Amir Khan: Pakistan tragedy hits me harder than any opponent
Compassion for struggling Hatton and harrowing journey to flood-ravaged homeland of parents leaves champ with weight of world on his shoulders
Sunday 19 September 2010
There is something of a fistic freemasonry between fighting men which decrees that when they are not in opposite corners ready to belt bits off each other, they are steadfast in support of a brother boxer who may be taking a battering without a punch being thrown.
Which is why none of Ricky Hatton's contemporaries are bad-mouthing the former world champion whose reputation as Britain's best-loved boxer since Frank Bruno is in ruins after a Sunday tabloid pictured him snorting cocaine, the drug which also brought about the fall from grace in retirement of another ring hero, Joe Calzaghe, and to which Bruno also admitted to resorting.
Prominent among those standing firmly by Hatton, whose heavy boozing and bingeing appears to have escalated into drug abuse, is Amir Khan, a friend who, in different circumstances, also might have been his foe in the ring. Khan invited The Hit Man to be a celebrity guest at a sporting charity night in Bolton on Friday. Instead Hatton was in rehab, with this message from Khan: "If you need help, myself and my team are here for you."
Khan adds: "I have been Ricky's friend and I will always be his friend. I am 100 per cent supportive. There's no point in me telling him he's been a fool, he knows that himself. I think he realises he's let everybody down and he has just got to overcome this. We'll do anything we can to help him, whatever he needs.
"Who knows what sort of pressures he's been under, depression or whatever? In a way I find it hard to understand because I've never touched alcohol or drugs myself – and I never will. That's because of my religion, which keeps me away from stuff like that. It seems to me that it's the drink problem that leads to the drugs. He and Joe have been elite sportsmen all their lives, as Frank was, on top of the game and role models, but it seems it's the crowd they get in with."
Khan acknowledges that he had his own problems earlier this year and, like Hatton and Calzaghe, he featured in an expose in the same newspaper, although in his case it was claimed he had sent sexy text messages. "Of course I regret it and have learned from my mistakes," Khan says. "I am a better person for it. It's made me much wiser. I realise now that I'm someone people look up to, particularly young people, and I want to be a role model. I've got an image and I want to keep hold of it. You learn that you have to be careful what you do." A lesson no doubt reinforced by a rollicking from his dad Shah.
Khan hosted Friday's event to raise money for a number of charities including Bolton's Gloves Community Centre, in which he invested £700,000 to offer youngsters the chance to box, keep fit and stay off the streets.
He has also just returned from an emotional visit to Pakistan, birthplace of his parents, where, as an Oxfam ambassador, he gave hands-on assistance at the flood disaster area. What he saw, he says, hit him harder than any opponent ever has. "You don't realise the extent of the damage until you see it with your own eyes, thousands of people who have been left with nothing. We were at a place called Charsadda in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It was total devastation. You couldn't help but be moved.
"It was heartbreaking, unimaginable. I was in Pakistan after the earthquake too, but this was something else. It's put the country back years. I wanted to do whatever I could to help people rebuild their future."
With his father, brother and uncle, Khan collected and distributed clean water, pitched tents and handed out money and food tokens. "We went into the camps and I've never seen anything like it in my life. An area the size of England has been obliterated and people face no present and no future. This tragedy has cut me deeply. It makes you feel so inadequate. I intend to go back again after my next fight because these people need all the help they can get."
Khan, who has already helped raise over £1 million for the flood relief victims, says he will dedicate his next fight – which looks set to be against the leading contender for his WBA belt, the big-punching Argentinian Marcos Maidana, in December – to the relief fund, to which he will be contributing part of his purse.
Khan's 19-year-old brother Haroon stayed in Pakistan, for whom he will box at the Commonwealth Games despite having represented England. "He has made the right decision. Every young fighter's dream is to go to a Commonwealth or Olympic Games. Haroon set his heart on that but he wasn't picked for the development or the podium squad even though he had beaten one of the guys who was.
"Just as I did before the Athens Olympics, Haroon had the choice to box for Pakistan. As it happened, I got selected but it was obvious that Haroon wasn't going to be so he had to take this option because he needs the experience of boxing in a major tournament. England didn't seem to want to help him at all. We didn't want to argue with them. There's a chance he'll go professional afterwards, depending on how he does."
Khan himself returns to Los Angeles in two weeks to prepare for his December date, probably in Las Vegas. It will be only his second fight of the year after his US debut in May, when he beat Paulie Malignaggi in New York. "There have been problems finding opponents and we've had Ramadan but it has given me time to do more charity work and catch up with the family. Next year I'll be back to fighting at least three times again."
He says he has no regrets about crossing the Atlantic. "I think everybody has seen the improvement I have made since I started training with Freddie Roach. Going to America made me a hungry fighter again."
He will be 24 on 8 December, a year short of the age when he said initially that he wanted "to put my feet up, chill out and grow fat". Now he sees himself boxing until he is 28, ending his career at light-middleweight and perhaps having garnered world titles in three weight divisions.
He currently has no plans to settle permanently in the United States. "That's where my living is but Bolton is home for me and always will be," he says, though he admits that he wouldn't mind a pad in London's Mayfair somewhere down the line. "Sometimes I get a bit bored in Los Angeles, usually when I am there on my own, but that's what you have to do.
"I am not the full package yet. I'm getting better and better with each fight, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. When I'm 25 and at my peak, that's when I'll really be dangerous, untouchable."
Donations to Oxfam's flood relief appeal can be made at www.oxfam.org.uk, call 0300 200 1999 or visit any Oxfam shop
Cricket scandal 'tarnishes my boyhood dreams'
While Amir Khan was in Pakistan he learned of the no-ball cricketing scandal back home. "As a cricket fan it disgusted me," says the world champion boxer, whose cousin Sajid Mahmood is an England fast bowler. "If the allegations are true, these players should hang their heads in shame for being so greedy when their country is ravaged. Pakistani people are fanatical about cricket. To have the country's pride and joy taken away from them is beyond belief. In my view they have betrayed their country and it has tarnished my boyhood dreams of cricket."
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