Boxing: Mitchell battles back from the depths to share Khan's limelight

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Kevin Mitchell was working the midnight maintenance shift on London Underground 10 months ago and at the same time Amir Khan was refining his tabloid image as the young, available millionaire about town. Tonight they come closer to an inevitable meeting when they each have world title fights to win.

Mitchell will leave the heaving privacy of the home dressing room at Upton Park and, as Stinky Turner and the Cockney Rejects launch into a live version of the West Ham anthem "Bubbles", the boxer will walk through 20,000 people to a fight that he simply must not lose.

A few minutes later the interim World Boxing Organisation lightweight champion, Australia' Michael Katsidis, will join Mitchell in the centre of the arena and begin to remove the 160 pounds of metal armour that he wears for his ring entrance.

A few hours later in New York, in the basement at Madison Square Garden, which was once known as the fabulous Felt Forum, Khan will defend his World Boxing Association light-welterweight title against local fighter Paulie Malignaggi in front of fewer than 5,000 people.

Malignaggi is a nice guy with a big mouth and he has, according to Khan's trainer Freddie Roach, talked himself into the fight, which is the truth.

Khan has more to lose against Malignaggi, who was halted in round 11 of a cruel and slow beating by Ricky Hatton in Las Vegas in late 2008, because his fight is all about looking good in front of American cameras and the American fans.

Incidentally, the encounter ends a run of Khan's fights on Sky's pay-per-view arm in the United Kingdom and will be shown live on ITV, who according to most reliable sources paid a tiny nominal fee for the pleasure.

"This is all about raising Amir's profile and taking him to the next level," said Richard Schaeffer, chief executive at Golden Boy promotions, the company Khan ran to when he left Frank Warren late last year.

The danger is that Malignaggi has a great chin, he can fiddle with the best and he can make good fighters look bad. Khan, meanwhile, has to stop him quicker and more clinically than Hatton managed.

The other, more immediate, problem for Khan, Roach and everybody else in the Amir Khan business is that there are two other high-profile and unbeaten world champions at his weight and he will have to fight them or risk the Americans and, more importantly, American television walking away from his swinging charms. It is difficult to manipulate the American TV paymasters.

Khan will beat Malignaggi, but if the local fighter wants to go the distance he will because he is slick enough. It will take a lot of spin from Khan's people to claim that winning on points is a better outcome than winning by stoppage. Khan, hopefully, will fight sensibly so that he gets the job done more quickly than Hatton, whose role as the division's official cash cow he will inherit in glory.

Mitchell lost his way from the boxing ring last year and found work on the Underground to make ends meet. "I'd had hand injuries, the fights were slow and I was skint. I needed money and did what proper people do: I went to work and worked hard. I will do it again if I have to," Mitchell said.

He had trials at West Ham as a boy and has re-defined the meaning of "home-town hero" with the of his promoter, Warren.

Tonight he will be roared on like a returning legend with a cast of real Eastenders thick as old-time thieves sitting at ringside.

Ray Winstone, the daddy of ring and screen, will be chief cheerleader and "little Kev", as he is known by everybody, will have to survive some savage spells before winning. It will be a hard night to forget.