Drowning Man? Paul McCloskey Faces Amir Khan in Manchester

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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

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