At the very least, Amir Khan has matched the very prodigious expectations that surrounded him after he won a silver medal at lightweight for Great Britain at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
He was 17 at the time, bright, personable and oh so gifted. Even as a young man, there was a sophisticated air about him. In the ring, his potential was obvious. He was hugely successful as an amateur, but his style was one more suited to the pros.
He was quick, he could punch and there was a feeling in 2005 that he could prove to be one of the greats in the long and proud history of British boxing. He was so highly regarded that he was the main event in his pro debut, and his card drew a television audience of 4.4 million. A year later, he was bringing in seven million viewers a fight.
He was only 22 when he won a world title, and he made five successful defenses. He’s fought many of the best boxers of his time, and as his day of reckoning against Terence Crawford on Saturday at Madison Square Garden approaches, he’s 33-4 with 20 knockouts and convinced he’s on the verge of a star-making performance.
Despite all that, there is a sense that Khan’s pro career has been more of a failure than a success, and that he got the bout with Crawford because of the loyal following he has among British boxing fans and because he was a guy who promoter Bob Arum was sure that Crawford could beat.
Oddsmakers are fairly convinced of that point. The sportsbook at the Westgate Las Vegas has Crawford an overwhelming -1800 favorite, while Khan is at +900.
Arum, who knows that to generate sales for a pay-per-view the fighters must have recognizable names and the public must believe it’s a competitive fight, has been on the Khan bandwagon since the day the fight was announced.
“Let me tell you something,” Arum said solemnly. “I’ve been around boxing for more than 50 years, and I’ve seen a lot of things and I know what I’m talking about. Amir Khan is a good boxer. He is a very good boxer. He is going to give Crawford a hell of a fight. If he’s at his best and Crawford’s at his best, I’m not saying he’s going to win. What I am saying is, if Crawford is looking past him to some other fight, which I don’t think he’s doing, Khan is quite capable of winning this.”
Arum’s words stand in stark contrast to those he made to the Daily Telegraph in 2016, when there was talk that Khan was in the running to fight Manny Pacquiao, who at the time was promoted by Arum. In no uncertain terms, Arum expressed his disdain for Khan.
“Amir Khan means absolutely nothing in the United States,” Arum said then. “He brought over no people for the Canelo [Alvarez] fight. He saved the Brits a lot of agony.
“He is not a draw on pay-per-view in England. He is looked upon on both sides of the pond as yesterday’s news, and yet he refuses to recognize that. He feels that his value is very, very high, which it is not.”
Khan smiled when he heard Arum’s words. Arum is a promoter and is selling his fight. Five years ago, maybe less, Khan might have been apoplectic upon hearing what Arum said. He would have let his anger impact his performance.
It’s different now, though. Is this his last chance? Perhaps. After a knockout loss to Alvarez in 2016, the Crawford fight may be his last best hope at that mega-win which has so far eluded him.
The key, he realizes, is to do the work in the gym, away from the intense spotlight, because on fight night, he’s one of only two people who matter. The words of the media, or of the promoter, or of mean-spirited fans on social media carry no weight once everyone leaves the ring and it’s just Crawford and Khan under the lights for 36 minutes or less for the WBO welterweight title.
Khan gets that now. He’s only 32, but he has been through so much that he’s almost numb to the slings and arrows that fly his way with regularity.
“I think they wanted to put Crawford into a big fight,” Khan said. “How many big fights are there out there for him where they’re not going to have really big promotional arguments or some issues? … They needed to get someone where there weren’t any big problems making the fight. When the call was put to me, they knew it would be an exciting fight. No fight I’ve ever gone in has been boring. It’s always been an exciting fight, regardless of what happens in the fight. I come to fight and I come to win. When they put all that together, they thought, ‘Maybe this is a good fight and it’s going to be a lot easier to make than a [Errol] Spence fight or another big name.’ With those promotional issues, they all have their egos.
“But with me, I’ve always kept it cool with all the promoters, from Bob and Top Rank to Matchroom to [Al] Haymon. I’ve kept it cool with all of them and I worked with all of them. It was quite easy to get the fight done.”
Getting the fight done is one thing, but being competitive against one of the world’s most gifted boxers is another thing entirely. Oddsmakers see it as a blowout, and give Crawford a win probability of around 95 percent.
One trainer who is familiar with both fighters but who didn’t want his name used thinks Top Rank is using Khan.
“He’s got a little bit of a name and no chin,” the trainer said of Khan. “They’re smart over there [at Top Rank], and they know it. They know Crawford is going to beat the s--- out of this guy. No way he can last more than five, six, maybe seven rounds. But they can sell it to you guys like Crawford beat King Kong. Well, listen, Amir Khan is a nice kid but he’s not even close to King Kong.”
Former world champion Timothy Bradley, who said he expected Crawford to stop Khan, praised what he said were Khan’s “lightning fast hands,” and his skill at 140. But Bradley, who became friends with Crawford after Crawford worked as his sparring partner in late 2010 and early 2011, dismissed Khan almost out of hand.
And while Bradley’s analysis of where Khan is today is harsh, it’s hardly a view that’s far outside the mainstream.
“He’s always made mistakes,” Bradley said of Khan. “That’s the reason why he gets caught, and gets hurt. He throws too many damn combinations, and still hasn’t gotten out of that amateur way: Combination, combination, combination, and he gets caught in between those shots.
“The only thing that is spectacular about him is he has quick hands. That’s it. Any welterweight in this division, and you can go down the list, and I’m talking about top welterweights, from Errol Spence, [Keith] Thurman, [Shawn] Porter, all these guys; [Danny] Garcia’s already knocked him out already, and now you’ve got Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford in the mix. They all knock out Khan. Every last one of them knocks out Khan. They all have punching power and they all have more than just hand speed. Khan is just hand speed.”
Since losing to Alvarez, Khan’s won his last two fights, knocking out Phil Lo Greco in the first and scoring a tougher-than-expected decision over Samuel Vargas. He’s fighting Saturday at a much more natural weight at welterweight, and he said he feels good having gotten the rounds in during his tune-ups.
He understands where critics of the bout are coming from, both those who complain that he was picked to fight Crawford and those who say he has no chance to win.
All he wants, though, is the opportunity to prove himself.
“For those people, and even Crawford if he’s thinking this way, that are thinking it’s going to be an easy fight for him because they’re taking me from the last fight against Vargas, I think I’m going to shock the world, definitely,” Khan said. “If they’re thinking I’m going to be the same fighter as that fight, they’ll be in for a big shock.
“When you’re fighting someone who is one of the best fighters in the world, you have to step your game up. I’m one of those fighters. I do step myself up. For this fight, I can’t fight like I did in previous fights. I have to step my game up quite highly. By having them nerves, by feeling that excitement and having that belief, it’s only going to bring the best out of me.”
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