Cocky Khan backs up his words

Sat, 23 Jul 01:34:00 2011

US boxing expert Kevin Iole says Amir Khan is off-putting, but at least he is willing to take on all challengers.

- Khan backs up his words

Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” So far, with the exception of one stunning mistake three years ago, Amir “King” Khan has done everything he said he’d do.

The World Boxing Association super lightweight champion and 2004 Olympic silver medalist is 25-1 with 17 knockouts and is 4-0 against current or former world champions.

But the 24-year-old is so confident that it’s off-putting to some. He’s quick to tell you how good he is, how much he’s accomplished and how highly others think of him.

He said that HBO, which will televise his 140-pound unification bout with International Boxing Federation champion Zab Judah on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, believes he’s the best British boxer. He said he believes he’s the top British fighter in the world, dismissing quality veterans like World Boxing Council super middleweight champion Carl Froch and former heavyweight and cruiserweight champion David Haye.

There is a lot to like about Khan, but to some people, his confidence almost borders on arrogance.

Khan shines in two areas that should endear him to everyone who enjoys a good prize fight. He not only relishes a good scrap, he goes to great lengths to make certain he fights the best he can fight.

After Timothy Bradley defeated Devon Alexander on Jan. 29 in Pontiac, Mich., to win the WBC and World Boxing Organization super lightweight belts, Khan immediately mounted a campaign for a fight with Bradley. At a taut point in negotiations, when his promoter, Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy, was about to say no to Bradley’s financial demands, Khan intervened personally.

He told Schaefer to offer Bradley half of the British television money. It’s nearly unheard of for a British boxer to offer that to an American fighter, but Khan did so because it seemed like that was the only obstacle remaining toward getting the fight done.

He wanted the fight made and wouldn’t let the difference of a few hundred thousand dollars prevent it.

“A lot of guys will say publicly they want to fight everyone, but when as a promoter you offer them a fight, they say in those private moments, ‘I don’t want to fight a left-hander,’ or ‘I don’t want this style or ‘I don’t like that style,’ whatever,” Schaefer said. “Amir Khan is not that way. He wants the best. Look what he did with Bradley. Who else does that? This is a kid who doesn’t just say it, he lives it. He says he wants to fight the best and he does everything he can to make sure that happens.”

He deserves great respect from boxing fans for that attitude. Boxing would be a far better sport if everyone shared it.

He’s also willing to stand and fight. He’s quicker than most of his opponents, though that may not be the case on Saturday when he meets Judah. When Khan fought the powerful Marcos Maidana in December, he could have stayed on the outside, kept his distance and used his quickness to win a relatively easy, yet boring, decision.

Instead, he chose to engage a man who without question is the hardest puncher at super lightweight. The result was a scintillating bout that the Boxing Writers Association of America chose as the 2010 Fight of the Year.

Khan also deserves great respect from boxing fans for that willingness to put on a show.

For different reasons, though, Khan manages to rub people the wrong way. His campaign to tout himself as the top British fighter seems contrived. He’d be far better to let the media hang that assessment on him rather than trying to make the point himself.

Yet, he noted that “Pound-for-pound, I’m way ahead” of all other British fighters.

Froch, who is in the finals of Showtime’s Super 6 tournament, has a better record, has received more votes in the Yahoo! Sports boxing rankings and has beaten a higher class of opponent than Khan.

There’s a strong argument that Froch, not Khan, is the best pound-for-pound fighter from the U.K. And though Haye was horrendous in his title bout against Wladimir Klitschko, he also has a stronger résumé than Khan. Haye was a unified cruiserweight champion who moved up in weight and captured a heavyweight title. Despite his flop, Haye is still the best heavyweight in the world not named Klitschko.

And while there will be a good number of British fans in the arena on Saturday, it’s not going to be anything like it was in 2007 when there was invasion of nearly 40,000 Brits into Las Vegas when Ricky Hatton fought Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Khan still has yet to capture the British fan base the way that Hatton did, or heavyweights like Frank Bruno and Lennox Lewis a generation prior. When Khan fought Marco Antonio Barrera in Manchester, England in 2009, a large percentage of the crowd was rooting for the veteran Mexican superstar.

Freddie Roach, Khan’s veteran trainer, concedes that Khan has great potential, but much of it remains untapped. Roach believes in Khan’s ability, but he also has been around long enough to know that a fighter has to do it in the big arena when the lights are on and not in a cramped and sweaty gym.

“He’s not there yet,” Roach said. “We’re still learning and improving. We got caught in too many exchanges with Maidana. He gets caught with his hands down, and that’s something we’re working on. And we’re working on recognizing when a guy is laying a trap and trying to set you up. We worked a lot in this camp on recognizing when Zab is really going to be offensive and when he’s setting a trap and bait us in.

“We’re working on things and he’s getting better and better at them, but he’s not perfect.”

A clear win over a veteran like Judah would go a long way toward endearing himself to the boxing public. As tough as he is, Maidana isn’t particularly well known, except among the hardcore fans. Barrera and Paulie Malignaggi were past their primes when they met Khan.

Judah is the perfect opponent for Khan to prove that he belongs in the discussion with Froch and Haye as the top British fighter.

If Khan pulls it off, and is impressive in doing it, it will be hard to disagree with his boasts. He concedes there is pressure on him, but said, “Pressure drives me.”

The danger, of course, in talking so big is the consequences that come with a failure to perform.

If he loses after such big talk, he may be known as Amir “King Con” as opposed to Amir “King” Khan.

He’ll take the risk, because he knows the rewards can be great.

“When you fight the best guys in the world, there is always pressure that comes with that, but it’s also true that the rewards are the highest,” Khan said. “I want to be a legend in this business and to do that, you have to fight the guys that no one else wants to fight. A true champion fights anyone and that’s how I try to be. If someone thinks they can beat me, then that’s a person I want to fight.” He’s a bit too cocky for some people’s taste, but he’s at least willing to try to back up his talk. That, alone, makes him a rarity in this sport.

A humble, soft-spoken guy who is a terror in the ring might be best, but I’ll live with an egomaniac any day of the week if, like Khan, he comes to fight and seeks out the best.

There is no better combination.

Kevin Iole / Yahoo

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