Danger lurks as Amir Khan tries to rescue his reputation
After a year of inactivity and lurid headlines, Alan Hubbard fears for the once Golden Boy
Sunday 27 April 2014
It is a decade since Amir Khan won his Olympic lightweight silver medal in Athens as a bright-eyed 17-year-old who was Britain's lone ring representative.
Subsequently the quicksilver medallist became the Golden Boy, winning the world light-welterweight title in 2009 and moving to America before losing it two years later to Lamont Peterson after five successful defences.
Those years were always a fascinating roller-coaster ride featuring a brilliant but brittle boxer whose unbounded bravery could become his undoing.
But this past year, during which he has not thrown a punch, has been the most troublesome, and arguably most damaging, of his career.
I have known and liked Khan since his schoolboy amateur days, watching him become a shining beacon for racial harmony and community relations. I also attended his wedding reception after his marriage to American Faryal Makhdoom last May.
But I confess serious concern for him now. A fourth round ko by Danny Garcia in 2012 brought a third defeat for a fighter whose jaw is frighteningly fragile. This has been followed by two less than impressive victories, the last of which was 13 months ago.
Sadly, in this time he has made the headlines on the front pages of the newspapers, most of his sparring allegedly being of the extra-marital variety.
Reported trysts resulting in headlines such as "Love cheat Amir's night with model" and "Amir Khan't keep it in his pants" are hardly conducive to maintaining that iconic image. Nor, surely, have they benefited preparations for his ring return in Las Vegas next Saturday against the highly dangerous American Luis Collazo.
Khan claims not to have been distracted by the red-top tales – nor by the way his pregnant wife, due to give birth at the end of May, has waded into the fray.
These are issues he declines to discuss, ostensibly for legal reasons. But he does tell me from his training base in San Francisco: "I'm glad I've been in camp in America and not around all that stuff. I'm focusing on just one thing – to get this fight done." And he must do so in some style if he is to remain a significant player as a marquee fighter.
Part of the reason for Khan's uncharacteristically long absence was his decision to withdraw from a scheduled bout last December with Devon Alexander, believing he was on a promise with Floyd Mayweather Jnr. But the Money Man jilted him, and the anticipated $6 million (£3.5m) purse will be pocketed by Argentinian slugger Marcos Maidana, ironically narrowly beaten by Khan in 2011.
Instead Khan, for the first time, finds himself on an undercard, auditioning at the MGM Grand for a starring role against Mayweather in a future production. For masterful Mayweather, a clear favourite to overcome Maidana, as he has all 45 previous opponents, now insists that Khan first needs to prove his worth by convincingly beating Collazo, last seen here eight years ago giving Ricky Hatton a torrid time, wobbling the Hitman before narrowly losing on points.
Ominously Hatton warns: "This could be a horrible fight for Amir." But Khan, making his welterweight debut, is unfazed. He promises: "You will see a different Amir Khan. When I was at light-welter I was killing myself to make the weight. It was like I was fighting myself as well as my opponents."
Khan argues that his year's inactivity has worked in his favour, enabling him to spend more time with his latest tutor, Virgil Hunter.
"Look, God does things for a reason, and I really believe that I needed a long break off, It's not really affected me. The last 12 months haven't been as if I have been sat at home. I have been in camp; working hard and taking that time off sometimes makes you metaphysically and mentally a better fighter. We'll see how much better fighter I am on the night.
"I'm going to be focusing on this fight, and I'm not going to let anything get in between that."
Collazo, 33, a former WBA champion, is a big welterweight with five losses but they say you are only as good as your last fight and he looked formidable in his, a stunning second-round knockout of another former champion, Victor Ortiz. Collazo has been training in South Carolina, and has had two fights in the time Khan has been away.
"Khan is a good fighter, he's fought some good guys, but he better be ready for me," says Collazo.
To win this critical encounter Khan must shake off the rust, recapture the blistering hand speed of his earlier days, keep his chin down and his wits about him.
But I fear for him. He stands at the crossroads of a turbulent career. If he loses, Khan will find himself with nowhere to go and that Olympic medal will be a sadly distant memory. For once, I really hope I am wrong.
Khan v Collazo and Mayweather v Maidana on 3 May are live and exclusive on BoxNation
Curse of the Olympics
There are times when an Olympic boxing medal must seem more like a millstone than a milestone.
No British Olympic champion has gone on to acquire a world professional title and, apart from Amir Khan, only two other lesser medallists have done so — middleweight Alan Minter and super-middleweight Richie Woodhall, bronze winners in 1972 and 1988 respectively.
Gold medallists Chris Finnegan (Mexico City 1968) and Audley Harrison (Sydney 2000) both tried, Finnegan failing gallantly against American light-heavyweight Bob Foster, Harrison flopping abysmally against heavyweight David Haye.
The 2008 Beijing gold-medal winner James DeGale is getting his own chequered pro career back on track with a world super-middleweight title eliminator against Brandon Gonzales at Wembley on 31 May after recently boxing in small halls and shopping malls.
Of the two other medallists in GB's class of 2008, super-heavyweight bronze winner David Price seemed to have a burgeoning pro future until veteran American Tony Thompson twice summarily upended him. The giant Liverpudlian is now trying to resuscitate his career in Germany.
Light-heavyweight bronze winner Tony Jeffries also turned pro but suffered a series of hand injuries. He has now retired and moved to Los Angeles as a personal trainer.
One whose Olympic medal has been tarnished is Welsh welterweight Fred Evans, runner-up in London, who last week was fined for assault and now faces censure from GB Boxing.
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