Could Amir Khan Have Beaten Manny Pacquiao?

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Potential unrealized. That’s pretty much the saddest little phrase in the life of any professional athlete. It means that he/she didn’t go as far as his/her talents suggested they could go. It means a legacy unfulfilled. And, on the real-life pragmatic side of things, it means money left on the table.

With Amir Khan recently announcing his retirement from the sport of boxing after a 17-year professional career, “potential unrealized” is the phrase that most comes to mind.

While the media has been very positive in their coverage of the British former junior welterweight world champ and high-profile boxing name (with the UK media tossing around the word “legendary” way too easily), the reality is that the 35-year-old Khan will likely be best remembered for what could’ve been.

A silver medalist in the 2004 Olympic games, Khan was gifted with almost other-worldly speed and athleticism. And, despite showing flashes of brilliance at various points throughout his career, he never put it all together to become the dominant, elite-level star he was seemingly destined to be. He just never became better than the sum of his parts as a fighter.

Over much of the second half of his career, Khan was accused of simply hunting for paydays and not really having much interest in putting together a world class legacy. Blowout losses to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Terence Crawford, as well as a run of soft-touch wins, pretty much affirm that belief.

Two big-money targets of Khan’s throughout the years were Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather—the sport’s biggest cash cows, ever.

It remains to be seen whether Khan actually thought he could beat either. He sure saw, however, the potential for big-money scores with both fighters and he pursued those bouts doggedly for nearly a decade (and says he’s still open to an exhibition).

The question, though, is if Khan would’ve had a legitimate chance of beating either Pacquiao or Mayweather.

Khan’s speed and reflexes remained very real factors right up until the very end of his career, although they were utterly absent in the blowout loss to Kell Brook in his last contest this past February. Speed and reflexes will always give you a chance in a prizefight.  

But, of course, Pacquiao and Mayweather were also gifted with speed and reflexes, along with copious amounts of skill and a hunger that Khan just didn’t seem to have.

Khan, to this day, contends that the boxing cash cows were afraid to fight him or, at the very least, were wary of the threat of an upset he brought. And, yeah, he did pose a threat, especially back around 2014-2015 when he hadn’t quite settled into his “just give me a paycheck and show me where to fall” period.

Against the cautious, defensive specialist, Mayweather, Khan may have been in over his head. Unwilling to pick a fight, he may have spent the entire 12 rounds eating right-handed potshots as he maneuvered for position. Mayweather-Khan would’ve resulted in a dull, tedious affair and, most likely, a relatively one-sided decision loss.

But what about Pacquiao-Khan?

Manny Pacquiao was infinitely more likely to engage than Mayweather and, because of that, also there to be hit more.

The Filipino icon, as a southpaw, could’ve been there for Khan’s big, quick right hand. The UK fighter certainly had the hand speed to clip Manny with something out of the blue.

But Pacquiao being more naturally aggressive than Mayweather would also mean that he’d be working to put a bigger hurt on Khan. And Khan, even at his very best, was known to have a spotty chin.

Ultimately, Khan never faced Pacquiao or Mayweather and when determining who would’ve won, we can only go by the fighters’ bodies of work. In that case, logic and boxing common sense tells us that Khan wouldn’t have had much of a chance.

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Paul Magno has over forty years of experience in and around the sport of boxing and has had his hand in everything, from officiating to training. As a writer, his work has appeared in several online publications, including Yahoo Sports, Fox Sports, FightHype, Max Boxing,, Inside Fights, The Boxing Tribune, The Queensberry Rules, and Premier Boxing Champions. You can reach him at: