Who doesn’t want to be a superstar? It’s a dream that’s in every boxer’s mind, a plateau that most will never get close to. 24 year old Amir Khan is one of the select few who may just get there. Trained by Freddie Roach, a champion in a loaded division, and a fighter who can call Manny Pacquiao a regular sparring partner, Khan has used 2010 as an announcement of his intent to conquer America. Part one was successful, when he shut the mouth of Paulie Malignaggi this past May.
Part two comes this Saturday (December 11), when Khan defends his WBA junior welterweight title against dangerous slugger Marcos Maidana. Khan is without question the better technical fighter. But so was Victor Ortiz, who Maidana beat down and made quit. And in Khan’s case, he was also the “better fighter” when he suffered his only defeat, a surprise 2008 1st round KO to another limited power-puncher in Breidis Prescott.
Thus, December 11 offers many possibilities to Amir Khan. One is gaining the respect or dismissal of American fight fans. Another is dispelling or verifying the question of whether he has a suspect chin. Is Amir Khan one of the future torch-bearers for boxing?
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: How has the fan reception been since you’ve arrived in Las Vegas?
Amir Khan: It’s really good, everywhere we went people are talking about the fight. On the Strip you’re seeing pictures of yourself up in the lights. The boxing hotel (Mandalay Bay) where the fight’s going to be should have a huge turn out there. It’s big enough for the biggest young fighter from Britain to come and defend the title in Las Vegas. Everyone has been doing a great job.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: From your viewpoint, what is the biggest difference you see between UK and U.S. fight fans?
Khan: It’s different in the UK because you have non-boxing fans who know who you are. When people come to UK fights, they might not care if you win or lose. They just want to see you perform and others in the event. Here the boxing fans are really passionate and want to see a good night of boxing. That’s why this fight is going to be so good, because he (Maidana) is coming to win, and I have a good style myself.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: The big debate going into this fight is whether your chin can hold up to Maidana’s power. But considering you’re a solid puncher, do you have your own questions about Maidana’s ability to take your punch?
Khan: Exactly. A lot of people talk about his style, but I don’t think he’ll be able to take my power. We’re going to let him go into this fight thinking it’s going to be easy. When he gets caught and hit, he’s going to think twice about his tactics. It’s going to break him down. We’re going to beat this guy, and any mistakes we’re going to capitalize on. One thing they’re forgetting is the power we have.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Freddie Roach has already talked about you facing Floyd Mayweather at 147 pounds. Does that mean your days at junior welterweight are numbered?
Khan: Well I want to unify this division. I already have one world title, and I want to another couple [belts]. The way my body’s feeling, I’m sure I’ll move to 147 in the next 12 months. I’ll be nice and strong, and fit in the division quite well.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: To unify, the winner of Devon Alexander vs. Timothy Bradley will be your target. Who do you favor in that fight and why?
Khan: I think Bradley is going to win with experience. I think he’s the better boxer and fighter. I think Devon is going to get pushed into the deep end. When Bradley does that, I think Devon will have problems.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Style-wise, do you think Bradley would be the tougher assignment for you?
Khan: I think both of them are even to be honest with you. I’ll just fight both of them after this fight.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: A lot of people don’t come back from a devastating loss like you experienced with Breidis Prescott. How were you able to not let that completely derail your career?
Khan: It’s up to the individual fighter. I knew I made a mistake, and it made me a better and more focused fighter. It was a blessing in disguise. I think if I won, I wouldn’t be in this position. It showed me what not do and that’s how I bounced back stronger.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: In your last fight, Paulie Malignaggi used a lot of trash talk, even referring to you as a “con” that was trying to get over on the fans. Were you surprised that he gained so much respect for you after the fight?
Khan: I’m sure this fight will be the same thing. With my style, it changes people’s views. The way Malignaggi got beaten, it made him realize that look, he didn’t just get beat, he got gutted.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: In early 2009 there was talk about you facing Ricky Hatton. That would have been a potential passing of the torch match. How close was it to happening?
Khan: The fight could happen in the future. It’s a fight people wanted to see. One, me and Ricky are very good friends. And two it’s a big UK fight, with two British champions. He was never on my radar because we are such good friends. But I know if the fight ever did happen, I know it would be the biggest fight in Britain for a long, long time. We’ll go with the flow. He’s retired now, but in boxing anything can happen. If it makes sense financially, I’m sure we’ll both take it.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You are a prizefighter, so business cannot be neglected. But for you what is more important, your lasting legacy as a boxer, or how much money you can make in your career?
Khan: Legacy, that’s what the people look at more, how you come across. How you proved people wrong and the big fights. The legacy I want, the money comes with that. It’ll stand out a lot more.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You know the perception of Muslims and Islam here in the West. Do you feel pressure to be an ambassador now that you’re starting to get crossover attention?
Khan: Not at all. I’m happy to be ambassador, and I want to show young Muslims what’s possible when they see what Amir Khan’s doing. I respect my religion, and my religion keeps me grounded. It keeps me humble.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: What are the biggest benefits you’ve had from sparring regularly with Manny Pacquiao?
Khan: Manny is a great fighter. He’s got speed, power, and training with Freddie Roach, he’s got everything a fighter wants to be. So if you can do well against Pacquiao, you’ll go into fights against someone like Marcos Maidana, it gives you a confidence boost because he’s not on the same level as Manny. It’s a greater push towards the fight.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You’re still very young in your career, but who would you cite as your toughest fight to date?
Khan: I think my toughest fight was Andriy Kotelnik, the fighter who beat Marcos Maidana. I hit him with all the big shots; he took them, and kept coming forward. It shows how good he is recently when he had a controversial loss to Devon Alexander. I thought he beat Devon Alexander. He never stopped [with me], he was like a machine.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Thanks for making time and best of luck this Saturday.
Khan: Thank you very much buddy and take care.
The Amir Khan-Marcos Maidana card airs on HBO December 11 at 9:30 PM ET. The card will open with Lamont Peterson vs. Victor Ortiz.