When Amir Khan starts talking, it’s hard to stop him. The words come thick and fast. Unless you can match him for speed, it’s almost impossible to land a counter-punch. Before you know it, 10 minutes have passed. You’ve asked him only one question. And that wasn’t even about boxing.
On the day we meet Khan at his Gloves gym in Bolton, the 28-year-old has not long returned from a trip to Greece, where he spent a few days helping deliver eight vans full of supplies collected by his Amir Khan Foundation to Syrian refugees.
“My parents have always got involved in stuff like that,” he explains. “And I thought: ‘Why not go and get physically involved yourself?’ I think it builds the awareness even more – people realise that if Amir’s gone there, these people really need help.”
He describes his shock at how few volunteers were there to help the thousands of refugees landing on the island of Lesbos after surviving the treacherous journey by boat, and reveals snippets of conversations he had with the people there. He spoke to “doctors and lawyers who had left their lives behind for a peaceful life for their children”.
It’s all light years away from Khan’s life as one of Britain’s best-known boxers. But perhaps that was what he needed after months of fist-clenching frustration waiting for Floyd Mayweather to decide who would be the final opponent of his undefeated 19-year career.
“About seven weeks before Mayweather’s fight, no one knew who he was fighting,” says Khan. “I got a text from [Andre] Berto saying: ‘I’ve not heard anything from Mayweather’s team, so you better get in the gym and start training.’”
It was just a few weeks later that the announcement was made. Berto was in, leaving Khan wondering what more he could have done to secure the biggest fight of his career:
“I thought I did everything Mayweather asked me to do: fight at 147lbs, fight for world titles, move to the number one position in the WBC, but it just didn’t happen. I found out about Berto through the media in the end. Al Haymon [who manages both Khan and Berto] also called me and said he tried to get me the fight because it would have brought a lot more money to the table. So we were surprised Mayweather took the fight, because he’s all about money.”
Khan was left observing from afar [the BoxNation studio], as an imperious Mayweather racked up victory number 49, coasting to a unanimous decision as he outclassed Berto. The fight marked not only the apparent end of Mayweather’s career, but also Khan’s determined pursuit of the pound-for-pound king – a pursuit that had gathered pace ever since Khan outpointed Luis Collazo in Las Vegas in May 2014 to announce his arrival as a welterweight.
“The next person after Mayweather is [Manny] Pacquiao,” says Khan. “We’re working on a few fights at the moment, but the Pacquiao fight is a massive one.”
Despite reports this week that negotiations had reached a dead end, the Bolton boxer still believes it’s a fight that can – and should – happen:
“That’s where I belong. I’ve fought a lot of other names to get up to that level and now I deserve the big, big fights. It’s one of those fights that motivates you.
“One thing about fighting former world champions or not top champions is that it’s hard to motivate yourself; that’s when you start making mistakes. You might get caught with a big shot or you might not look as good as you should.”
Khan was accused of the latter in May, when, during his only fight this year, he was taken into reasonably deep waters by American boxer Chris Algieri. An 8/1 underdog in Brooklyn, Algieri’s relentless pressure and work rate forced Khan on to his back foot for much of the fight. He won a unanimous decision after 12 rounds, but Bolton’s finest knew he had failed to impress, saying afterwards: “It’s a good thing I boxed like this here and not in the mega-fight I hope is coming.”
The Pacquiao bout, says Khan, would not only be a tough fight (“who will win it is on the edge”) but also has a storyline that would give it worldwide appeal:
“The first time I went to America [to train with Freddie Roach in 2008], Manny pushed me a lot. He inspired me to reach big goals in boxing. He’s one of the reasons I fought for world titles and did really well. Training alongside him gave me so much experience – he was like a mentor at one time. And we’re friends. We still speak now, kinda.”
Khan says the pair sparred around 200 rounds during their time together at Roach’s Wild Card gym, before he left the renowned trainer in 2012.
“We had some really good sessions,” he says. “But towards the end, when I moved up to 140lbs and was world champion, they stopped us sparring. They were getting too competitive and I think, deep down, Manny’s team knew one day this could be a fight for us.”
The Filipino fighter has suffered a trio of defeats in the past four years. As well as his loss to Mayweather, Pacquiao was beaten controversially by Timothy Bradley and by Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012, the latter landing a knockout blow that left him sprawled face down on the canvas. Khan insists Pacquiao is the same fighter now as in their sparring days, but he also clearly believes he would have the beating of the 36-year-old.
“I’ve started to build my name up in America now and Manny is a superstar there,” he explains. “To beat him will take me up another level. It will put me among the great fighters like Mayweather. And maybe beating Pacquiao could make him come out of retirement and take that last fight.
“I know what Mayweather is like – give it a few months and he’ll want to get back in there and beat Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record. It doesn’t make sense not to – it’s not like he’s had much wear and tear.”
Feeling the burn
Khan is some eight years younger than Pacquiao, but admits his body is already behaving differently compared to the early days of his career.
“When I was younger I used to fight a lot more often, so I was in the gym much more,” he says. “But now I have longer gaps between fights to recover. I do a lot of travelling, too, which takes its toll. When I go back into a training camp now, it is hard to get back into it again. The starts are always the worst – I hate the starts. We’ll do a lot of pad work and a bit of heavy bag to burn body fat. It’s all high-intensity stuff – getting the heart rate up so you’re breathing like crazy.”
His trainer Virgil Hunter also lines up short sparring sessions to help sharpen him up. “In the beginning, I probably do get caught a bit more because my reactions are a bit slow and I get tired quicker,” says Khan. “When you burn out early, you start taking more shots. I find it a lot harder in the first two or three weeks, but when I get into it properly I’m fine – then you see everything coming.”
Khan hasn’t taken his foot entirely off the gas since his previous fight, however: “I’ve been doing a bit of shadow boxing and running – general fitness stuff. I don’t really want to hit anything yet. When you hit bags, sometimes you try too hard and you might pull a muscle. I did a spinning class at the gym yesterday. I swear, I left at the end sweating like I was dying.”
He says he will go back to America and into a training camp with Hunter soon, although his opponent is yet to be confirmed at time of writing. Whoever it is, Khan will likely have turned 29 by the time he gets back in the ring – a year older than he planned to still be making a living in the game: “I always said that at 28 I’d call it a day, but because of Ramadan I fight only once or twice a year, depending on opponents.”
How close to the end is he, then?
“I’m probably 75 per cent of the way through my career,” he says. “Another 25 per cent, I’m done. It also depends how my body is. The day I retire is when I feel my body is not the same and I don’t want to train as hard as I used to. That’s going to be a sign telling me to call it a day. I don’t want boxing to retire me in the sense I take too much punishment in the ring. I’d rather retire on my terms.”
And, ideally, with a Pacquiao-Mayweather double-header in Las Vegas to look back on.
Amir Khan is an ambassador for MaxiNutrition – the sports nutrition product recommended by experts and chosen by champions. Visit maxinutrition.com
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