Boxing: The boy is doing fine in the hard man's world

The pro fight game is full of dangers, but the newest recruit is learning to avoid most of them. Alan Hubbard speaks to him
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Despite the tartan camouflage, Harrison's two-rounds stoppage of a podgy Pole with an unpronounceable name was not rapturously received by the sparse crowd. Amir can anticipate a much warmer welcome from the traditionally hard-nosed audience when he boxes on the undercard of the World Boxing Organisation featherweight title defence by Scott Harrison against the Australian Nedal Hussein. The show, to be screened live by ITV1, is approaching a sell-out.

The fact that Amir has invited his fellow 18-year-old Andy Murray to be his special ringside guest is certain to meet with throaty approval from the locals when the Khan clan descend on Glasgow. The pair have formed a recent friend-ship, comparing notes as Britain's two outstanding teenaged sporting prodigies.

"We are both having to cope with a lot of pressure and competing against opponents who are older and may be physically and mentally stronger," says Amir. An all-round sports fan, he likes to watch tennis, while Murray, it transpires, is an avid fight fan who has told Amir he wants to take up boxing training as part of plans to increase his stamina.

He could do worse than spend a few hours learning the ropes from Amir and the Olympic lightweight silver medallist's new professional coach, Oliver Harrison. Amir talks enthus-iastically about technical adjustments made to his style by the unassuming Harrison, who was hand-picked for the job because of his reputation as a tutor as well as a top-class trainer. Harrison's gymnasium in Salford is as much a classroom as an emporium of hard labour. Like his Range Rover Vogue parked outside, Amir still has the L plates on.

"I realise that when I did all that dancing around the ring as an amateur, I was just wasting energy. I am learning to balance myself better and plant my feet so I get better leverage to punch harder, using the flow to get that greater power."

Harrison has only been too well aware of the changes he needs to make with his young charge. He says: "As an amateur Amir used to rush in with his chin in the air. He has incredible hand-speed and this will get even better now he has learned to get his elbows tucked into his chest a little more. People have compared him to Naseem Hamed, but to me he is more like Sugar Ray Leonard. That's high praise, but he really is special, and the great thing is that he is really so keen to learn."

Mention of Sugar Ray is ironic. After the recent Boxing Writers' dinner in London, an excited Amir, his father, Shah, business manager Asif and uncle Taz drove back to Bolton through the night to be at the gym for a promised early-morning date with the legendary former world and Olympic champion, who was visiting Manchester for a speaking engagement.

But Sugar Ray didn't show. Leonard, who later visited Ricky Hatton's gym, claimed he knew nothing about the Amir date, but the word around the Frank Warren camp is that it was blocked by Hatton's people because of the ongoing feud with his former promoter, who now has a seven-figure, three-year deal with Amir.

If that is so then Amir is learning, among other aspects of his professional education, that boxing "politrics", as Lennox Lewis famously termed it, can be as hurtful as the punches.

Inevitably, Amir has been offered record deals, roles in films and has received hundreds of proposals of marriage. Several publishers also want his autobiography. So far the one major deal he has accepted has been a music video, due to be released shortly. "I don't like singing and I don't dance, so this is just about training. There's a girl singer, Jessica Moon, who's also from Bolton, and I'm working out in the background. The song's called 'Eyes On You'."

Amir won his debut pro fight in July in 107 seconds but was taken the distance in his second. Saturday's bout with Steve Gethin, 27, from Walsall, will be another four-rounder against an experienced journeyman, albeit one who has won only nine of 29 bouts, and who has boxed mainly as a featherweight. "He's tall and he's got a strong punch - he's knocked out five opponents. I'll take him as he comes; if I knock him out, fine, but otherwise I'll just box him, because I want to improve my work-rate."

He admits life has changed dramatically since Athens. "In a way it can be quite hard, sometimes I feel I have lost my youth. As soon as I came back from the Olympics I was labelled as a role model, which meant I couldn't really mess around with my mates any more like I used to, because if I did people might use it to knock me down. But I've got used to it now."

These past few months Amir has been asked for his views on everything from Wayne Rooney's waywardness to suicide bombers, which he handles with an aplomb beyond his years. He calls himself a hungry fighter, but this is hardly in the accepted sense. It is well chronicled that his is no blue- collar background; he is the son of a self-made Pakistani businessman, living in a five-bedroom home in the Bolton suburb of Heaton.

Any hunger stems from the ambitious zeal in his eyes, not from any childhood emptiness in his belly, or running in the mean streets. Talk with him about great fights and great fighters of the past, particularly his idol, Muhammad Ali, whose photograph adorns his bedroom wall, and you have a captive, wide-eyed audience.

Unlike Ali, he has not yet become a ladies' man. No young woman has turned his head, but he laughs off suggestions of a family ban because of his Muslim upbringing. "I simply haven't had the time for girlfriends, and anyway, I am very picky." There is talk that one day he might have an arranged marriage, but he says simply: "I know my family wouldn't force me to marry anyone I wouldn't want to."

Amir's married elder sister, Tabinda, 19, helps run his burgeoning fan club via his website, which in August alone had 300,000 hits. Next month they are opening another fans' site, called "Khan's Barmy Army".

He still lives at home with his father, mother Falak, eight-year-old sister Mariyah and, of course, his younger brother Haroon, 14, already a junior champion who many, Amir included, believe could be an even better prospect.

Shah often has to act as referee when sibling exchanges become more than verbal in their front room. "We spar a lot and sometimes, even though he [Haroon] only weighs six-and-a-half stone, he can hurt me, so I give him one back just to let him know who's boss," says Amir. "They like to mess around," dad concurs. "But if it gets too serious I break it up."

But Amir still has to do chores, like clearing the table, keeping his bedroom tidy and helping his mother around the house, though he doesn't run errands to the shops any more. He says it has become too embarrassing because he keeps getting everything for free, whether it is a curry or a haircut. "I'd much rather be normal and pay my own way. It's always 'on the house'.

"I try to get them to take my money, but I suppose it's their way of showing respect or admiration. I understand it, but it's not as good as it sounds. I've discovered the richer you are, the less you spend, which is mad."

For now, the hero remains a homebird. "There's no way I could move out yet. Living away would be far too complicated. I've got freedom at home. I don't want to be opening envelopes, reading bills and posting cheques. I've got enough on my plate. All that other stuff will come soon enough, when I'm retired as Britain's youngest-ever world champion, getting fat and chilling out."

From Bolton lad to folk hero

BORN: 8 December 1986, Bolton.

VITAL STATS: 5ft 10in, 9st 12lb.

AS AN AMATEUR: Three English Schools and Junior ABA titles, Junior Olympics, European Championships and World Junior Championships gold, Olympic silver medallist (Athens 2004).

AS A PRO: Signed a three-year contract with Frank Warren worth more than £1m after avenging Olympic defeat by Cuban Mario Kindelan. Has won both pro bouts.

ALSO: Other sporting interests include supporting Bolton Wanderers. Likes cricket (cousin Sajid Mahmood plays for Lancashire), swimming, tennis and athletics. Was Greater Manchester age-group champion at 1500m and javelin.

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