The divergent paths of Khan, Garcia

LAS VEGAS -- There had been plenty of trash-talking in the week before Amir Khan and Danny Garcia stepped into the ring at the Mandalay Bay on Saturday night, much of it between Khan and Garcia's father Angel. Khan wasn't present at the postfight press conference, but Angel was, and he wasn't afraid to keep fighting the war of words even as his foe nursed his wounds at the hospital.

"Rematch?!" he exclaimed when it was suggested that maybe his son might face Khan again following Garcia's explosive fourth-round victory. "Why would we fight him again?" After comparing him to an old pair of tennis shoes, Angel spat that Khan was "old news. He's an ex-champion. He's a three-time ex-champion."

That last comment in particular cut to the quick. Khan could excuse his first loss, a shocking first-round KO defeat to Breidis Prescott: Khan was young, he was raw, and he had subsequently improved under the tutelage of trainer Freddie Roach. His second defeat, last December to Lamont Peterson, similarly came with a set of asterisks and, given Peterson's subsequent positive test for synthetic testosterone, may yet be expunged from the record books.

This one, however, was different. Despite a half-hearted suggestion from Khan in the immediate aftermath that perhaps referee Kenny Bayless had been premature in halting the contest, there could be no doubt. This was a fight that Khan had had in his grasp, that he was winning through two and two-thirds rounds, his hand speed and combination punching making him seem a class apart from his young opponent.

But Garcia never lost his composure, and kept coming forward behind a tight defense. And when Khan presented him with a chance, he took it, landing an explosive left hook that detonated on Khan's jaw. Although the bout officially lasted another round, it was effectively over as a contest right then; as Roach admitted afterward, Khan never really recovered from that blow.

The fight highlighted everything that is good and bad about Khan: On the good side, his immense physical gifts and his astonishing heart, which, combined with his flaws, make for consistently exciting fights, win or lose; on the bad, the questions that arose anew about his chin, which it seems will always be a weakness, wherever he goes from here.

For Danny Garcia, the immediate future is bright. With victories over Erik Morales and now Khan, he has, as they say, arrived. Khan arrived, at least as an attraction and as a star, some years ago. The question has been when he would move on and take the next step to a higher level among the elites. Now that question is not so much when, but if. And his absence in the face of Angel Garcia's taunts served only to underline that it is a question to which we almost certainly now know the answer.