Boxing: Cool Khan can thrive on star billing in Washington
It is thought that more than 9,000 people have paid to watch Amir Khan fight in Washington DC tonight, proving that the teenager from the Athens Olympics is finally, against the odds and reason, a global star of the ring.
Khan has been in the American capital before, when he walked the famous corridors and met, through official invite, Hillary Clinton. It is doubtful if that brief encounter helped shift tickets for his double world title defence against former street-child Lamont Peterson, at the Walter E Washington Convention Centre tonight. Khan is now a genuine main attraction on HBO, who dominate and control boxing in the United States, which remains the sport's most lucrative market. There is also a cheap ticket at $25, which would simply not be possible in Britain, to bring in any casual fans struggling to balance the books at Christmas.
Peterson lived rough, survived a torrid life on the capital's streets but now lives in Memphis and is virtually unknown in his hometown. However, it is Khan's presence on HBO and his desperate struggle and toe-to-toe fight last December against Marcos Maidana that has transformed him from quality British fighter to international boxer of acclaim.
Khan, now 25, has not changed from the tiny boy who boldly slugged his way to the Olympic final when he was just 17. His body has taken shape and been reshaped under a variety of conditioning experts since turning professional, but the boy has essentially remained hidden under the hardened muscles and increased facial hair. He was an innocent soul back then; now he is wiser but still as kind.
His passage from contender to television attraction and then sickening knockout victim has been told and re-told, as has his anonymous flit under the cover of night to Los Angeles and the retreat offered inside the filthy walls of Freddie Roach's gym. The boy from Bolton has most certainly done it his way and deservedly takes his place with the other big boys in the BBC's shortlist for this year's Sports Personality award.
Tonight he has to overcome a slick fighter whose only defeat in 31 fights was against Khan's rival Tim Bradley in a forgettable 12-rounder for the World Boxing Organisation's bauble. Bradley remains unbeaten but delusional about his financial worth in a showdown, which has now probably vanished for good, against Khan.
The bookies have for some reason taken the view that Khan is a massive favourite against Peterson, who is not struggling with the weight, has not been knocked out and is just two years older than Khan. It is one of the oddest pieces of bookmaking that I have seen regarding a British boxer in a world title fight in America. I can only assume that Khan's partnership with Roach and Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy company has altered his status in the eyes of the odds-makers and the American fans. He is most certainly not viewed as "the plucky Brit".
The reality is that both boxers can be caught, hurt and dropped in serious fights. There is a decent bet of about 10-1 that Khan ends up at some point on the canvas, gets up and wins. Peterson will also have the added motivation of knowing that he can jump above Khan in the disorderly line of fighters who have a chance of meeting either of the sport's cash cows: Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jnr.
There has been only refreshingly mild trash-talking from both camps and the overall tone has been respectful, which seems at odds with what will be a heaving crowd once the first bell sounds. It seems nice guys do sell and Peterson, who is attached to many homeless causes, has thankfully not bothered with the usual list of anti-British insults. I imagine it is quite daunting facing Khan across a table when on one elbow rests Roach, neatly balanced by De La Hoya's perfect smile on the other. It is not always this pleasant with Khan and when he met Bradley at a fight in May there was a word or two exchanged; it was only Khan talking: "I told him he needed to grow some balls. He never said a word, but some of his team started to get brave." Thankfully, in boxing there still exists a need for a crafted and valid comment and Khan seems to know when to open his mouth.
"I have looked at Amir's fights and the minute with [Breidis] Prescott is the one that matters," claimed Peterson. "When that fight was over, matchmaking was used as an excuse but it had nothing to do with that. That's the fight I've worked on." Prescott knocked Khan senseless in just over 60 seconds in September 2008; Khan flew to Roach's safe haven a few hours later.
"It seems that everybody I fight looks at the loss to Prescott and thinks that they can repeat what he did," said Khan. "I was different in so many ways then: no Freddie, different weight and a different approach to boxing. Let Lamont try like all the others have tried since that fight." Peterson will try and will fall short. Khan, however, will need to perform with more of his brain than his power before winning wide or stopping the American late. It will still be a hard, hard fight.
Tale Of The Tape
Lamont Peterson / Amir Khan
27 / Age / 25
Washington / Born / Bolton
Havoc / Nickname / King Khan
5ft 9 / Height / 5ft 10
188cm / Reach / 180cm
Orthodox / Stance / Orthodox
Title / IBF/WBA /World Super-Lightweight Champion (Amir Khan)
31 / Fights / 27
29 / Won / 26
15 / KOs / 18
1 / Lost / 1
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