Boxing: How to cash in on the Amir effect
Now for Edwards' next trick - finding more British Olympians
Sunday 12 December 2004
After supervising the world- title challenge of his heavyweight boxer Danny Williams last night, the promoter Frank Warren is leaving Las Vegas in the hope of capturing another glittering prize - the signature of the Olympic lightweight hero Amir Khan.
The move takes a significant step forward on Thursday, when Warren will announce that agreement has been reached to feature Amir - and other top amateurs - on professional bills.
The historic deal with the ABA of England will be confirmed at London's Savoy Hotel. The 18-year-old Amir will not be there - he is attending a family wedding in Pakistan this week - but he has agreed to appear in a number of televised tournaments under Warren's promotion with the blessing of the amateur body, who believe it will give him the breathing space he needs while he considers his future.
The first pro-am bill is likely to be a double-header at London's ExCel Centre featuring Joe Calzaghe in a defence of his WBO super- middleweight title, and Amir, in February. It is a remarkable coup for amateur boxing, which now has the best of both TV worlds, with exposure on BBC and Sky.
For in addition to Warren's Sky promotions the BBC, who televised Amir's "homecoming" bout recently, will screen a series of amateur internationals and the ABA Championships next year, including a possible match against Cuba, now coached by Amir's Olympic rival Mario Kinderlan. This could be at a 4,000-capacity arena in Bolton.
All this has happened on the back of Amir's performance in Athens, which has been the catalyst of an astonishing revival in the fortunes of amateur boxing. This has included the return of boxing to the national curriculum in schools as part of a GCSE and A-level qualification in PE, and a strong club resurgence.
"Boxing, both amateur and pro, has been refreshed thanks to Amir," says the England coach, Terry Edwards. "He has given the sport a new, family appeal. You'd be surprised the number of elderly women who want his autograph - there was one lady of 83 who wrote to him saying she had never liked boxing but was enthralled by his achievement.
"It has also prompted a sea change within the sport itself. We cannot live in the past any more, and if the advent of these pro-am shows allows amateurs like Amir to stay amateur longer and reach their full potential then it has to be of mutual benefit."
With two recent victories over the US by a talented amateur squad and six gold medals in the Commonwealth youth championships in Auckland, the sport is on a high. Edwards, 61, a former London taxi-driver, was himself inducted into Sport UK's hall of fame last week, and Amir's club coach, Mick Jelley, has also received a national coaching honour.
Life for Edwards, who was in Amir's corner and constantly at his side during the Olympics, has not been quite so high-profile. "I've never been one for the limelight," he says. "I've just got on with my job, which is to work with the national squad. Obviously we would have liked to have had more boxers in Athens, but being able to have a one-on-one situation with Amir was absolutely brilliant.
"His profile could not have been higher if he had won gold, but he has handled it well. The reaction to his silver was far greater than that after Audley Harrison won gold in Sydney. Amir and Audley are chalk and cheese. Audley was a 29-year-old who had already said that after the Olympics he was turning professional. Also, he didn't come across in the same way as Amir, because he was a bit arrogant. He did create a lot of interest but it petered out. Then of course the bubble burst a bit when he did go pro and the public became disillusioned with some of his performances."
There was, of course, friction between Harrison and Edwards during the Sydney Games, and the boxer refused to have him in his corner for the final. "I trained Audley for four or five years. I was in his corner when he won the Commonwealth gold in 1998. I was there to do a specific job but it was unfortunate that we had one of those boxer-coach disagreements in Sydney. We fell out when it became clear that he wanted to run his own show and I wasn't going to accept that. Maybe that disagreement was what he needed to give him the final edge to go on and win the gold, I don't know.
"When you look at Audley, he's his own person. He wants to be in control of everything. In the years I worked with him that progressively became the case. He assumed a sort of superstar status. He wanted to tell me what to do and not the other way round, and I couldn't have that."
Edwards was in charge of two boxers in Sydney and only one in Athens. His task now is to get greater representation for the Beijing Games, and he believes the money the sport will receive from television will enable the ABA to secure more qualification tournaments here. "Since the break-up of the Soviet Union things have been very difficult, because boxers from Eastern Europe are everywhere. There's also the problem of losing your best boys to the pro game - eight of the 12-man team who boxed in the Commonwealth Games have gone pro, so we have had to fast-track less experienced boxers into the qualifiers.
"It's like Manchester United losing seven or eight of their Premiership team and then replacing them through their youth policy. You wouldn't expect them to win the European Cup within two years."
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