Boxing: Khan's birthday bash can kickstart Saturday fight fever

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The Independent Online

Fighters, like jockeys, are notoriously bad tipsters, but Ricky Hatton will be heartened by the fact that five of Britain's seven current world champions including amateur hero Frankie Gavin think he will beat Floyd Mayweather. Only Junior Witter and Clinton Woods demur.

Now Amir Khan, his erstwhile stablemate, offers his support. "I'll be backing Ricky," Khan says. "He can do it. The way he's been training, he looks terrific. He could be too strong for Floyd."

Saturday fight fever begins in Bolton next weekend, where Khan has his sold-out 21st birthday bash against Luton's Graham Earl. He then plans to watch Hatton's early-hours endeavours in Las Vegas.

Khan hopes to make a second successful defence of his Commonwealth lightweight title against the 29-year-old former British champion from Luton, who is his best opponent yet. Earl has lost only twice in 27 fights, the last of them an enthralling attempt to win the WBO title against the Australian Michael Katsidis, one of the outstanding fights of the year in which both men blitzed each other until Earl was reluctantly retired by his corner.

"This fight will prove who is the best lightweight in Britain," says Khan. "Graham is a good, pressure fighter."

Many of Khan's 15 opponents have talked a good fight only to mentally buckle at the sound of the first bell, but Earl is no bottler. He may get knocked down but he gets up and fights back. It could be some scrap. Just how seriously Earl is taking it can be gauged from his decision to spend the past month training in Florida. He has not fought since losing to Katsidis in February, and how heavy a toll the savagery of their exchanges has taken could be decisive.

A quick win over Earl would suit Khan's trainer, Oliver Harrison, who has to hotfoot it down the M6 to Wigan where one of his other charges, Jamie Moore, bids for the European light-middleweight title against Russia's Zaurbek Baysangurov.

Khan says he would like to follow Hatton and fight in America. Victory would be the icing on Khan's cake and, as he comes of age, the key to the door for even bigger things in 2008.