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The next time a promoter or fighter makes an excuse about not taking the bout that begs to be made, consider Amir Khan.
Delaying, dodging and spinning has become the biggest problem in boxing, especially in the glamour heavyweight and welterweight divisions, but England’s Khan, 32, has operated as his own problem solver.
Over the course of five bouts that will include his April 20 ESPN pay-per-view bout at Madison Square Garden against unbeaten World Boxing Organization welterweight champion Terence Crawford, Khan (33-4, 20 KOs) has been connected to literally every power promotion in the sport.
He fought for Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions while defeating former 140-pound champion Chris Algieri in 2015, then took on the massive challenge of meeting Oscar De La Hoya’s star fighter, Canelo Alvarez, in 2016, before connecting with England’s Eddie Hearn, then meeting veteran promoter Bob Arum’s champion Crawford later this month.
While heavyweights Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder seem to have insurmountable walls between them and the concept of a Crawford fight against Haymon-fighter Errol Spence Jr. appears bound to become a Mayweather-Pacquiao-like drawn-out affair, Khan both exposes and advises.
“A lot of fighters have fights they’re supposed to take or can’t take,” Khan said. “I never wanted to be known as one of those guys who ducked all the big fights. When it came down to the biggest fights in my career, I’m going to take that opportunity to go take them.
“For example, when I was asked to fight Canelo, there were people in his own division who didn’t want to fight him. I jumped up to do it. That’s the type of character I am. Sometimes being too brave can be bad, but it’s also about challenging yourself, making sure that I don’t want to leave the sport thinking, ‘I could’ve done this, I could’ve done that, and I left without fully reaching my abilities.’
“I made this fight with Crawford and it was quite easy to do, and that’s what boxing should be doing – the best fighting the best and not letting promotional companies get in the way of making the best fights happen.”
The cynic would note the toll of Khan’s bravery -- he was horrifically knocked out by the heavier Alvarez in the sixth round of the first boxing main event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
But, rightfully so, Khan sees the courageous undertaking as a legacy move, given that he’s defeated the likes of Marcos Maidana (2010 fight of the year), Zab Judah, Marco Antonio Barrera and Paulie Malignaggi and lost to Alvarez, former two-division world champion Danny Garcia and former 140-pound champion Lamont Peterson.
“I want that to be always mentioned … whenever there’s up-and-coming fighters, I want them to think, ‘We can follow in Amir’s footsteps … ,’” he said. “I’m trying to do it the way where people will want to be like me. It hasn’t been easy.
“Boxing is the hardest sport in the world. Thinking about my last 10 years in the game, I’ve been fighting at the world-class level, I’m a former [140-pound] world champion and I’ve enjoyed it, knowing that once I’m retired, people will take more notice and take appreciation of the fact that, ‘This guy Amir fought everybody for the last 10 years he was in boxing … .’ ”
Promoters may argue that they can better protect a fighter like Khan or Mikey Garcia (versus Spence) from their own bold nature, but Khan said there’s a valuable secret to his pursuit that has now led him to Nebraska’s Crawford, ranked boxing’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter by The Times and other publications.
“Make sure you’ve got a good lawyer, and make sure everything you have contracted with your promoter designates that you can fight whoever’s at the top of the game, because you have leverage,” Khan said. “If that means crossing promotions to get that guy, you have to. I’ve always been that type of guy to fight the guys from different companies, and I’ve profited off it.”
Khan has reunited with respected Bay Area trainer Virgil Hunter after a Hunter health scare for the Crawford fight, and after defeating virtual unknowns Phil LoGreco and Samuel Vargas post-Alvarez, he finds inspiration from the lesson of losing to Canelo.
“I watch and learn more from my losses than the wins. I watch those fights all the time. People expected me to lose that fight, but I don’t think I’ll ever make those mistakes again … it was a split second that I paused and stopped my feet. That’s when I got caught,” Khan said.
“If I just kept doing what I was doing in the early rounds – I was winning the fight. If I had kept it boring, kept it simple and kept moving well, I would’ve been fine. But sometimes you think when you’re having success, you can try to change things up. I thought I could stand there a little bit. That was a mistake, but the more you watch these videos, the more experience you get.”
Crawford is considered a killer in his division, although Khan has taken notice of the champion’s thin resume of beaten foes.
“This is my own weight. I’m not going to experience the power that Canelo has. [Crawford] has a lot of skill and speed. It will be a game of chess at times, and then there’ll be a time we’re both going to have to dig deep and pressure one another,” Khan said.
The Brit definitely knows how to do that, as the Maidana fight proved.
“Crawford has had these fights that are walks in the park, where he’s beaten guys quite comfortably and not gotten into a messy fight,” Khan said. “I’ve been quite the opposite. I’ve been in that place where it’s been a hard, rough fight. I don’t think he has.
“Crawford is very clever, but he hasn’t fought anyone who can box as well as him, so there’ll be new things he’ll see, and that’s why I took the fight. I took a week to break down the fight when they offered it to me, and I thought it was perfect for me. I like the way he fights – very brilliant, very dangerous – but that’s what lifts me. I need the biggest fights to motivate me, to get me into my best condition and get me truly ready for a real fight.”
Ryan Garcia takeaways
The 20-year-old lightweight needed only two rounds to dispose of Puerto Rico’s Jose Lopez on Saturday in Indio, but the pre-fight distractions that included attending the birth of his daughter 10 days before the fight were a formidable test for the touted prospect.
“I learned how to be a true professional no matter what’s going on around me,” Garcia said. “I felt like I couldn’t get out of the media … everywhere I went, they just wanted to set [traps]. You guys are something else … .
“It’s all good. It taught me something about myself because I had never felt the burn of social media … it was all negative, but in social media, it’s lies, because a lot of times they don’t know anything about the person they’re talking about. Regardless, I showed my character and how I’m able to overcome them.”
Garcia wants to be added to Alvarez’s May 4 unification against Daniel Jacobs at T-Mobile Arena, and his promoter is weighing the request.
“There’s a lot more things I could have done. I want to show everyone how much I’m improving,” under his and Alvarez’s trainer, Eddy Reynoso, Garcia said.
He’s also aiming for a world-title shot within the next year, and pointed mostly to International Boxing Federation super-featherweight champion Tevin Farmer.
“I could go after Tevin Farmer, for sure,” Garcia said. “I saw his last fight. Respect to him, he overcame adversity, but I feel I’m on a different level with my punches and accuracy. He leaves himself open. It’s different when a guy with velocity and speed hits you.”
It helps having Alvarez around as a mentor. The three-division champion departed training camp in San Diego to watch Saturday’s fight in person, suggesting a few tips in the locker room and praising Garcia’s potential highly afterward.
“We’re brothers. We train together, sweat together,” Garcia said of Alvarez. “We talk about how he’s been on a similar path as me. He was a young father himself. We don’t speak the same language, but the language of boxing is beautiful.”
Until next time