Boxing: Khan antics stun Mitchell
Until a few months ago they were the best of boxing buddies but now their careers are separated by the width of the Atlantic and heading towards a fascinating rivalry. By coincidence both Kevin Mitchell and Amir Khan will display their considerable talents next weekend within a few hours of each other in live TV mega-fights.
Mitchell, 25, whom promoter Frank Warren calls "my diamond in the rough", tackles the Aussie hardman Michael Katsidis for the interim WBO lightweight belt at West Ham's Upton Park on Saturday night, the winner either meeting champion Juan Manuel Marquez for the full title or being installed as champion if, as speculated, the Mexican vacates it. Six hours later, Khan, 23, makes his US debut with a second defence of his WBA light-welterweight title against flashy New Yorker Paulie Malignaggi at Madison Square Garden. Khan faces an opponent who can't punch, Mitchell one who most certainly can.
Khan's defection has finally released Mitchell from his shadow to be Warren's new head boy, a situation he finds easier to cope with than Khan apparently has in becoming Golden Boy's latest star acquisition. Because of unexplained difficulties in obtaining a visa to box professionally in the US, Khan had to move his training camp at Freddie Roach's Wild Card gym in Los Angeles to Vancouver. His clean-cut image has also been damaged by a story in a British tabloid that he sent "lewd" texts and photos to a model he met in a Hollywood nightclub.
"I am shocked and saddened to hear this stuff," says Mitchell. "If nothing else, what was he doing in a nightclub while preparing for a world-title fight? Amir is a lovely fellow and we've been good mates but I think all the money and hype has gone to his head. He's obviously let the Hollywood lifestyle get to him. He's beginning to believe his own publicity, even talking about fighting Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather next year.
"He's not in their league. He's too vulnerable. You can't put muscles on his chin. If he couldn't go a round with Breidis Prescott [the Colombian whom Mitchell later brilliantly outpointed] he wouldn't last two rounds with them. He's just making himself look foolish and I feel gutted for him."
It was a subdued Khan we spoke to in Vancouver, saying: "It's all been a bit of a distraction." But he added: "I'm one of those guys who can shut everything out. I've turned off my Twitter and Facebook pages, even my mobile phone. I'm just totally focused on what I have to do to beat Malignaggi."
Mitchell says Khan has taken a soft option in meeting Malignaggi, who was thrashed in 11 rounds by Ricky Hatton: "He's a skilful boxer with fast hands but he can't break an egg." Khan demurs: "Malignaggi is a lot tougher opponent than Katsidis, who is always there to be hit and has never won a world title. I am fighting a former world champion who has been in with great fighters like Hatton and Miguel Cotto. I would rather fight Katsidis than Malignaggi." It should be a walk in Central Park against a mouthy opponent Roach calls "an asshole" because of his unproven allegations that steroids are used in Roach's LA gym.
Mitchell knows he is in for a rough, tough night but he can win on points if he sticks to the intelligent hit-and-move tactics that confounded Prescott. Under his new trainer, Jimmy Tibbs, he boxes behind a stiff jab, while his eye for an opening is as sharp as ever.
The likeable, chirpy "Dagenham Destroyer" shudders to think of the dark days when he was close to bankruptcy during a year out with hand injuries. "I had a massive tax bill which, like the mortgage, I couldn't pay. Me and my partner Amanda had a baby on the way and I ended up working on the railways at nights as a cleaner and labourer so we could eat. Fortunately Frank [Warren] helped me out, which is one reason I would never walk out on him as Amir did." The man Warren calls "the Wayne Rooney of boxing" is undefeated in 31 fights.
If he meets Khan, he has no doubt about the outcome. "I may be smaller but I hit harder. I'd knock him out because I know how to. Knocking people cold gives me a buzz. In any case I think he'll get beaten before I can get to him.
"I've heard Amir is getting over a million dollars for fighting Malignaggi. Bloody hell, for a million dollars I'd fight 10 Mike Tysons."
Mitchell v Katsidis live on Sky Sports 1 from 8pm on Saturday. Tickets available from Ticketmaster on 0844 847 2500. Khan v Malignaggi live on ITV1 from 2.45am on Sunday
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