Amir Khan has become somewhat of a national hero since his heroics at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. In the six years that have followed, he has become World Champion, set up a series of local charities and is now preparing for the biggest fight of his life under the stewardship of legendary Oscar De La Hoya.
Charles Whitworth took some time out with Bolton’s favourite son at the Skills North West Event at the Bolton Arena.
Amir Khan was born and raised in Bolton, a city that he naturally holds very dear to his heart. For that reason, as well as preparing for 23 professional fights he has put a great deal back into the local and international communities.
So, what message does he have for the youth of today, particularly those looking to emulate his own achievements?
“Just keep working hard towards your goals and dreams, eventually you will break through. Never give up!” Khan has done precisely that, participating in his first bout 12 years ago and never looking back.
“I had my very first bout when I was 11, I’ve always dreamt of becoming a world champion and I believed one day it will happen as long as I kept working hard and stayed focused. All the hard work paid off.”
Khan has been heavily involved in raising funds for the Tsunami and Kashmir disasters and become a symbol for the British Muslim community.
This is the case to such an extent that he has been labelled “a standard-bearer among the Muslim community in combating terrorism” and “the single most important role model for a multinational British society”.
On a local level, the 23 year-old has also opened a gym for young Bolton lads (and ladies) wishing to break through at the top level – the ‘Gloves Community Centre’.
“You have to put something back into the community, it is very important. You can’t forget your roots and you have to remember that you were once a kid and know how hard it can get at times.” Khan told me, as if his community work was almost obligatory.
A rich vein of sporting excellence runs through the Khan family tree. Sajid Mahmood, the explosive Lancashire and England all-rounder, is Khan’s first cousin and Haroon, his younger brother, is also a boxer.
So is sporting prowess genetic or is it purely down to grit and determination? Khan believes it to be a mix but you need the right parental guidance.
“You have to be dedicated and work very hard; I think the parents play a big part in it too. If they get you into some kind of sport when you are young, you get a head start and if you enjoy it you will stick to it. Eventually you will make a career out of it if you have the ability.”
Khan’s all-time hero is, as with many boxers, Muhammed Ali. Prince Naseem has also had a big influence on his career, however, being from the same weight division.
“Prince Naseem was fantastic to watch, I learnt a lot from him and he is a very good friend of mine as well. He comes to all the fights, he is very inspiring as he has achieved what I want to achieve,”
Winning the Silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens at the age of just 17 was the first high point of Khan’s then fledgling boxing career. The aftermath of which brought him to his first life changing decision, stay amateur and get that Gold medal that he so nearly got at the first time of asking, or turn professional and conquer the world?
“Yes it was a very hard decision as I wanted the Gold medal. But to wait four more years was the question – as I knew I could do it. I’m very happy I turned professional as I was young and I have gained a lot of experience.”
“I have become a world champion and recognised on the world stage. If I went to Beijing and then turned professional then I probably would have become world champion when I was 27 or 28 – towards the end of my career. I’m happy I made the right choice.”
Khan’s first real “knockdown” came against Rashid Drilzane in December 2006 under controversial circumstances, with the ring having more to do with his fall than any punch thrown. Many sportsmen have been known to let their emotions take control in such situations, but Khan’s now trademark professionalism shone through.
“It wasn’t really a knock down as I slipped when my foot got caught on the ropes. They classed it as a knock down so I just had to get on with it and keep my mind focused on the job.”
The debacle led a small contingent of analysts to question Khan’s ability, the champion has had the last laugh however, with his career going from strength to strength ever since.
2010 has already been an eventful one in the Khan camp as manager Frank Warren was deemed surplus to requirements. Khan joined Oscar De La Hoya’s ‘Golden Boy Promotions’ on January 17th, but as he explains, this was not an easy decision but was in the end a natural one.
“Oscar de la Hoya is a legend; he’s one to look up to when it comes to what you can achieve. To have a guy like him guiding my career is brilliant as he knows what I expect and want from a boxer’s point of view. Frank did a fantastic job for me, but it was time for me to move on.”
Time was unfortunately of the essence as I concluded my interview, as Amir was a celebrity guest at the Skills North West exhibition but there was no way I was letting him go without asking him about the big fight.
Khan faces undoubtedly the toughest fight of his career when he takes on Paulie Malignally at Madison Square Garden on 15th May.
“To fight at Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of boxing is unbelievable. The world will be watching me against a great boxer in Malignaggi – who has had his share of big fights. There is going to be a lot of pressure on me, as it will be my first time boxing in America on the big stage. But I can’t wait and will be ready!
Just for fun, I reeled off a few quick fire questions for Amir before he left:
1. Who is your all-time hero?
2. What is your favourite book?
The Holy Quran
3. What is the best movie you have seen?
4. What computer game are you hooked on at the moment?
Fight Night Round 4
5. What is your favourite meal?
Steak and chips
6. Who is your favourite ever Bolton Wanderers player?
Mmm, not sure. Either Jay Jay Okocha, Kevin Davies or El-Hadji Diouf
7. Your favourite musical act?
8. What is the best City you have ever visited?
9. Rocky I, II, III, IV, V or Balboa?
10. Best boxing match you have ever seen?
Muhammed Ali Vs Joe Frazier