Khan decisions Kotelnik for WBA crown
MANCHESTER, England -- Highly touted Amir Khan finally lived up to lofty expectations, earning a unanimous decision over Andreas Kotelnik on Saturday to capture the WBA junior welterweight title.
The 22-year-old Khan's blistering victory came five years after a career-launching Olympic silver medal, and 10 months after he was knocked out by Breidis Prescott in 54 seconds.
Two judges scored the fight 118-111, while the third had it 120-108.
"It's the best feeling ever," Khan said. "I picked the right shots and was composed. I stuck to the game plan and stayed concentrating.
"In the early days I used to rush and fight with my heart, but now I use my brains."
Khan (21-1), the 2007 ESPN.com prospect of the year, was stepping up a division to face Kotelnik, but didn't appear to lose any speed. His quick combinations and impressive footwork helped carry him to a triumph in front of Naseem Hamed, one of only two other Brits to become a champion at a younger age.
"He's won one of the best belts out there," said Hamed, who at 21 became featherweight champion. "He showed courage, heart. I'm very, very impressed."
After his surprising loss to Prescott, Khan began working with well-respected trainer Freddie Roach, who has helped guide Manny Pacquiao to the top of the pound-for-pound lists.
"That defeat made me a better fighter," Khan said.
A fifth-round stoppage victory in March in the same M.E.N. Arena ring over highly respected Marco Antonio Barrera helped restore Khan's confidence, if not his credibility, and his newfound polish showed while handing Kotelnik (31-3-1) his first loss since 2005.
"I want to thank Freddie Roach for making this happen," Khan said. "He's taken me to a different level and now I'm a world champion."
The 31-year-old Kotelnik struggled to cope with Khan's relentless punching and couldn't land anything to trouble his younger opponent, who became one of the sport's most promising prospects after an impressive performance during the Athens Olympics.
"Khan chose the right tactics," said Kotelnik, a Ukrainian, through a translator. "I wasn't myself today. Khan was the better fighter so he won."
"Don't forget, last September he was written off," promoter Frank Warren added. "He's going to go on to do bigger things."
Khan impressed with his counter-punching from the opening bell, with his nimble defensive reflexes ensuring his body was rarely exposed.
"I was strong, I took some big shots, but I stayed focused throughout the rounds," Khan said. "The amateurish mistakes have gone now. Freddie Roach and the team, the sparring I've got in America is probably as tough as the fight here.
"I'm still young, I'm 22. I've got big things in the future to come."
Khan hopes that means a big payday in the United States.
"It's time to go to America and fight the big names over there," he said. "Now I'll get people knocking on my door. I want to fight the likes of [Juan Manuel] Marquez, because I think my style will go up against theirs. ... I will have a few weeks off and then set new goals."
Earlier, a trio of Britain's Beijing Olympians went 3 for 3 on the undercard.
Middleweight gold medalist James DeGale stopped Ciaran Healey at the end of the first round with a sharp left body shot, Frankie Gavin won his third straight by beating Graham Fearn, and Billy Joe Saunders stopped Matt Scriven.
Gavin, whose medal chances in Beijing were ruined when he had weight problems going into the Olympics, finished off Fearn with a left hook to the body.
Saunders, who lost in the second round in Beijing, stopped Scriven in the second round.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press