Amir Khan: On Katie Price, drugs and growing up
It's time to set the record straight for the Bolton lad whose new best friend is Manny Pacquiao
It was nine years ago this month that I first encountered Amir Khan. He was competing in the English Schools Championships in Barnsley and an amateur boxing contact had marked my card about a "sensational" 15-year-old from Bolton. "The best kid of his age you'll ever see."
He was right. Young Amir, all flashing fists and scurrying feet, demolished his opponents in quick time, went on to become the Olympic lightweight silver medallist at 17 and, four years later, the WBA world light-welterweight champion.
It is some journey from Barnsley to Baguio City in the Philippines, where I tracked down Khan to chat about his upcoming title defence in Manchester against Ulster's unbeaten European champion Paul McCloskey on 16 April.
He is training there with the fabulous Filipino Manny Pacquiao, his new best friend and stablemate, in a state-of-the-art high altitude complex complete with running track and swimming pool. A far cry from his days as a schoolboy scrapper.
Over the years he has hit a few headlines as well as his opponents, though he is adamant that fame, the considerable fortune he has already amassed and the A-list company he keeps in Hollywood have not turned his head. "I'm still the same person I always was. I may look arrogant in the ring but I've always been humble. More so now because even though he is the greatest boxer in the world Manny is incredibly humble. He is an example to me, and I try to be an example to youngsters back home."
The point is well made because, at 24, Khan is not the first to discover that celebrity comes at a price. In his case Katie Price, aka Jordan, some tabloids suggesting – erroneously, he insists – that they may have indulged in a spot of horizontal sparring.
"I've learned to live with this sort of thing, it's not got to me one bit," he says. "There's absolutely nothing gone on between us. The media made it out that me and Katie were seeing each other and stuff but they've got the wrong end of the stick, we are just friends and we have only ever talked with each other. I think she is a really nice person, nothing like what people say about her in the press. Actually there are a lot of things that I am alleged to have done that I haven't." In fact there is no particular girl in his life at the moment. "I'm young and single, and married to boxing."
Having cleared that up, Khan is also happy to put the record straight about the split with his conditioning coach, Alex Ariza, following his gruelling title defence against Marcos Maidana, which Khan came close to losing in a dramatic 10th round.
The break-up, he says, had nothing to do with unfounded rumours of illegal pills and power potions being used in the Pacquiao camp – largely fuelled by Floyd Mayweather Jnr – of which he is now part. "It was nothing like that. We simply moved on. Alex was also working with Manny but now I have someone [nutritionist Michael Vale] who is working only with me. Alex and I still say hello to each other; after all, it's a professional game. But you have to do what you feel is best for yourself.
"The drugs rumours were upsetting but I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like that happening. People always say when someone is successful: 'Ah, but they take drugs, don't they?' Well, in my case it's simply not true, nor is it in Manny's.
"I've never been approached to take anything and it's something I will always stay away from, in or outside the ring. Drugs can ruin your career, people can be destroyed by drugs, and I am determined that is not going to happen to mine. I keep on training hard because it is boxing that's got me where I am and I'm not going to let that slip away."
However, Khan does admit to being annoyed at Ariza accusing his father of using Amir as a meal ticket "because he doesn't want to go back to driving cabs for a living". In fact Shah Khan is a successful businessman. "Some of the things he said about my father were very unfair, though they were said in the heat of the moment and I am sure he feels bad about it now. I didn't get that much involved, but my team thought it was best for a change.
"I'll be really strong in this fight," he adds. "I have been working on new things with Michael, tweaking things, making it a little bit tougher. I've also changed my diet and gone very organic, eating the right food at the right time, lots of fish and fresh vegetables. Now I understand what I'm eating and why I'm eating it. It's like having a petrol car, you don't put diesel in it."
Khan flies back from the Philippines today and trainer Freddie Roach will join him next week. "He'll be taking a break from preparing Manny for his next fight [against Shane Mosley] so it will be good to have him with me. I want to get this fight out of the way and then concentrate on a unification bout with Tim Bradley [the WBC champion] in the summer."
Kid Khan may be King Khan now but he happily acknowledges making a few mistakes along the way. "Most kids do when they're growing up. But I am a better, wiser person for it. I want to prove I am a true champion, someone to look up to. That has to be my legacy."
Khan v McCloskey is live on Sky Box Office. To order, call 08442 410 888
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