James DeGale, talented, talkative and new possessor of boxing's biggest bargaining chip, an Olympic gold medal, has good reason to keep a watchful eye on proceedings at Manchester's MEN Arena on Saturday night as he ponders whether to cash in on his middleweight triumph in Beijing. Boxing at opposite ends of the bill are the previous Briton to win an Olympic boxing gold, Audley Harrison, and the razzle-dazzling silver medallist from Athens, Amir Khan.
If the sometime model does go pro, who will be his role model? Former fellow Harlesden resident Harrison, the now humbled heavyweight who tried to do it his way, and failed; or the lightweight Khan, unbeatenas a pro and within clouting distance of a world title after taking a more orthodox route?
It should be no contest, but in this age of pug power you never know. No doubt DeGale will find an opportunity to talk with both, as well as a fistful of promoters, before making a decision that he believes is worth £1 million. The advice from Frank Warren, who now steers the differing fortunes of both Khan and Harrison, is to take his time. "He should bask in the glory for a month or two and then look at the options," says the promoter."An Olympic medal is a great calling card and I do not believe he will stay amateur until 2012."
Neither does Khan, who has his 19th fight as a pro against the undefeated Colombian Breidis Prescott. "James has done the country proud and what he has done for himself will change the course of his life," Khan says. "It's his choice, as it is with the others, but I think he and Billy Joe Saunders will make good pros. I certainly have no regrets. The problem is you can never be sure of anything if you stay amateur. Look at Frankie Gavin [the British lightweight forced to withdraw from Beijing with weight problems]."
While Khan is the main attraction in Manchester, Harrison is confined to a down-the-bill spot against an opponent who has not yet been named, the winner of the televised Prizefighter series, Martin Rogan, having withdrawn with an arm injury.
The evidence suggests that Prescott packs as fearsome a punch as his political namesake John, with 17 wins inside the distance in 19 fights. On paper this seems to represent a huge risk for Khan in view of the apparent fragility of his chin. But the ring reality may be different, for nearly all of the Colombian's KO conquests have been in his homeland against men who are more likely to be listed in boxing's Who's He rather than Who's Who.
Prescott, 25, and at 5ft 11in an inch taller than Khan, was brought up on the mean streets of Barranquilla, and warns that this will be no pushover for Khan. "I've fought all my life to survive," he says. "It is tough in the boxing ring but 10 times tougher outside it. In Colombia you have to run through gangs shooting at each other and dodge the bullets just to get into the gym. Khan gets paid a fortune and lives a life of luxury, but has he experienced anything like this? I've got the toughness to survive anything that he might throw at me."
The Prescott punch is not the only gamble Khan is taking, as the fight is the first of a new deal between Sky and promoter Warren. The question is whether the Amir allure, so evident when millions watched him fight on ITV, is now sufficient to prise £14.95 from Sky's Box Office subscribers.
The bout, for Commonwealth champion Khan's WBO Intercontinental lightweight title, represents a genuine test not only of his chin but of his progress under his new Cuban trainer, Jorge Rubio, who was brought in to add "a new dimension" to the 21-year-old's world title quest.
He also has to improve his defence. Rubio says: "Amir has to learn not to stand in front of his opponent but move laterally. You will see a big improvement in him but he will not be rushed. He will be ready for a world title in three or four more fights, not before. But he has as much natural talent as any Cuban I have ever worked with."
Khan vows "this is the start of a new era for me" and shrugs off the knockdowns he suffered against Willie Limond and Michael Gomez. "Getting knocked down has given me a wake-up call, although it is one I could do without. But in boxing you hit and get hit. I can't think of a decent fighter who hasn't been on the floor. Oscar De La Hoya was down five times when he won his first world title. It's about getting up and having the brains to stay out of trouble."
Technically, a potentially explosive WBO super-featherweight title defence by the Scot Alex Arthur against Londoner Nicky Cook tops the bill, but it is Khan who will fill the seats – and, he hopes, the armchairs of his new audience at Sky.Reuse content