Boxing: Amir leaves teens with title in sight

The boy wonder is approaching 20, and ready for the next step towards the top

"If someone said something like that to me, I'd walk away," Amir Khan, a football fan, said of Zinedine Zidane's head-rebuttal of Marco Materazzi's insults in the World Cup final. "But they never have."

One doubts they ever will. Amir may share the same religion as the French football captain but not his volcanic temperament, though it would surely be unwise for any putative opponent to engage in a bit of sledging in the clinches, as present form suggests he would quite legitimately be treated to a spot of instant pain.

Kid Khan is growing up. It is exactly a year this weekend since Amir, still only 18 and fresh from his Olympian heroics, stepped into the prize ring with a contract that made him one of the country's youngest millionaires. Eight fights, and eight wins, later he will be returning on 2 September to the venue where he made his professional debut, the Bolton Arena adjoining his home-town football club, for what could be the passing-out parade of his initial apprenticeship.

Amir will be 20 on 8 December, a milestone which makes him eligible to fight for a title, something he aims to do within his next three or four contests. This is why the Bolton date is likely to be his last six- rounder.

He had hoped that his next opponent would be Craig Watson, but it seems that the only man to floor him in his amateur days is not yet up for it. So Amir, as usual, will take whoever they put in front of him.

The show is already heading towards a 8,500 sell-out. "He is another little macho man, like Nigel Benn," says his promoter, Frank Warren. "He can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end."

Amir himself reckons he is "three or four fights away from a title shot". He wants to be a champion by this time next year. "I have always believed had I gone on to Beijing I would have won the gold, but if I do win a world title before the next Games I know it will have been the right decision to turn professional," he said.

So how does his first annual report rate his performance? "Quite good, I would say. Nine out of 10, maybe. But I know that there's still a lot to learn."

What pleases him most, he says, is the reaction of the public. "Half the people who stop me in the street have never seen boxing before, or disliked it, but they say after seeing me on the box they have a different view.

"I learned from watching Muhammad Ali that boxing isn't just about going into the ring and beating each other up. He had style and made it an entertainment. I want to do the same. When I finish a fight I want to hear people clapping not just because I have won but because they have enjoyed it.

"But I keep my feet on the ground. I was at my cousin's wedding recently and there were some people from Pakistan who didn't even know I was a boxer. When I told them they asked: 'Where's your bashed-up nose?' I don't look like a boxer, do I? That's the image I want to keep."

One criticism is that while Amir's punching has been sharp and snappy it has lacked real pay-off potency. He is aware of this, and revealed: "I picked up a couple of hand injuries in my early fights - something I never had as an amateur - and I have been terrified of hurting them. My right still niggles a bit, which is why I have not been punching as hard as know I can. But I have seen a specialist and he's told me not to worry as I'm young and my bones are still growing. He says they will have fully developed in a few months, so I should be OK. Once that happens I will start knocking people out."

While Amir was dispatching opponent No 7, Colin Bain, in two rounds in Cardiff last week, heavyweights Matt Skelton and Danny Williams trundled through a 12-rounder which underlined the poor quality of the division. Apparently the "Beast from the East", the 7ft 2in Russian Nicolay Valuev, wants to see a video of the fight before deciding whether to defend his WBA title against the victorious Skelton. He is unlikely to be fazed.

In contrast, Williams has already been fixed up with another fight, if he wants it, as a challenger for his old British title now held by Scott Gammer, 29. The Welshman is unbeaten in 17 bouts and will remain so if Williams reproduces the same lardy lethargy that saw him hauling his 20st 8lb bulk around against Skelton. Just what goes on in cake-a-holic Williams' mind? Mike Tyson, the man whose career he famously ended, was said, in his more erudite moments, to have a fondness for Rudyard Kipling. Alas in Williams' case it is Mr Kipling.

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