THE fragility that haunted the early part of Amir Khan’s career resurfaced with shuddering, dramatic consequences as underrated WBC super-lightweight champion Danny Garcia destroyed him in four rounds before a shocked crowd at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.

After he had absorbed Marcos Maidana’s best shots and gone on to win in their 2010 classic, the theory that Khan had become stronger with maturity and the move up to 140lbs had gained credibility.

That idea was left in ruins, along with, for the time being, Khan’s career, by the nature of this three-knockdown defeat. Khan was sent crashing to the canvas in the third round by a big left hook and in spite of the conditioning provided by a long training camp, and all those before it, never recovered.

He is only 25, so some extent of rebuilding is still possible, but it suddenly seems a huge task because as in his defeat by Lamont Peterson last December, he made wrong choices in the ring. And this time he paid in full.

For Garcia, who was outsped, outboxed and cut up in the first two rounds, the future is suddenly wildly exciting. The 24-year-old from Philadelphia had ground his way into the bigger money with points wins over old champion Nate Campbell, the dangerous but erratic Kendall Holt and the ageing Mexican legend Erik Morales. Good wins, all three, but in none of them did his performances suggest he was an extraordinary talent.

That is still the case. At this stage anyway Garcia does not look like a superstar in the making, just the right man in the right place at the right time. How far he progresses from here is anybody’s guess.

Khan walked straight out from the first bell, raked home a jab and right cross, and set the tone for the first two rounds. He scored cleanly with enough to keep Garcia occupied. In letting his combinations go he stopped Garcia from setting up accurate counters. The WBC champion’s hooks either hit his arms or shoulders, or whistled past his chin. One or two missed by a distance. Even so, Khan was staying in range too long.

After two rounds, though, Garcia was cut over the right eye – from a left hook – and his nose bled. He had not settled.

That changed in round three. Garcia began to work the body, including a couple of low shots, one of which needed a brief timeout, both of which earned him cautions from referee Kenny Bayless. Khan was landing more punches but wasn’t as effective.

Then suddenly he stayed in range once too often and a crunching left hook slammed into his neck and ear. He crashed down heavily and for a second or two it looked all over. He got up, but on disobedient legs and was lucky the bell was only a dozen or so seconds away. He made it through, but it took nearly the whole of the interval for Freddie Roach to be convinced he had recovered enough to come up for the fourth.

It was obvious as he lurched out of his corner the minute had been nowhere near enough. He tried to fight back instead of clinch and cling on and was soon down again. A right hand stiffened his legs and he stumbled along the ropes, touching down with his gloves, reeling up again as Bayless imposed another count.

In the next minute or so Khan rode some alarming punches and walked into Garcia in some desperate, crazy bid to fight to the bitter end. Maybe hanging on and spoiling would have helped, but as stirring as it was to watch him throw and even land punches, it was futile. Nothing had an effect, and eventually Garcia steadied his attacks enough to land one last left hook, to the top of Khan’s head, followed by a short, hard right as he fell.

Khan got up, told Bayless he was OK, but the referee decided he wasn’t and waved it off at 2-28 of the fourth.

Three days earlier Khan had been given back the piece of the WBA title he had lost in that split decision to Peterson last December as a result of Peterson’s testing positive for a steroid. Now that had passed on to the jubilant Garcia, who celebrated wildly with his corner, led by his truculent father, Angel, who had insulted Khan and his team through most of the build-up.

Roach admitted Garcia Snr had got under Khan’s skin. In the final press conference Amir had lost his cool and told him: “I can’t wait to be standing here after the fight after I’ve knocked out your son.”

Danny Garcia, well used to his father’s antics, made light of them and said: “I am a true champion. I will fight anybody. You don’t have to pamper me. Once I dropped him I thought it would be stopped but it was a world title fight and he did fight back. His punches didn’t hurt but they were fast and they stung. Once I got my vision right I was able to see them and get my timing right.

“I came from the streets of Philadelphia and it’s hard to get up from there, but I was built for this and I’m going to be around for a long time.”

Khan, dejected but dignified, said before leaving to be checked out at hospital: “It just wasn’t my night. I made a few mistakes and I paid my price.”

He said his mind was clear when the fight was stopped, and he was surprised but respected the decision.

Roach was in no doubt that Bayless was right: “It was a good stoppage. Amir never really recovered from the first knockdown. In the corner he didn’t really respond until just before the bell. I was really close to not letting him get off the stool. He said ‘Yes, I’m OK’, but it was a touch and go moment.”

Roach said Khan had forgotten or ignored the game plan. “I told him to keep using the jab. It was very successful and safe. I wish he could have done that a little more but his heart got in the way.”

Khan is proud, will want to come back and win again. He admitted before the fight that the six months since the Peterson defeat had been psychologically very tough, but now he faces even darker times and harder decisions. His close team will work with American promoters Golden Boy to find a way, but it’s hard at this stage to see what that will be.

For Garcia the future is suddenly everything he has dreamed of and waited for. After beating Morales in March he said he slept with his belt for three days. Now he has a couple more – Ring magazine gave him their symbolic one to go with the WBA strap.

He could fight either Ajose Olusegun, a man nobody seems to want to accommodate, or Lucas Matthysse, who just hammered Humberto Soto, and maybe even look at the welterweight division where the possibility of a fight with Floyd Mayweather is always tempting.

Intriguing times, but spare a thought for the one-time golden boy of British amateur boxing who has gone on to hold the WBA and IBF versions of the world super-lightweight title, has had eight championship fights and now, at only 25, has to map out an unexpectedly awkward future. Such is boxing.

Words: Bob Mee