Amir Khan and Audley Harrison enter the ring tonight in fights they need to win to stay in boxing’s lucrative deep end, and Martin Murray has a task without precedents in front of nearly 50,000 in Buenos Aires.
Khan is the only favourite but in many ways he has the most to lose if his fight with former world champion Julio Diaz in Sheffield goes wrong. Khan is just one simple win away from joining a lucrative carnival of fights that his promoters, Golden Boy, have planned for him.
Diaz has been made to drop four pounds from his recent fighting weight to meet the demands of Khan’s people for tonight’s test, which is not the walkover many expect, but will still be strong at a weight that Khan is experimenting with. Khan is considering a move to welterweight where superfights with Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather and Juan Manuel Marquez can be made and that is why fighting Diaz at 10st 3lb, three pounds above light-welter but four lower than the welterweight limit, is such a sensible move.
Khan switched trainers last year, leaving Freddie Roach’s bear-pit gym in Los Angeles for the more tranquil and measured domain of his new coach Virgil Hunter in the San Francisco area. The move also meant that Khan started to work with local resident Victor Conte, once sport’s most infamous chemist but now an increasingly respected adviser to a growing list of athletes. Conte, however, still has his damning critics.
“Victor has his own team and we have been working with his strength and conditioning coaches,” said Khan. “He has his own supplement company, but I haven’t used those because I am sponsored by Maximuscle, but he has given me advice on training methods and helped me out with his team.” Conte confirmed that Khan is undergoing random blood and urine testing with the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
Khan should win inside six rounds if Hunter, who mixes large doses of theory in with the sparring, is convinced that his new boxer is thinking and not just fighting. “Amir will become a more intelligent boxer,” promised Hunter, who just to make sure had Khan spar 180 rounds.
At some point near 9pm tonight Harrison, now 41, will look across the ring at Deontay Wilder, who is unbeaten in 27 fights with 27 stoppages or knockouts, and surely wonder why he agreed to such a potentially difficult night’s work. Harrison could have easily floated through the rest of his boxing life, talking about missed opportunities and plans that went wrong before a gentle, deserved retirement.
However, Harrison is a unique individual, part pantomime dame and part plucky British loser, and he has gone from instant millionaire, on his debut, to fighting at times for the discarded scraps in a division without boundaries of sense or reason. Harrison is now just a shock win away from a fight with a Klitschko brother. Nobody would complain if Wilder was climbing in the ring with Wladimir next week and Harrison only has to land one big punch to continue his remarkable story.
Meanwhile, Murray, from St Helens, will have Ricky Hatton in his corner when he fights WBC middleweight champion Sergio Martinez at an outdoor stadium on the outskirts of Buenos Aires in what will be Martinez’s first fight in his homeland for over 10 years.
The absence has not hurt his popularity and in 2012, after two high-profile title defences, he beat Lionel Messi to the title of Argentina’s most popular sportsman. In boxing terms, Martinez is probably the best and most dominant active fighter in the world right now, which is another reason why close to 50,000 are expected to watch Murray’s challenge.
Tale of the tape
Amir Khan vs Julio Diaz
26 Age 33
Bolton, England Birthplace Jiquilpan, Mexico
King Khan Nickname The Kidd
Virgil Hunter Trainer Joel Diaz
30 Fights 48
27 (19) Wins (KO) 40 (29)
3 (1) Defeats (KO) 7 (5)
2005 Turned pro 1999
2012 Last defeat 2011
5ft 10in Height 5ft 9in
71 inches Reach 70 inches