Khan returns better, though still flawed

There were times in the early rounds of Amir Khan's rebound bout against Carlos Molina, as Khan lingered too long in the pocket after throwing a combination and Molina cracked him with a left hook, that a few bars from "The Wizard of Oz" filtered into a ringside writer's head.

"Tee-tum-tee-tum-tee-TUM-tum, tee-tum-tee-tum-tee-TUM-tum. If I only had a punch."

But Carlos Molina does not have a punch, or at least not an especially hard one, and that was perhaps the single biggest reason why he was in the ring with Britain's Khan in front of a crowd of 6,109 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. And for the first few frames, that seemed a sage piece of matchmaking. For all Khan's promises of being a better-rounded boxer, of being less reckless in aggression and more considerate in defense, some of the old weaknesses and warning signs were there.

He occasionally threw one punch too many and left himself in range of Molina's punches. When he moved back out of range, he occasionally did so by pulling straight back with his right hand lower than it ought to have been. And he was fighting at 100 miles per hour, when 85 miles per hour would have been more than sufficient.

At the same time, there were signs of promise. He fought his natural tendencies, stopping himself from being propelled by his own momentum into his opponent at the end of a flurry. He used his jab effectively.

Then, around the fifth or sixth round, he underwent something of a transformation. Seemingly realizing the fight was in the bag if he didn't blow it, he visibly relaxed in the comforting cloak of confidence. He dialed down his output a smidgen, keeping Molina at comfortable distance and dominating without exposing himself to unnecessary risk.

It remained exciting in that Amir Khan kind of way: lots of punches, plenty of movement. But by now, not only was there the realization that Molina couldn't hurt Khan with his punches; there was a growing sense that he couldn't hit him with them, either.

When the end came, at the suggestion of Molina's corner after 10 increasingly one-sided frames, it was not a moment too soon.

Molina seemed stunned by what had befallen him.

"I don't know what happened," he said. "I wanted to pull the trigger, but for some reason I couldn't get my hands to go."

Khan acknowledged that he had been initially overeager, as is his wont, but that the teachings of new trainer Virgil Hunter had a calming and educational effect.

"I thought I stuck to my game plan, which meant sticking to my jab," he said. "Carlos took some really good shots and he was still coming forward, and that's when I thought to myself, I'd better stick to this game plan. Virgil's a great trainer, and I'm getting better at being a complete boxer."

He then turned his attention to Danny Garcia, who had relieved him of his senses in July and was seated ringside.

"In that fight, he caught me with a good shot, but I'll fight Danny Garcia again anytime, anywhere," Khan said.

He showed enough on Saturday night to indicate he might be able to improve on the dominant first 2½ rounds of that July contest. But he showed enough vulnerability to give rise to the thought that Garcia might be able to land yet more concussive left hooks such as the one with which he found success in Las Vegas.

Should Garcia do so, he would surely have far greater impact against Khan than anything Molina could manage on Saturday. But that is for the future. Tonight was about restoring confidence in a crowd-pleasing fighter. In that regard, it was mission accomplished.