Boxing: Khan faces a real test

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The Independent Online

There was a time when little Amir Khan looked like a boy but he most definitely looks like a man and is talking like a man in the build-up to his first real test tomorrow tonight at the Excel centre in London.

Khan, who is now 21, has filled out across the chest and even his voice is deeper and at times he barely resembles the teenage kid that captivated the nation during the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

After 15 fights, and to be honest there were very few genuine scares or causes for concern, of a prolonged apprenticeship in the professional business. He will be in a very real test tomorrow evening.

Khan will be defending his Commonwealth lightweight title but the bauble is secondary in importance this evening because the 12-round fight is all about Khan's progress from the Olympic boy to potential world champion.

In the opposite corner will be former world champion Gairy St Claire, who was born in Guyana but has been based in Australia for most of his fighting career, and he will test Khan's stamina, skills and possibly even his chin.

It is true that St Claire is naturally smaller than Khan, who is beginning to look like a freak at lightweight, but in 46 fights St Claire has never been stopped or knocked down and that is extremely impressive. Khan has spoken boldly and confidently about stopping St Claire and because of his greater strength and natural size, that is a remote possibility and if it did happen it would be a truly exceptional achievement.

There is, as I said, a genuine risk to Khan's perfect record and his place in current British boxing because St Claire, even if he is several inches shorter, has the necessary ability to cause concern.

"I was a world champion just 18 months ago and I won the title in South Africa. Anybody who thinks that I am here for a payday is crazy," claimed St Claire. "This is the fight that puts me back in world title contention. It is also the fight that exposes Khan."

The last time Khan fought over seven million watched him on ITV which is a staggering and long overdue return to the type of figures that he enjoyed back in 2005 when he first turned professional. If he can keep his head against his cunning opponent tomorrow evening he will win and if St Claire has started to slide then the win could be by stoppage.