on The Cruelest Sport and I can honestly say that this is one of the few websites that didn’t buy/perpetuate any of thr hype. He’s just another decent fighter–like many others–but not what some of the bigger minds in the American boxing media made him out to be. Professionally, he leaves a lot to be desired and that fight was dreadful. There are still a few fighters out there who fight and we have to make sure to support them…that means passing by the boring, overpaid, primadonnas who don’t understand that boxing is meant to be exhilarating.

      • funkybadger

        Nas was an altogether nastier bastard than Khan will ever be – but at the time, and when he was winning so exhilaratingly, it didn’t really seem to matter.

        Aside to that, I wouldn’t have classed Nigel Benn as quiet, he just happened to spend what seemed like most of his career standing next to Chris Eubank (if only Nas had had the heart of either of those two). Fond memories of a golden/silver age Super Six: Benn, Eubank, Collins, Watson, McClellan, Calzaghe… its not the same any more, is it?

        • Carlos Acevedo

          Hi funkybadger,

          Nas was a complete prick even from across the Atlantic…the master of negative appeal, I would say. At least he delivered in the ring most of the time, and that can’t be said about a lot of these arrogant jokers who then step into the ring and bore you into stupefaction or lose to Bryan Vera. When it came down to it, even Eubank fought with extraordinary courage and heart….

          I remember Benn being a madman, but not the showboating, curse the fans, and mistreat airport attendants type. There used to be a Spanish station in New York that aired lots of fights from overseas on Sunday afternoons a couple of weeks after they had taken place, and I got to see lots of UK fights….Benn was exactly the kind of fighter we need more of on both sides of the ocean. The man had an unholy thirst for violence and was always looking for a “good tear-up.” The fights he had with Eubank, Watson (aired live on ABC), and McClellan were unbelievable….Also, his bout with, I think, Anthony Logan was crazy…

          Collins, Watson, Eubank, and Benn all fought each other, more or less (with Watson having his career cut short) which is one of the big differences between now and just 15-20 years ago. It didn’t take any labyrinthine “Tournament” contract. You went where the money was…now the money just comes to you for no apparent reason, at least in the U.S.