Amir Khan on his fight against Luis Collazo: I can’t make any mistakes this time...

After a difficult year Amir Khan has been pushed into a huge Vegas gamble on Saturday against the tough Luis Collazo to finally secure a fight against Floyd Mayweather. He tells Steve Bunce why he is now a wiser and calmer contender

Amir Khan from Bolton is back in Las Vegas and trying to keep a low profile before he plays the crucial supporting role in Floyd Mayweather’s latest big fight.

On Saturday night, just an hour before Mayweather fights Argentine Marcos Maidana for a pair of world welterweight belts, Khan will step through the thick ropes and into the MGM’s increasingly iconic ring for the hardest test of his career.

Khan does not want to be part of the travelling circus of boxers, bums and assorted desperadoes from the fight game who convene each time Mayweather fights at the MGM in this faded fight city. He has opted for a suite in a nearby hotel, a haven for his shrinking entourage and he is safely tucked away 60 floors above the whirling neon.

“I just have to worry about what I do and that is why I’m up here,” says Khan. “I have been in Las Vegas before and I know that it can be hard to relax, hard to focus on what I have to do. I can’t make any mistakes this time.”

A fight week in Vegas can suck the soul, fight and energy out of any boxer. Khan, who is now 27 but at times still looks like the 17-year-old boy from the Athens Olympics, fights Luis Collazo for the right to head Mayweather’s list of future opponents, which is exactly where Khan thought he was last December when he agreed terms to fight the champion. “That was then. I had the fight and it never happened. There is talk about it happening after the Collazo fight,” says Khan. The “talk” is from tomorrow’s promoter, Richard Schaefer, and he insists that a good win against Collazo will secure a crack at Mayweather.

The problem is that in his five defeats in 40 fights nobody has so far managed to get a good win against Collazo. In the boxing business he is known as the fighter who nobody in the welterweight division wants to touch. He held a world title, lost it on points to Ricky Hatton in 2006, lost two other world-title fights against terrific boxers and has been shamefully overlooked for too long in a business where tricky fighters are encouraged to grow old and fade away through rejection. Collazo is a sore reminder of boxing’s ageless maxim that a fighter gets what he negotiates and not what he deserves.

“There were three fighters on the table for this fight and I knew what the prize was,” says Khan. “One was all talk [Adrien Broner], one made it too difficult to make the fight [Robert Guerrero] and that left the hardest one – Collazo. What choice did I really have?” Boxing can be cruel and Collazo, 33, a decent man from Brooklyn, is simply not marketable enough and will know in his heart that if he triumphs he will not fight Mayweather, who has several options for his next contest.

A win for Khan would arguably be the best of his career but he has not fought since April last year when he returned to Britain, after three years and four fights on the road, to beat Julio Diaz in Sheffield. A world-title fight in December collapsed when Khan received a provisional contract to face Mayweather, but he was then treated abysmally by Mayweather’s people before being rejected as tomorrow’s opponent. “It was not good, but there was nothing that I could do,” says Khan.

It was a particularly harsh rejection because he had beaten Maidana in a glorious scrap back in 2010 in Vegas. Maidana, however, secured tomorrow’s fight by ending the unbeaten run of Broner, a Mayweather imitator, last December in a wonderful slugfest.

“The break has been great for me and I mean that,” says Khan. “I feel like I have been in training camp for eight months and that has helped me. I have finally had a break from boxing.” The time off from fighting has also brought Khan and Virgil Hunter, his trainer, a lot closer, which was essential and could be the significant factor tomorrow.

“Amir is finally starting to think like a fighter and that is what I want,” says Hunter, who demands that his boxers stay in the gym even if they are not fighting. “Amir has put in the rounds with me and shown me some great things. We are ready; Amir needed this type of fight, he needed to get up.”

The delay in fighting also allowed Khan to get married, adjust to wedded life and deal with the inevitable revelations in some newspapers; the lurid tales in circulation are probably linked to one particular paper not even getting the chance to bid on last year’s spectacular wedding pictures. It has not been easy and that is where Hunter’s retreat across the bay from San Francisco has played a pivotal role in Khan’s boxing rehab.

“The last year has been difficult and it has been good to take a step back,” admits Khan. “I have talked a lot with Virgil and we have gone over my mistakes in other fights. I know what I do wrong, I know why I get hit and hurt. I now understand boxing better and this is the best of me.”

It is an odd admission from Khan because he has been the main attraction every single time in his professional career, starting in Bolton in 2005. He has always fought with too much heart, turning easy nights hard and hard nights into gruesome spectacles; the thinking time with Hunter is long overdue.

“I’m not killing myself to make the weight and that will be important,” adds Khan. “This is the fight for me, the fight for me to show what I have been doing for the last year. I just have to stay calm and not react – I have made mistakes like that before. Not now, not this time.” I believe him.

However, there are moments, just flashes when Khan looks like an old and weary pro; it is too easy to forget the hard nights, the defeats, the stupid mistakes, the struggles and the beautiful moments in many of his 31 fights that have made him such an attraction. It all comes down to tomorrow, Collazo and a fight that the boy from Bolton simply has to win.

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