World champion Bolton-born boxer Amir Khan stunned his critics last December in a thrilling 12-round Las Vegas debut against Marcos Maidana. The 24-year-old WBA light-welterweight champion of the world has already lined up his next opponent – Paul McCloskey. Flavour catches up with Khan in LA on the eve of his return to training.
‘After my win in Mandalay Bay I went home to rest and spend time with my family,’ says Amir Khan. ‘I also took a holiday in Dubai with a couple of friends, hosted a charity event to raise funds for the flood victims in Pakistan, and visited 10 schools in and around Bolton. There’s much more to being a professional boxer than just training and fighting.
‘I will always be busy with charity dinners, appearances, media work and working with the young people at my community boxing gym in Bolton, Gloves. The crime rate in the area has cut down by at least 50% since we set up the gym. Now the kids aren’t hanging around on street corners or messing about. Instead they’re in the gym, training. Their families know they’re safe and have somewhere to go. They can study for a qualification at the same time.’
Seven weeks on, it’s back down to business. Khan is frantically packing his belongings to return to his Hollywood base and resume training with coach and close friend Freddie Roach at the Wildcard boxing gym.
‘This time I will work through a nine-week training camp: I will be in LA for four weeks, then I will head over to the Philippines for two to three weeks to train alongside Manny Pacquiao, and then fly home two weeks before the fight for a few final preparations. Weeks three, four and five are the hardest. By week six or seven your body is conditioned and has got used to taking hard work. By week eight, training starts to taper down slowly.’
While the sun still blazes down on Sunset Boulevard, the dynamics of Khan’s camp have changed since his marathon against Marcos. Strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza parted from with Team Khan shortly after the Vegas victory, despite being credited for improving Khan’s physique – his legs arguably helped him withstand Maidana’s significant blows in a tense 10th round.
Khan is not the slightest bit phased by the change and instead relishes the prospect of new techniques and training regimes under the instruction of Roach and Ariza’s replacement.
‘Freddie Roach is great,’ he affirms. ‘As a boxer it’s important to build a good relationship with your trainer, both inside and outside of the ring. I put a lot of trust in Freddie. You only have to look at how he has changed my career and what he has achieved with the 20 world champions he has worked with before me.
‘Take Manny Pacquiao, for example. Manny met Freddie on the back of two defeats and was nowhere near as good a fighter as he is now. Freddie has a knack of bringing the best out of a fighter and that’s exactly what he has done with me.’
Khan appreciates that each of his opponents pose a different challenge in their own style, so it’s important to tailor the camp accordingly. ‘Every fight is different, so pre-fight training camps are never the same. This time I’ll be doing a lot of southpaw training. Freddie wants me to feel confident fighting a southpaw, and with Manny being a southpaw, he knows what it’s all about. I’ve sparred with Manny and he’s the best fighter on the planet. If I can do well against him, then I can take on Paul McCloskey in April.
‘I’ve tasted defeat before and I don’t want to taste it again,’ says Khan. ‘I’ve got to be smart and stick to my instructions. I am taking it one fight at a time, but once I’ve beaten McCloskey, I’ll look to unify the division in the summer.’
Khan’s success within the ring has propelled him into a world of celebrity and glamour, and now he has famous friends on both side of the Atlantic. ‘I shot a music video for my entrance song with Mr Capone. We filmed scenes in the Wildcard gym, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive and in the ghetto area of the city. Capone is quite big over in the United States so I think collaborating with him will help raise my profile there. I get asked a lot to appear in music videos. I’ve had calls from Tinie Tempah and Tinchy Stryder. Right now I want to focus on my boxing, but it’s definitely something I’d like to do one day.’
His status now allows him to enjoy the finer things in life – homes, clothes, cars, jewellery… ‘Towards the end of last year I had a house built on the garden in front of our family bungalow in Bolton. It’s like moving out of home but still being at home. I have a huge walk-in wardrobe, gym and swimming pool as well as a games room. It’s cool when the boys come over.’
Amir Khan v Paul McCloskey @ MEN Arena, Manchester, Sat April 16, live on Sky Box Office HD www.skysports.com/boxing
Words by Claire Bloomfield