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George Foreman makes a case for Amir Khan beating Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez

Amir Khan

Amir Khan works out in Hayward as Oscar De La Hoya watches on April 18.

(Alexis Cuarezma / Getty Images)

Amir Khan isn’t relying on just his punching and foot speed to avoid getting struck by Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s best power punches Saturday night in their pay-per-view fight at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Khan is also leaning on history.

The British boxer and former junior-welterweight champion accepted a difficult jump to a 155-pound catch-weight limit to fight for Alvarez’s World Boxing Council middleweight belt on HBO.

Yet, in past matchups of overwhelming power versus speed -- Alvarez (46-1-1) has 32 career knockouts -- Khan can take some comfort in finding a possible path to victory.

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Perhaps no one understands that better than a man victimized by the disparity, former heavyweight champion George Foreman.

In Foreman’s famed 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” bout against Muhammad Ali in Africa, Foreman was favored to win by imposing his mighty punches on Ali. That didn’t happen.

“The thing about power is you can become overconfident when you start seeing people drop,” Foreman told The Times in a recent telephone interview. “With Ali, I lost my fear. You come out not worrying about protecting yourself.”

Foreman chased the knockout to the point of fatigue. Ali absorbed the heaviest punches, asking Foreman at one point, “Is that all you’ve got, George,” and went on to win by an eighth-round knockout, capturing two heavyweight belts.

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“You come out of that dressing room thinking, ‘I’ll knock this guy out ... if not in the first, then the fifth,’” Foreman said. “But with just 12 rounds now, it’s over quick, so Khan can pull it off with his speed.”

Khan (31-3, 19 KOs) has been troubled by a chin that allowed a first-round knockout loss early in his career and a 2012 knockout loss to current welterweight champion Danny Garcia, but he’s also capable of effective boxing displays like his late 2014 exhibition against Devon Alexander and his gritty effort against Marcos Maidana in the 2010 fight of the year.

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“Khan is so fast and he has a knack for landing body punches, which could assure him he’ll get a 12-round decision. He’s a good body puncher, it’s just part of his repertoire,” Foreman said. “The one who lands the most will pull it out.

“Canelo has been in there with the most elusive of all fighters, Floyd Mayweather, so he’s not going to see anything he hasn’t seen before. But if he comes in overconfident, Khan, with that speed, will overtake that power and there’ll be a new outlook in boxing.”

Khan embraced Foreman’s appreciation for his skill.

“Yes, I can bang to the body, and can Canelo handle those punches to the body? We don’t know,” Khan said. “We have a lot of strategies, but the body is one we can take advantage of.”

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Alvarez is only a year removed from a fearless display of power, his May 2015 knockout of James Kirkland in Foreman’s hometown of Houston. Kirkland was similarly a puncher.

“If Canelo has that inch of overconfidence, that could be the key to Khan pulling it off with the speed,” Foreman said. “Canelo should go into his dressing room scared. That fear protects you.”

The wild card is how Alvarez will take the lessons he used in losing to Mayweather in 2013 and apply them to his next opponent.

“I realized after thinking that the most powerful fighters are the best fighters, that speed can overtake you,” Foreman said. “I realized I better fashion a defense too. And I never would’ve done that without that loss to Ali.”

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That defense was at play in Foreman’s comeback, when he gave heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield a highly competitive fight before losing by unanimous decision in 1991, then recaptured his World Boxing Assn. belt in 1994 by knocking out Michael Moorer.

“I was able to get closer and closer to hitting Holyfield -- I had realized the more power punches you use, the more oxygen you lose,” Foreman said. “I realized I better have a defense to not get winded. That took me to 12 rounds, and I was able to muster up a little attack in the later rounds.

“Khan has a way better chance than people are giving him. Speed against power. ... And Khan’s body punches can weaken ‘Canelo’ for the later rounds, and maybe get him a decision.”

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