Boxing: 'Baby Khan' steps out from brother's shadow

Mum's the word as Haroon prepares to follow in Amir's footsteps and equal his feat of winning an Olympic medal at London 2012. By Alan Hubbard
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The Independent Online

Boxing has never been short on blood brothers, from the Coopers to the Klitschkos, and while not all have made it together there is a familyin Bolton who believe the Khans can. Amir and his younger sibling Haroon are the latest to forge a link with the fight game, although not everyone in the Khan clan is happy about it.

Haroon tells how his mother, Falak, who was so distressed at ringside after witnessing Amir being sensationally stiffened recently by the Colombian Breidis Prescott that she had to be given oxygen, asked him to hand her his amateur boxing kit the following day. "Oh thanks mum," he said. "Are you going to wash it for me?"

"No," she replied. "I'm going to bin it. You're finished with boxing."

He told his father what she had said. "Dad had a word and reluctantly she agreed I could carry on – but only if I promised to stay amateur." He admits it is one he may be unable to keep if, like Amir, he wins an Olympic medal in 2012, which is his ambition, together with becoming a world champion.

One of the first questions Shajaad Khan was asked after his son Amir had won the 2004 Olympic lightweight silver medal in Athens was: "Are there any more at home like him?" "Actually yes," he replied. "And he might even be better than Amir one day."

That day could come in London if Haroon, 17, fulfils his immense promise and surpasses Amir by taking Olympic gold. So far he has had 62 schoolboy and junior bouts, improving with every one. "He has natural talent, and if he trained as hard as Amir did at his age he would have been way ahead of him," says his father. "Unfortunately he hasn't been quite as dedicated, but I'm sure that will come. You never had to tell Amir what to do but with Haroon you have to push him all the time."

Haroon is trained by Amir's old Bury club coach, Mick Jelley, who says: "Whether he gets to the 2012 Olympics is a question of desire. It is up to him. He's got everything going for him but sometimes he wants to play the good life, and the good life doesn't work. Amir fought tooth and nail to get to the Olympics. I still have to be convinced that Haroon really wants to apply himself to his training.

"Once he does, there'll be no stopping him," adds Jelley. "But in his last few fights he's looked good becausehis fitness has been really sharp. The thing is, he's become a man now."

Haroon acknowledges the time has come to make a fist of it. "I've listened to my dad and Mick, stopped messing around and got the message," he vows. "I'm going to get my head down from now on because I really do want to get to the top, to go one better than Amir and win an Olympic gold."

At Jelley's gym in the 71-year-old club, "Harry" has "Baby Khan" emblazoned on the waistband of his silver-sequinned Amir-style calf-length shorts. It is here that he started with Jelley as a nine-year-old, having gone along to watch his brother train after his football club closed down. He had his first bout on his 11th birthday.

He is an engaging and cheeky young chappy, not short of confidence or chutzpah, four years younger, a head shorter and a stone and a half lighter than Amir but growing fast, which is just as well, as he is currently boxing at bantamweight, a berth likely to be occupied in London by Britain's new European champion, Luke Campbell.

Haroon will not box again until early next year, when he is expected to be picked for Young England against Russia. He has fought three times for the juniors, winning by substantial margins. In the year Amir took Olympic silver, Haroon won a Four Nations junior title.

While he will never fight Amir, he has had to fight his brother's reputation. It is not only the Khans who believe Haroon has been the victim of prejudiced judging in several of his 11 defeats, most of which came soon after Amir upset the Amateur Boxing Association by turning professional. "It started a week after Amir went pro, when I beat a kid really comfortably but didn't get the decision," he says.

Jelley says: "There are good things and bad things about being Amir'sbrother. Sometimes it's not that Harry's been beaten but absolutely ripped off after winning hands down."

Since leaving school Haroon has worked in the Khans' boxing organisation in Bolton, helping with merchandising and the new £750,000 community gym attached to their offices. "I've learned a lot from [Amir], not only about boxing but about life," he says. "He's a great role model. When I go to some of these dinner do's with him, he gets mithered [pestered] and I watch how he conducts himself, because I know it will be good experience for me later on. Amir never brushes them away. He always takes time to stop and talk."

Jelley says Haroon is "fast-handed like Amir but more in the Hatton mould, an exciting little bugger". A lucky one, too. One of the perks of being Baby Khan is that for the past three weeks he has been training alongside big brother in Freddie Roach's renowned fight factory in downtown Hollywood, where Amir is undergoing his ring rehab alongside superstar Manny Pacquiao before his "comeback" fight in London on 6 December.

Haroon says: "Amir has been working very hard here in LA and it has been awesome for me, with Amir on one bag, Manny on another and me in between. It's like a dream come true."

What has to be determined is whether Haroon is the better equipped defensively of the two, although little brother disputes that Amir is as "chinny" as some suggest. "That first knock-down against Prescott came from the left to the temple, not the jaw," he says. "He will learn from that experience and become a world champion. And so will I."

Just don't tell mum.

Message from an icon: Amir Khan

Hopefully I will be a retired world champion, chilled out and getting fat in 2012, but Haroon, or Harry as we call him, will be 21 by the time of the London Olympics, and will have matured. He's only 54kg at the momentbut he'll end up a featherweight or perhaps, like me, a lightweight, and can win a place in one of those divisions.

Like me he has fast hands and reflexes, though if anything he's a bit more laidback. He's a lot stronger than I was at his age, too, and I've always said he has more potential – he just needs to apply himself.

I wouldn't say there's a great rivalry between us, although we are competitive and he would love to put one over me and win the Olympic gold. He can do it, too, if he really dedicates himself. That's the key, as everyone keeps telling him. I wouldn't mind if he did. I'd be the first in the ring behind our dad to give him a hug. He's not just my kid brother but a good mate. We've sparred a bit in the past but no serious stuff. We've had a few brotherly scraps in the front room when we've been bored, usually wrestling on the couch over the remote control.

I hope he can get to work with Terry Edwards, the GB coach, who helped me in Athens. He's great. Under him we have been catching up with the Cubans and Russians and have overtaken the Americans. I hope Terry stays on for 2012. He'd be really good for Harry because he's a quick learner.

I'm sure that Harry can medal and, as he says, he needs to be active and kept busy. He is finding fights hard to get, as I did at his age, especially at local level, which is why Harry needs to get bouts at national level.

I am sure he will do great if he gets to 2012 and, yes, I think he can win gold. Definitely.

Amir Khan, 21, won Olympic silver at lightweight in Athens and is now the Commonwealth champion, with a 18-1 professional record

The British Olympic Association (BOA), formed in 1905, are the national Olympic committee for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They prepare and lead the nation's finest athletes at summer, winter and youth Olympic Games, and deliver elite-level support services to Britain's Olympic athletes and their national governing bodies.

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