LONG READ Amir Khan: ‘When I do feel old, then I’ll call it a day’

Amir Khan
Action Images/Andrew Boyers
Amir Khan tells Tris Dixon that he is is entering the 'final moments' of his life as a boxer

This feature was originally published in Boxing News magazine

BY the time Amir Khan steps back in the ring almost two years will have gone by since he was transformed into a fallen statue by the fists of Mexican Saul Alvarez.

Khan, who announced a deal with Matchroom and Sky Sports and will fight Phil Lo Greco on April 21, believes he has he can capture a third world title, despite not holding a belt since 2011.

The Bolton star, who moved up in weight to challenge the man they call Canelo, walked onto a thunderous looping right hand in round six and the successes he had enjoyed in the previous five sessions were rendered meaningless.

Khan needed time to heal. It was a devastating finale and set Alvarez on his way towards the Gennady Golovkin showpiece.

And while that Alvarez blow wreaked havoc with Khan’s senses, things began to spiral out of control away from the ring. He’d suffered hand damage that required operations, his marriage was on the verge of collapse via social media, he was at war with his old team and then with family and friends.

Then, however, he began to mend rifts. His hand was finally fixed, his marriage started to work out and he and wife Faryal are now expecting their second child.

But Khan was already on the move. The Bolton man, who has spent much of his top-flight career fighting and training in the USA, travelled Down Under where he adopted a starring role on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here.

In the weeks running up to Christmas, Amir became must-see TV for those who follow the show, screaming and squealing his way through trials that tackled his phobias of snakes and creepy crawlies while chugging down shots of whisked vomit fruit and blended goats liver like a retired fighter propping up the bar in middle age.

“I just needed to get away and refocus on what I want to do in life,” Khan said of his decision to go into the jungle. “A lot of people would go on there to build their career but I went on there to let people know who the real me is. “I had time on my hands and while I was in there I thought I could do some training. I thought it might be a good idea for me to show people who the real me is and it definitely happened. People have been saying nice things [subsequently] and I think it worked.”

Now Khan’s focus is switching back to the prize ring where, at 31, time is running out.

For the 2004 Olympian who burst onto the scene as a dynamic and exciting 17-year-old is now nearer the end of his career than the beginning and he is well aware of that, though he falls short of putting a timescale on how much longer he will fight for.

“It’s hard to say, really,” he considered. “It’s very hard to say. Another two or three years… I feel good but it just depends on what’s out there for me. The day I do feel old, I’ll then call it a day. At the moment I still feel I’ve got a lot left in me. The speed is definitely still there. It’s something that will probably be with me all the time. I thought as I got older it would disappear but it’s still there. I think it’s just genetics. I still feel good. I still feel my fitness is amazing. I’m one of those fighters who likes to grind and work hard.”

Khan also believes he has something to prove. That stunning defeat to Canelo has been followed by the longest period of inactivity of his 12-year career.

But Amir retains goals; it’s not just about silencing dissenting voices.

Amir Khan

“There’s always going to be doubters in the game,” he continued. “But look, what I’ve already achieved in boxing is good. I know I’ve got a lot left in me and I can still achieve a lot more but these doubters just motivate me. They don’t upset me. They motivate me more than anything else. I just never let it get to me.

“I would like to fight a minimum two times, maybe three times [in 2018]. I want to win a third world title. I want to win one more world title before I call it a day.”

The next step is a fight in March, with either a UK date or Adrien Broner in New York in the offing, with another in September if all goes well.

The long-term goal is lucrative, world title engagements against the likes of Keith Thurman, Errol Spence (IBF champion) and possibly rematches with Lamont Peterson and Danny Garcia. Then, of course, there is the UK blockbuster with Sheffield’s Kell Brook. While Khan’s shock link-up with Eddie Hearn makes that a possibility, it is not at the forefront of the agenda.

Top of his shopping list is WBA and WBC champion Thurman, a surprising choice.

“Honestly,” Khan stressed. “For some reason I think he would be a good fight for me. A lot of people say he’s a very scary fighter but I just think that it’s perfect for me.”

Of course, there is unfinished business with Garcia, who stopped Khan in four rounds in 2012, and Peterson, who edged him over 12 competitive rounds the year before.

Then there is Australian Jeff Horn, conqueror of Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao. Khan, after exiting the jungle, watched from ringside as Horn defended his WBO belt against Gary Corcoran.

Then, of course, there is Brook. Would it always bother him if the fight a generation of UK boxing fans has wanted never happens?

“It would,” he admits. “It would. Because I honestly know I can beat him and that’s why it would niggle me. It’s just that at the moment we’ve both come off losses and I’m coming off a hand operation…”

Khan’s hand required three surgeries and he is now certain an injury, which dates back to the second fight of his pro career against Baz Carey in 2005, is better than it has been since that contest.

“I wasn’t going to rush into coming back, I had to make sure my hand was okay and physically that I was alright after a big shot like that [against Alvarez]. I’ve needed that long break to make sure I’m okay but now I know the hand is okay I’m going into the ring feeling fresh and feeling that I want to be in the ring. I want to be back in the ring. I want to be fighting again.”

Of course, things could have worked out better. Before taking the Alvarez challenge on, he had targeted bouts against Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. He waited. He was close to getting one fight, then the other. He waited some more. He rearranged bouts to fit their schedules. They stalled and he still waited. Neither fight materialised.

Khan still harbours desires for the Mayweather contest. Failing that, he wants his former Wild Card Gym stablemate Pacquiao.

“It’s been very frustrating because I’ve always dreamt of being in a big fight with either of them and they have been the same weight as me so I would not have had to go up to fight them – but unfortunately it didn’t happen,” he said. “It’s frustrated me big time but that’s part of life and you’ve just got to move on and see what options you have out there. Look, we do have Kell Brook out there. That could be a fight in the future. He’s gone up a weight to 154 but it can still happen. I’ve only just turned 31 and I’ve still got some good fights left in me.”

However, like Brook – who felt the Golovkin contest was an error – Khan believes the Canelo bout was, with hindsight, a mistake.

“Yeah, I do,” he sighed. “Honestly, it’s a fight I should never have gone into because he was physically too big. I had my chances, I thought I could outbox him and be smart and not get hit but obviously he got me with a big shot. Before that, everything was going well but it’s boxing and you are going to get hit and you are going to get hit with big shots and he caught me with a tremendous overhand right that would have knocked most people out. But as an experience if I’d never taken that fight
I would always have thought, ‘What would have happened?’ Now I’ve done it I can say I tried it, it didn’t work for me and that’s not going to happen again – where I move up in weight and make the same mistake.”

Khan is staying with trainer Virgil Hunter and will head to San Francisco to prepare for his March date.

He feels the USA is the best place to base himself, and possibly where the big fights will still happen.

“I think being in the US has definitely helped me, it’s helped get me away from the distractions, made me focus on what I want to do,” he explained. “I just focus on boxing when I’m there.”

In the UK, is the pressure greater and are expectations higher?

“There’s always pressure in the UK when I fight here but it’s going to be nice to come home, show them what I’m really like and how good I am, help build my fanbase up again and get people believing I will become a world champion again.”

He has not boxed in England since his 2013 win over Julio Diaz, one of only two UK fights since 2010 (the other was a 2011 win over Paul McCloskey).

But Khan’s stature as a wonderkid with the world at his feet saw his brand grow quickly and internationally. And the pressure remained. For a while, he and Mayweather were the only boxers who held multi-fight deals with TV giants Showtime. The expectation followed Khan across the Atlantic.

Just because he fought Peterson and Garcia ‘over there’, it doesn’t mean he had nothing to lose and the pressure was off.

“Not really, because those are fights I should have won,” Khan recalled. “They had me as the favourite, so no, I still had a lot of pressure on those fights. Against Canelo I didn’t have the same pressure because people said, ‘Credit to Amir for going up a weight and we respect him for that.’ So there was probably a little less pressure.”

Khan rates Marcos Maidana, Canelo and Garcia as the three best opponents he has faced, and while the Canelo attempt might have proved ill-conceived, lessons were learned.

Although he healed after that sobering May 2016 defeat he opted to finally have his hands treated.

One operation turned into three and before you know it, he was in the jungle.

He might have resigned himself to not fighting in 2017, but he also admits he has also given up hope of landing the Mayweather match he coveted for so long. That ship has sailed.

He won the ‘official’ Mayweather poll that determined Amir – rather than Maidana – would face the American, only for Floyd to go against public sentiment and face the Argentine.

“Look, Floyd’s a great fighter but I would never use anything against him in that way,” Khan added. “It just never happened. It is what it is. When I won the poll [and he didn’t get the fight] it upset me but it’s just one of those things, isn’t it?

“With Floyd you just don’t know. He might come back for one more. If he does and it happens that would be awesome, but if he doesn’t it will just be one of those things that never happened.”

Mayweather, of course, landed on that mythical 50-0 target before walking away. Khan has had 35 fights. He has been boxing for almost two decades yet remains confident that despite some damaging knockouts he will leave boxing on his own terms, without the tell tale signs of a damaging career.

“The way I look at it is, yes, I have taken big shots in a fight. But when I have been knocked out it’s only been by single shots. Taking numerous shots, standing there and showing too much heart probably takes more out of you. If you put all those knockout shots together that I’ve had, and the few times I’ve been knocked out,
I probably took more punishment in the Maidana fight… So I think you’d rather be knocked out by one big shot than take numerous shots and I think, at the moment, with what’s happened and how my career’s gone, I think it’s perfect. I don’t think I’ve taken much punishment. When you take too many shots and you’re standing there showing too much heart, that’s what’s going to maybe give you problems in the future. But with me, I think I will be fine because I’m not taking that big punishment all the time.”

Of course, the mileage is far higher than it was post-Athens, when he was a golden boy with a silver medal and the face of the GB team in Greece.

amir khan

Then he was filled with hopes and dreams and while Khan retains a level of ambition there is also satisfaction at what he has accomplished. He feels he has fulfilled his potential.

“You know what?” he paused. “Winning world titles, being in an Olympic Games… I think so, yeah. Definitely. I’ve already achieved lots. Fighting in America, headlining in the MGM, headlining in LA, headlining twice in New York, once at the Barclays and once at Madison Square Garden… Headlining at these venues, that was my dream, to fight in America – in Vegas. I’ve done it numerous times. I’ve had my name up in lights. I’ve had the biggest posters up of me and I’ve had my picture on top of the MGM Grand Hotel. This was my dream. I’ve been on the biggest TV shows on HBO and Showtime, I’ve headlined their shows. I’ve been on Sky, on pay-per-view. I can give you a list of things I’d dreamed of doing and I’ve done them already.”

Talk of retirement, though, is premature. Yes, he will work more on the Amir Khan Foundation, which helps so many people in need around the world, assisting with water projects, the Syrian refugee crisis, aiding the homeless and building orphanages. He will do some work in real estate. He may even handle some young fighters and try his hand further at promoting. “At the moment, thankfully God has been good and financially I’m good,” he stated. “If I retired today I would be happy and I’d be comfortable, but I think I’ve got a little more left.”

A period of darkness, where Khan questioned himself and those around him, concluded with him finding a source of light in a remote part of Australia. Now he will fight on.

The rows with his nearest and dearest are behind him.

“It was all just me being a little bit silly, maybe saying things that weren’t true and just making big issues of nothing really,” he said of the public spat with his wife last year. “I think it definitely played a part of it when I wasn’t fighting for a long period of time. It shows how important boxing is in my life. I need to box and keep myself busy because otherwise you can go down the wrong path. But I’ve sorted out the issues with my family, I’ve sorted the issues out with my wife and it’s all about standing on my own feet and enjoying the last few moments in my boxing career.”


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