LAS VEGAS – Amir Khan made a fateful choice, one that cost him his world championship Saturday, his standing as an elite fighter and a mega-million dollar payday against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Khan's size, reach and speed advantages were such that he could have easily worked from a distance, fought conservatively and probably jabbed his way to a victory Saturday over Danny Garcia in their World Boxing Association-World Boxing Council super lightweight unification bout before 7,061 fans at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
That, though, wasn't Khan's choice. He chose to try to put on a show and he paid the ultimate price. Garcia caught Khan with a blistering counter left hand in the third round that dropped him, then put him down twice more in the fourth before referee Kenny Bayless stopped it at 2:28 of the fourth round.
It was a stunning outcome as Khan, a 7-1 favorite who likely would have gotten a match with Mayweather had he won, wilted under Garcia's pressure.
"Amir Khan is a guy who lets his heart get in the way of fighting smart," Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya said with a shrug of his shoulders.
Khan easily won the first and was cruising in the second, but, late in the round, Garcia hit Khan with a shot that seemed to wobble Khan. Khan quickly recovered, but it was a sign of things to come.
His punches weren't bothering Garcia, but Garcia's blows were repeatedly rocking Khan.
That became a factor when Khan picked up the pace significantly in the third and began to trade. The crowd was roaring its approval, but it turned out to be a deadly decision for Khan.
Garcia won his title in March by outpointing the legendary Erik Morales, but wasn't getting much credit for that win. Morales was perceived to be at the end of the line, and Garcia hadn't fought anyone of note who was in his prime, so he wasn't earning much respect.
He gained it in the ring Saturday, though, with the power in his fists.
"I hit him with the same punches I hit Morales with," Garcia said. "That goes to show you how great Morales was. People said he was old, but Morales took the punches all night long and Khan couldn't."
Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach was repeatedly urging Khan to use his jab, but Khan tried to turn it into a slugfest.
They were trading at the center of the ring late in the third round when Khan fired a left-right combination. The right whizzed by Garcia's head. Garcia responded by winging a long left hook that landed just behind and below Khan's ear.
He barely survived the round. Roach said the plan was to box and make it a boring fight, but he said Khan let the pre-fight trash talk from Garcia's father, Angel, impact the way he fought.
"He got away from the plan," Roach said. "I think Mr. Garcia got under his skin. He wanted to go out and knock this guy out. He threw combinations and pulled out and got caught on the end of a big shot. Garcia can punch, and that's how it goes."
Garcia was unusually confident before such a significant bout and had vowed to put on a show. But he said he didn't get the credit he deserved because he doesn't look like a fighter.
He was cut and bleeding on Saturday, but proved he's 100 percent fighter.
"I've been overlooked," Garcia said. "Maybe it's my green eyes. I'm a pretty boy."
He laughed heartily at his own joke, but he'll be overlooked no more.
Khan failed to do the things that an elite fighter should do when he is in trouble. He never even tried to clinch Garcia after he was hurt.
[Related: Amir Khan shows tremendous courage in defeat]
Roach, though, said part of that was because of the significance of the punch that put Khan down at the end of the third.
"It was a good stoppage," Roach said. "He never recovered from the first knockdown. The referee did the right thing. [In the corner, I] was just trying to get him to respond, to see how he was. He didn't respond really well until late, right before the bell rang. He never recovered from that first shot. I was really close to not letting him get off that stool."
Garcia showed he was a finisher. He put Khan down twice in the fourth and was in his face the entire round. After the final knockdown, Garcia's father raised his arms skyward and turned to the crowd, shouting in exultation.
"If Danny was walking down the street, he looks like you could take the money out of his pocket, like he was a little kid," the elder Garcia said. "He looks like a kid on his way to Sunday school. They underestimate him because of the way he looks, like a baby, a little kid."
He fought like a man, though, as Khan found out. And a lot of that big money that was slated to go to Khan is now probably going to come Garcia's way.
"All I want is the best in the world," Garcia said, "Bring them on. The bigger and badder, the better. I'll fight anyone."
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