Boxing: Khan builds on reputation as Golden Boy

British Fighter of the Year defends titles against elusive Peterson amid sadness over friend Speed

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The Independent Online

Like everyone in sport, Amir Khan was shocked by the death of Gary Speed last weekend. He and the Wales football manager became friends during Speed's playing days at Bolton, the club that the world light-welterweight champion has supported since boyhood.

Khan heard the news in Los Angeles, where he is preparing for his title defence next Saturday in Washington against leading contender Lamont Peterson. "When a friend phoned from home I was stunned," he says. "It really upset me because I had got to know him quite well. He was a big boxing fan, and one of his sons was a promising boxer. Gary used to come to my gym to watch me train and I used to see him a lot when I went for treatment at the Reebok. He was respected so much by the other lads. He was like a mentor to them. We talked a lot and got on well. He was a lovely man.

"Obviously I've no idea why it happened but I do understand the pressures that sport can bring, which so often lead to depression."

No sport exercises more of those pressures on the psyche than boxing. Not only livelihoods but lives are at risk from the moment the first bell clangs. Evidence of this is vividly illustrated by the ITV documentary to be shown tomorrow evening on the fight and the aftermath of the brutal encounter between Nigel Benn and Gerald McClellan in 1995, which left the victor suicidal and the latter blind and crippled.

Yet often it is not the scars of combat but the vacuum in life after it that leads to despair and its tragic consequences. Khan is determined that it will not happen to him. "When your career is over you can get lonely and bored, and that's when things can start going wrong in your head. It's the emptiness, the boredom more than anything. Your life has always been about training and competing and when it's over you don't know what to do with yourself. I am sure it will never happen to me, though, because I have such a close family.

"When you are depressed or tired, that's when you need them and I know mine will be there for me. Also I'll always be in the gym training when I've finished boxing. I'll be sure to keep myself busy."

Newly named as Britain's Fighter of the Year and a shortlisted candidate for the BBC's Sports Personality Award, Khan certainly cannot be accused of idleness as he builds a reputation as the sport's Golden Boy on both sides of the Atlantic. The fight against Peterson will be the sixth defence of his WBA belt and his first as IBF champion, a title for which the American, fighting in his home town, is mandatory challenger.

Peterson is no ho-hum journeyman. Beaten only once in 31 fights – by Timothy Bradley, the WBC champion who Khan claims is avoiding him – he is an accomplished stylist who likes to crouch low to make himself a difficult target. But he lacks the one piece of equipment that would give Khan a headache in every sense: a concussive clout

It is an appetising match-up: Peterson's intelligent conservatism against Khan's fast-fisted flamboyance. Even Khan's trainer, Freddie Roach, reckons it could go all the way. "But Amir has matured mentally as well as physically in his last few fights and he simply has too much for Peterson."

Khan will be 25 on Thursday, and he acknowledges that physically he is close to his peak. After this fight he is likely to move up to welterweight, bringing him within hitting distance of Floyd Mayweather Jnr next year should the "Money" man not come to terms with Khan's esteemed stablemate Manny Pacquiao.

It's an intimidating prospect that would be the ultimate test for this impressive young man's burgeoning maturity.

Londoner Dereck Chisora failed narrowly to claim the vacant European heavyweight title, losing on a controversial 12-round split decision to Finland's  Robert Helenius in Helsinki last night. Chisora, far more aggressive than when he surrendered his British title to Tyson Fury in July, came close to ending the unbeaten record of the 6ft 7in giant, one judge making him the winner by 115-113 but the other two giving it to Helenius by the same margin.

Amir Khan v Lamont Peterson is live on Sky Sports 1 and 1HD on Saturday