In conversation with Amir Khan
When I caught up with Amir Khan, the Bolton-based boxer was observing Ramadan during a rare British heatwave. Muslims fast during daylight hours for a month - it ended on 17 July when Eid is celebrated across the UK - and despite it being an uncomfortable process the 28-year-old appreciates why it is a core tenet of his faith.
“Normally I’d be drinking a lot of water and eating five or six times a day when I’m in training,” Khan (31-3, 19 KOs) told Boxing Monthly. “I have been training at midnight instead.
"You’re thinking about what other people who might be poor or not as fortunate have to go through and you’re showing your support by fasting. It makes you realize that there are people out there who are suffering, so you try to help them by giving to charity - I have my own Amir Khan Foundation - and doing what you can.
“Fasting’s like when you have to make weight for fights, so for me it’s not too bad. It also brings you close to your family. The whole family is together, sitting down to eat and talk (when they break their daily fast). It’s something I hardly get to do because I’m travelling around the world training and boxing. Ramadan gives me that time.”
Prolonged periods of hunger wreaks havoc with the body’s internal workings and slows down your metabolism, which is not an ideal situation for someone who operates in a sport that has weight divisions.
“It takes about a week to get your body back to normal,” explained Khan. “You’re not getting the food or water, so your metabolism stops working the way it usually does and you have to start building it back up with a special diet.”
Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. These Pillars provide a framework for the correct observance of Islamic life. They also support and reinforce one another.
The Shahada, submission to Islam and a statement of faith, leads to the Salat, ritual prayers five times daily. Ramadan helps you remember that there are people who go hungry all the time, so it reinforces the need to pay Zakat, a charity tax. A pilgrimage to Mecca, Hajj, is the final pillar, something all Muslims should attempt at least once in their lifetime if they can afford it.
Khan’s faith defined him from the moment he turned professional in July 2005 - the same year as the London bombings - as he had to shoulder the burden of being a spokesperson for fellow Muslims.
“It was a very big role,” he recalled. “I had just turned professional when 7/7 happened, so, as a member of the Islamic community, I wanted to show that I was a kid who had taken the right path. There was a lot of pressure on me. I chose to accept that pressure and send the right message.
“I’m a Muslim Pakistani who is totally against terrorism. You always get a bad bunch in every race. I didn’t want people to think that of me or for it to change how people see me. I see myself as a British Pakistani and Muslim- I’m proud that I come from England.”
The sole member of Britain’s 2004 Olympic boxing team, the 17-year-old attempted to become the youngest Olympic Gold Medalist since Floyd Patterson only to run into Mario Kindeland in the final. The Cuban won, but Khan’s display garnered a lot of praise and he beat the amateur legend in his final amateur fight, which heralded ITV’s return to boxing and brought in 6.3 million viewers.
However, the British public can be swift and changeable. Khan trains in America and has had seven of his last eight fights over there. His social media accounts have been bombarded with some vicious barbs. Has the British public lost some of their love for 2004’s golden boy?
“The British public are great, they always come out in support of me,” answered Khan. “Sometimes, people can turn on you. They might not understand that I went to America to chase a dream and think I’m leaving them - it’s not like that at all. I’ve loved every bit of fighting in Britain, but to make my name bigger I had to fight in America.
“I wanted to become a global star to get the big names. The likes of [Marcos] Maidana, [Zab] Judah and [Danny] Garcia wouldn’t have come to England, you have to travel to fight them.
“I do get some criticism on the social networks, but it never gets to me. If you’re getting criticised, you must be doing something right. If it stops, then it means no one is talking about you. I will continue to do what I do.
“I love boxing, I love putting on a show for people. I’m an entertaining fighter, so I’m not sure why people take me the wrong way and say bad things about me. I just never let it get to me. I stay strong in my mind and do what I love doing.”
The welterweight contender’s PR man asked me not to ask questions about Kell Brook, arguing that too many recent interviews have descended into conversations about the Sheffield-based IBF titlist and his promoter Eddie Hearn.
Khan, though, did outline his stance towards domestic rivals when asked if he has adopted the Ricky Hatton approach of fighting in America and on US TV in a bid to secure a megafight with either Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao.
“Ricky did the same thing. He was always called out by people in his weight division from this country or a world champion from here, Junior Witter for example, but Ricky was chasing the big names, the likes of Mayweather and Pacquiao. Ricky never took a backwards step. I’m in that same position.
“Those fights might be there for me one day, but I’m within touching distance of a Mayweather, Pacquiao or Tim Bradley fight. Why should I come back to fight someone who is not at that level? I want to carry on in America for a bit longer, get those marquee names and then come back home.”
Any conversation about Khan throws up the subject of his chin. The former WBA and IBF 140lbs title-holder was branded as “Chinny” early in his career. Stoppage defeats to Breidis Prescott (LKO1) and Danny Garcia (LTKO 4) added weight to the claims, although in the Garcia fight, in particular, Khan went down from a big shot yet he got up and was on his feet when the stoppage came.
According to Khan, the chin issue has been exaggerated and he has shown plenty of moxie.
“I’m getting older and smarter. [Trainer] Virgil Hunter is teaching me to take my time. I used to let my speed and skill take over, I’m thinking about things now and it shows.
“I’ve been hit with big shots by big punchers. Garcia hit me with one of the best left hooks he’s probably thrown in his life. It hit me on the side of my face and ear - one of the worst places to take a shot - and I still got up. I got up three times and was stopped on my feet. People say I haven’t got a chin, but not having a chin is when you get put to sleep. I always get up.
“I believe it’s down to not having the right balance in the past, not having my feet in the right place and moving into a shot, which makes it twice as hard, or being off balance and not in the right position.
“When [Julio] Diaz put me down, my feet weren’t in the right position and I was turning into the shot. Anyone can get hit, anyone can get knocked down, it’s about how you get up and learning from being knocked down. I’ve learned how to come back from punches.”
Long-term, Khan hopes that his faith, boxing achievements and charity work will help and inspire others; he is a parent now and fatherhood has brought about a renewed sense of responsibility.
“Nowadays, a lot of kids take the wrong path or listen to the wrong people and it stops them from getting far in life. I hope I can inspire them to work for the things they want.
“I always dreamt of one day having my own car and my own house. I chased that dream by working hard and believing in it. It’s all about having belief in yourself, nothing comes easy.
“Some kids think they’re taking an easier path, but can end up in prison or whatever. If you work hard you are rewarded - that’s the message we need to send out to the young kids.”
Coda: Chasing big fights
“Some people might say I’m not good enough, others might say I’d make it an exciting fight,” said Khan when speaking to BM about the possibility of fighting either Mayweather or Pacquiao [Writer's note: the interview took place prior to Mayweather's announcement that he will meet Andre Berto in his final fight].
“You’ve got Mayweather, a very skillful and good boxer. Then you’ve got me, I’ve never been out-boxed by anyone and I’m fast. Mayweather’s a great boxer, no one can test him, but in his last few fights he’s had one dimensional guys who come forward, are heavy-handed and flat footed. They are all big names and good fighters in their own right, but they suited Mayweather. My stance and style won’t suit him. I’ll give him problems.
“Don’t forget, I boxed and beat Mario Kindelan, who might have been a better boxer than Mayweather at the time and was so skillful in the amateur game. Mayweather brings that skill as a professional, so I know I can match him with speed, technique and the right game plan - it’d suit me.”
Freddie Roach used to train both Khan and Pacquiao; he claims that the Filipino legend floored his former stablemate in sparring. Khan vehemently denies this.
He said: “Manny never, ever knocked me down in sparring. Freddie said that, but Alex Ariza cleared it up by stating it never happened - and he was always there during sparring. I used to get the better of Manny in sparring.
“Manny’s a great fighter, but I was a lightweight and light-welterweight at the time. I’d have good days then he’d have good days. I had some very good rounds against him.”
Mayweather is the name he craves, though; Khan once again outlined why he feels he should have been given a crack at the pound-for-pound king.
“I’ve answered every question Floyd asked me to answer,” argued Khan. “He said I had to prove myself at 147, I’ve done that by beating Luis Collazo, Devon Alexander and Chris Algieri [all W12].
“Then Floyd said he needs an easier fight for his 49th fight after giving us the big one with Manny. If he really believes he could beat me easily then he would fight me. I don’t think he sees it that way, which is why it probably won’t happen. Stylistically, it’s a hard fight for him at this stage in his career.”
The American has a keen grasp of how to attract viewers and knows all about demographics. If he met Khan - presuming he reneges on his decision to retire, and he probably will - the fight would bring in the sizeable Asian market.
“It’d be a massive fight,” stated Khan. “I bring a lot to the table as well. I’m known in countries where Floyd isn’t well-known. Pakistan and India have huge populations, over 180 million and a billion, so a lot of them would support me and not Mayweather. It’d be good for him as he’d gain more fans in those places.”
During a recent interview with Ringcast.net, Khan stated that Mayweather is running the risk of “messing his own legacy up” if he opts for someone else, a comment he was keen to clarify.
“I didn’t say he’ll mess his legacy up, people put that in the wrong context,” he said. “What I said is does he want to finish his career on a high or a low? People know going in that he’ll win if he fights those pressure type of styles, but they know I’d give him a real fight. It’s up to Mayweather now. I’ll leave it with Al Haymon [who advises Khan and manages Mayweather].”