Boxing: Acrimony follows the ecstasy for silver star

Life after Amir: Amateurs put on brave face for the fight ahead
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The Independent Online

Amir Khan sat pensively through every bout at Friday's ABA finals, but there were times when he looked as if he was a million miles away - or perhaps it was a million pounds. His impending defection to the professionals is the fight game's worst-kept secret, and while his amateur days may not quite be ending in tears, there is certainly a large dollop of acrimony.

Amir Khan sat pensively through every bout at Friday's ABA finals, but there were times when he looked as if he was a million miles away - or perhaps it was a million pounds. His impending defection to the professionals is the fight game's worst-kept secret, and while his amateur days may not quite be ending in tears, there is certainly a large dollop of acrimony.

First the row over tickets which caused his original withdrawal from these championships at the quarter-final stage, and now a rather nasty spat involving his younger brother, Haroon.

The Khan family declared they would not be attending the finals at London's ExCel Centre because they believed that the 13-year-old Haroon was "robbed blind" in a Golden Gloves tournament in Liverpool last week as part of a "vendetta" they claim the ABA are conducting against Amir because of his courtship with the professionals.

"They have it in for him," said his club coach, Mick Jelley, "and they took it out on Haroon." Jelley threatens to throw in the towel after 40 years in boxing over the controversy, and the boys' father, Sharjah, says he will not allow his younger son to box for England in future; he will instead do so for Pakistan.

However, following a placatory phone call from the ABA chairman, Jim Smart, on Thursday, they were mollified sufficiently to be at ringside, and for Amir, as the guest of honour, to receive an award for his Olympic achievement. Amir then watched impassively as the young man he should have fought in the final, Michael Grant, survived a knockdown to win a narrow 16-14 points verdict over the big-hitting Swindon southpaw Jamie Cox.

So is there life after Amir? Of course, but on the evidence of these finals it won't be quite the same as in the heady weeks for the sport which followed his ascension to superstardom in Athens and put amateur boxing back on the map, and on the athletics agenda in schools. The ABA are gloved up for a spirited fightback, but it is certain to be a hard battle with no immediate prospect of another Amir on the amateur horizon.

A respectable crowd of 2,500 surely would have been doubled, and the BBC coverage live instead of on today's Grandstand, had the Olympic silver medallist been in the ring rather than outside it. The good news, though, is that largely on the back of Amir, Sport England are investing £4.27m in the sport over the next four years.

Part of the deal is that the ABA, for so long an entrenched bastion of Corinthianism, have to become more professional, and they seem to be taking Sport England at their word. Rap and reggae ring walks; combatants clad in colourful, culotte-length tasselled shorts and listed in the programme with noms de guerre like "Bomber" and "Chunky". Then there is the pro-am deal with the promoter Frank Warren, who sponsors the ABA website, and four-figure bonuses for medal winners. "Things are changing, they have to if we are not to fail," says Smart.

The ex-pro Richie Woodhall has been hired to work alongside Amir's Olympic mentor Terry Edwards, who has been elevated to high performance director. "A dream team to deliver the medals for the future," according to Smart.

Woodhall, who like Amir is an Olympic medallist (bronze at Seoul 1988) and subsequently became the WBC super-middleweight cham-pion, says he would like a few minutes of Amir's time to try to talk him into staying on at least until the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, now less than a year away. "If the money that has come into amateur boxing was there when I was competing I would have delayed turning pro for two or three years," says the 36-year-old BBC pundit, adding: "But even if we lose Amir there are some talented youngsters out there." Among these are the lightweight Frankie Gavin and the flamboyant 6ft 2in middleweight James Degale, both 19, while the heavyweight Tony Bellew, 22, has both promise and a punch.

As for Amir, he is playing as straight a bat as his cricketing cousin Sajid Mahmood about his future, insisting he is not looking beyond 16 April and a testimonial bout in his home town, Bolton, for his alma mater, Bury ABC. The popular wisdom is that this will be his last appearance in a vest before pocketing his first pro pay cheque from Warren two months later. He is even sounding like a pro, with an uncharacteristic blast of bombast, suggesting that he could have beaten both light-welter finalists "with both hands behind my back".

Amir has challenged Grant to a showdown in Bolton, but while the 21-year-old Londoner says "I'm up for that", you can bet it won't happen.

Neither will a rematch with Amir's Athens nemesis, Mario Kindelan, who, according to the ABA, has unretired and is among a seven-man Cuban team due to box in Britain in an international tournament on 8 April.

Less dangerous opposition is being sought to ensure that Amir leaves the amateurs on a winning note, and not simply a sour one.

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