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Boxing: Khan comes of age against a master of the dark arts

Marco Antonio Barrera apologised for being unable to take an earlier call. He had been out running in a park near his mother's home in Mexico City, an ominous indication of how seriously he is taking next Saturday's fight with Amir Khan.

But now he was ready to talk and to assure us that when he arrives in the UK this morning he is not coming just for a payday. We knew that already, for Barrera has Mexican pride. When he steps into the ring against Khan at Manchester's MEN Arena he will, as his promoter Don King bellows, be in it to win it.

Whether he does depends upon how well Khan has assimilated the lessons learned from his KO defeat by Breidis Prescott and the expert tutelage of Freddie Roach in Hollywood's Wild Card gym.

Roach will have prepared him to be on his guard against the wiles of an opponent who knows all the tricks of the dark trade. It was Barrera who rammed Naseem Hamed's head into a ring post when Naz got uppity in a featherweight title fight in Las Vegas.

But eight years have passed and the little hard man once known as the Baby-Faced Assassin, whom I would put in my top 10 fighters of the past 50 years, surely has mislaid his competitive edge. We hope.

He warns: "What I did to Hamed I can do to Khan. That may have been eight years ago but while I have grown older [he is 35] I am also more experienced. I still have the hunger to win another world title [it would be his sixth in four weight divisions].

"I have seen something of Amir, he has very fast hands, like Hamed, and he has youth but he has never met anyone with the knowledge and skills that I have."

Barrera says the inch-long cut on his forehead which he received recently in the last of his 75 bouts has healed well. "It is no problem. They say Khan has a weak chin, but I will not be concentrating on that, I will give him other things to think about."

For Khan, 22, this will be a test of the heart as well as the chin. But the one thing that he doesn't lack is bottle. Give him a pair of stilts and he would fancy his chances against Vitali Klitschko.

On a bill that features WBO title bouts involving the cruiserweight Enzo Maccarinelli and super-featherweight Nicky Cook, the fight is officially a world title eliminator. Khan says: "I've spoken to Naz. He's given me a few tips and he's confident I can beat him. This is a brilliant opportunity for me. I can't wait to shut up a lot of people after all the crap that was flying around following the Prescott defeat.

"Barrera will try and push me around but I won't get involved in his game. I know every move he's going to make. My gameplan will be about patience. I won't be rushing hands down, chin up. You'll see a new Amir Khan."

Significantly, Khan has four inches in height and 13 years on Barrera, and at the lightweight limit he is likely to be too big and too fast for a seasoned scrapper who has known better days. But nobody should blink, least of all Amir himself.

Khan v Barrera will be shown on Sky Box Office on Saturday from 9pm. Call 08442 410 888