FOR as long as Amir Khan has been a professional, and that has been a long time, he has been one of the stars of British boxing. In the 2004 Olympic Games the then 17-year-old Khan became a household name. He’s been at the centre of big fights since then. “My first fight as a professional, I was the main attraction on television and I had all the media and the press conferences and the conference calls and everything. I have had a lot of media attention from day one as a professional and I have been going 14 years strong,” he said.
“I love that kind of pressure on me and to cope with that pressure and to deal with that pressure really helps me when I go into the camp. When I go into a fight, I make sure that it is not on my mind. That’s the last thing I think about, all of the pressure.”
Yet along the way Khan transitioned from crowd favourite to overseas underdog. A knockout loss to Danny Garcia in 2012, with hindsight, upended his career. He battled his way up welterweight rankings but could not a secure a fight with the world’s biggest names, Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather. His most reckless decision was to leap up to an 155lbs catchweight to challenge WBC middleweight boss Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. That ended crushingly for Khan inside six rounds.
He was still famous, in both British and world boxing, but is no one longer the kind of contender whose speed and skill seemingly posed a problem for any top welterweight. Instead that unsurprising finishing blow from Canelo and Amir’s more recent knockdowns against Samuel Vargas last September, a bout which Khan ultimately did win on points, have underscored Khan’s vulnerabilities and raised doubts about his resilience.
In April 20 in New York Khan will once again find himself the underdog against one of the best fighters in the sport. He boxes Terence Crawford at Madison Square Garden. Crawford is fast like Khan, possibly faster. Even though the American has moved up from lightweight through super-light to welter, he is powerful even at 147lbs and can box smoothly from southpaw and orthodox stances. Is this, in other words, another impossible job for Amir Khan?
“I fought Canelo and that was maybe too much, but even that fight I think I was winning. When it comes to boxing skills and being smart and knowing that I couldn’t make any mistakes, I got hit with a big shot that probably would have knocked out any welterweight. But this is where I want to tell everybody I’m not just a number – I’m not just going to come into this fight to just make it a night of boxing. I’m coming to win this fight,” the Briton warned. “Breaking down the fight, Terence is a very skilful fighter, and I always do well against skilful fighters. This is going to be like a game of chess at times. He comes forward and can punch well and likes to fight as well. So, it’s the best of both worlds and he doesn’t fight the same as me. I have fought at welterweight, so I am basically the bigger guy physically. I have been in the division longer, so I’ve got that advantage on my side. I’m the bigger guy so that is on my side. People may think from my last performance against Vargas I’m going to be the same, but that was very bad. I thought I could just go in there and win the fight. It’s hard to motivate yourself against guys where you are supposed to win. All you have to do is turn up then because you know you have better skills. But this fight, this is where I have to bring my ‘A’ game, make sure that I cannot make any mistakes. I’ll go in as the underdog, prove myself and win this fight.
“The fight is going to be a tough fight. He is a very good skilled fighter with power. He’s durable, he moves well, and he boxes well. For me to win this fight, I have to be on my ‘A’ game and not make any mistakes, but he is still maybe quite new in the welterweight division. But you can see he is quite filled out, and for the welterweight division, his height is good. I am not going to go in there thinking I am stronger and a physically bigger fighter. I am going to in there and use my skills to win this fight. That’s what is going to win this fight – not the size or the power – it’s going to be my IQ and my skills.”
He also warns Crawford not to focus on a potential showdown with another welterweight rival, the IBF champion Errol Spence. “There is a lot of talk about Crawford with Spence, who just came off a fight. All of those people should be talking about Spence against me. I’m not just a number. I know when I have to turn it on. I can turn it on. Maybe in previous fights, I won the fight, but maybe I didn’t look the best. But I know I belong at the level of both. I am one of those fighters that if I am fighting a guy that is supposed to be at the top of his game that will bring me to the top of my game and bring the best out of me. If Crawford is talking about maybe that fight happening and overlooking me, it’s going to be a big shock,” said Khan, who actually hasn’t lost at 147lbs.
“I’m going to be ready. We’ve both been hurt in fights. I am a fully-fledged welterweight. This division is hard, and I’ve had good knockouts. I’m an unbeaten welterweight fighter and it is the weight I feel comfortable at and the weight where I feel stronger, as well, and the speed and the perfect size.
“This is where I like to be because I am the underdog. I am at my best when people are looking over me.”
Amir Khan challenges undefeated Terence Crawford for the WBO World Welterweight belt, live on BT Sport Box Office, Saturday 20th April. For more information go to www.bt.com/btsportboxoffice