Amir Khan will defend his WBA light-welterweight title against the unbeaten Paul McCloskey in his first UK fight in two years at the MEN Arena in Manchester tonight.
The Bolton fighter became the third youngest Briton to win a world title when he – aged just 22 - unanimously beat Andreas Kotelnik on points in July 2009. The MEN was the venue for that historic win and ‘King Khan’ will be hoping for a similarly convincing performance on his return to England’s north-west.
However, 31-year-old McCloskey – the current European light-welterweight champion – will provide stiffer competition that Kotelnik. He has won all 22 of his professional fights and knocked-out 12 opponents – including his last five.
As well as punching power, the Northern Irishman has excellent timing and he genuinely believes he can beat Khan: He “is a great fighter but I have no doubt I can beat him”.
McCloskey’s awkward and unorthodox southpaw style has drawn comparisons to Breidis Prescott – who famously floored Khan in 54 seconds at the MEN Arena in 2008 – and could potentially cause Khan problems.
McCloskey, however, has not fought anyone of the calibre of Khan and this could be too much, too soon for the former British light-welterweight champion.
Khan showed his own power, speed and heart in his last outing, when he won on points against Marco Maidana in 2010’s ‘Fight of the Year’. His supposed ‘glass chin’ withstood a late flurry of shots from the Argentinean and he left the ring having finally answered doubts about his punch resistance.
The 24-year-old’s lightning hands – arguably the fastest on the globe – will trouble McCloskey, who has a tendency to keep his hands low meaning he could easily get caught by a Khan flurry.
While not exactly brushing aside or overlooking McCloskey, Khan is already targeting a unification fight against American Timothy Bradley and many believe that tonight will be just another stepping stone for the WBA champion on his journey to conquer America.
Both fighters have plenty to lose – defeat for Khan would jeopardise his US dreams, while McCloskey’s camp know that this is probably his last chance at a world title – so expect a great British fight.
A McCloskey win looks unlikely, but then so did a 54 second win for Prescott two years ago. However, if Khan performs as he did against Maidana then he should dispatch McCloskey without too much trouble.