Why does a boxer, an Olympic medallist and one of the best professional light/welterweight pugilists in the world today, want to jump two weight categories up to fight one of the most dangerous fighters in the world?
“To go down in history as one of the greatest,” says the former World champion, Amir Khan, in a telephonic interview from San Francisco, where he is currently training for his first middleweight bout, against Mexican Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, scheduled for May 7 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Amir Khan (31-3, 19 KOs) decided to take on Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) after Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao turned down offers to fight him.
“Everybody in the world knows they (Mayweather and Pacquiao) refused to be in the ring with me. So, I had to jump two categories to get the next big challenger, who was Canelo. But I believe I belong in this position, fighting the best people in the world,” affirms Khan.
A British of Pakistan origin, who won a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics when he was only 17, says, “Nobody ever expected me to stay. So many people started boxing with me at the same time, but they all quit. I’m the only one who stayed.”
As a kid, Amir was hyperactive and his father enrolled him in a local boxing gym when he was eight to calm him down. “As soon as I stepped into the ring in the gym, I smelled sweat, I smelled blood. I saw the punching bags being punched. I heard voices of people being hit, and I said, ‘Wow, this is a nice place to be in! I love this place,” he reminisces.
Amir’s career has been one continuous story of the boxer proving people wrong. When he went to the Athens Olympics, nobody gave him a chance.
“I’ve always been an underdog, and I thrive on it. So, when I went to the 2004 Olympic Games, they said I will have to fight (against) very big, powerful guys. I reached the final and my opponent was a former Olympic champion, who had like 300 fights under his belt. He defeated me in a very close fight. But those people who said I was going to get blown away were all proved wrong,” Amir says.
The Olympic success, in a way, would go on to define Amir’s boxing career. He turned professional in 2008 and quickly moved up the ladder with his speed, aggression and never-say-die attitude, winning many fans too in the process.
His 12-round WBA light welterweight title defence against Marcos Maidana in 2010, which was adjudged the ‘Fight of the Year’ by the Boxing Writers’ Association of America, and his comeback victory against (till then) undefeated American Carlos Molina, are a testimony to Amir’s street fighter-like spirit. He just refuses to give up.
Opportunities coming at the right time define a sportsperson’s career. Amir reckons his success, or that of India’s favourites boxers Mary Kom and Vijender Singh, is down to being lucky enough to get the right support at the right time.
“Look at Vijender, who is a great fighter. Now he is a professional winning many fights. This is because he had opportunities. India is a very big country and there is plenty of potential. What we need to do is to put these kids into the boxing ring. We need more academies. Boxing is a sport where poor people can come big. That’s where you find true fighters,” says Amir.
He plans to promote boxing and encourage more kids in the sub-continent to take up the sport as a career. “I have opened a very big academy in England with more than 500 children. I want to do the same in India and Pakistan because in our blood we are true fighters. The academy in Islamabad will open a week after my fight against Canelo. We people are hard working and talented. With academies, we can soon win Olympic medals,” asserts Amir.
Amir, who co-owns the Indian Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) company, Super Fight League (SFL), along with his Indian partner Bill Dosanjh, is planning to promote MMA along with boxing in the sub-continent.
The bookmakers do not fancy Amir in his bout against Canelo. The British boxer, however, does not care what people have to say about him.
“Canelo is like the biggest name in boxing today and is the World champion. Normally I go into every fight as the main attraction, but this time I’m entering the ring as an underdog. So I’m really looking forward to the fight,” he says.
According to Amir, he will approach the match just as he had done in Athens 12 years ago as a 17-year-old.
“This (Canelo fight) reminds me of the Olympics. People are writing off my chances and that gives me extra motivation. It brings the best out of me when I’m the underdog. I always believe in myself,” says Amir.
Canelo is renowned for his brawling approach. He is powerful and a genuine puncher, who will knock down any opponent if given the space. More importantly, Canelo has steadily improved his counter-punching style in the past few years, which makes him a lethal boxer with adaptive techniques.
Amir, however, is confident in his own abilities ahead of the big bout. “To beat power, I have speed. Speed, in my opinion, beats everything else. I’m the quickest fighter in the world. I’ve got the quickest of combinations and the quickest of punches. So I’m going to use that advantage and make sure that I don’t make any mistakes against Canelo,” he says.
Canelo versus Amir promises to be an exciting match for boxing enthusiasts across the world. Some are already calling it the ‘David versus Goliath’ bout of the year.