Khan strives to lessen Muslim fear factor
Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, Muslims in the United States have come under much greater scrutiny and have in many cases been harassed for no reason other than that they fit a profile.
Boxer Amir Khan is no different. Despite being an Olympic silver medalist and the holder of the World Boxing Association super lightweight world title, he’s experienced distrust in the U.S. and faced additional scrutiny in airports.
He was born in Bolton, England, but he’s a Muslim of Pakistani descent. Life in the U.S. changed dramatically for Muslims after 9/11, and even a decade later they feel the effects.
When Khan flew to Los Angeles from London last month to begin preparations for his July 23 unification bout with Zab Judah at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, he was detained at customs for an additional two hours before he was able to proceed. He said it’s been that way on his last four or five trips to the U.S.
He said he understands the need for additional security because of global terrorism, but said Americans have no reason to be fearful of most Muslims. And Khan, whose goal is to become the top boxer in the world, said he wants to serve as an example for Muslims and to help eliminate the misunderstandings that exist between Americans and Muslims.
“I think I’ll have the power to make an impact,” Khan said. “Some people have the wrong perception about [Muslims]. Not all Muslims are [terrorists]. The truth is, it’s a very, very small percentage. I think I am a guy who could be a uniter and bring together people of all these races and religions.
“I sell out arenas in England and when I look around at the crowd, there are people of all colors and races in the arena, and they’re rooting for me. Sport can be used as a positive in this kind of situation to transcend these kinds of barriers and to promote a deeper, more sincere understanding.”
On the boxing front, Khan has a difficult time understanding why he’s fighting Judah instead of unbeaten Timothy Bradley on July 23.
Golden Boy Promotions wanted to make a bout with Bradley, who holds the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization belts. When Bradley, who has issues with promoter Gary Shaw, balked, Khan instructed Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer to do what it takes to get the fight done.
Bradley was eventually offered the unheard of sum of 60 percent of the U.K. television money, in addition to his purse. In most scenarios, when an American fights a foreign fighter, the foreign fighter gets the television money generated from his home country.
Khan, though, so badly wanted to make the fight with Bradley, who is widely regarded as the best super lightweight in the world and is seventh in the Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound rankings, that he agreed to offer him more than half the British television money.
He wants to be the man who replaces Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. at the top of the pound-for-pound rankings someday and he knows in order to do it, he needs to take big fights and win even when the odds are stacked against him.
“I could have insisted on the fight being in England, because we know we would have drawn a large [crowd],” Khan said. “But I wanted to come here and make my name in America and be recognized as a star by the American audience. I’m willing to fight outside my comfort zone. I was desperate for the fight, because so many people thought he was the best [at 140]. That’s the kind of guy I want to fight.
“I can’t understand it. After what we offered him, how could he not take the fight? He chickened out. He obviously didn’t want to lose his two belts, and that (zero) on his record was more important to him than taking a big fight.”
Khan praised Judah, who holds the International Boxing Federation belt, as a better fight than Bradley. He called Judah “tricky” and said he believes Judah is a harder hitter than Bradley.
Bradley becomes a promotional free agent on June 30 and is believed to be leaning toward a split with Shaw, hence his reluctance to accept the deal before then. Khan, though, wasn’t of a mind to wait. He’s committed to becoming one of the sport’s icons and is willing to do whatever and fight whoever it takes to make his mark.
“When you think of all the legendary fighters, the one thing they had in common was that they sought out the best challengers,” he said. “When I’m through, I want people to be able to say that I fought everyone there was to fight. I don’t want anyone to be in a situation where they feel cheated they didn’t get to see a particular fight.”
A win over Judah would still mean something. Judah, who was ahead of Mayweather at the midpoint of their 2006 fight, has rejuvenated his career since returning to the super lightweight division from welterweight.
He’s not the easiest opponent Khan could have faced, but trainer Freddie Roach isn’t concerned.
“[Judah is] a very slick southpaw but we’re working on it every day,” Roach said. “Amir is way ahead of schedule.”
He’s also ahead of schedule in terms of understanding the world around him and his place in it.
He’s wise enough to know that a boxer isn’t going to single-handedly solve a problem world leaders have been grappling with for years, but he wants to do his share.
“I’m the only Muslim Pakistani world champion out there,” Khan said. “I know that brings a certain amount of attention to me and I want to be able to use that exposure to try to change any negative perceptions Americans may have [about Muslims]. I want to be a positive example.”