Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Khan weakest of champions: McCloskey

Amir Khan
Amir Khan

Paul McCloskey will be firmly in the corner of Amir Khan when he makes the first defence of his WBA World light-welterweight title on Saturday night.

Unbeaten European light-welterweight champion McCloskey is desperate for a showdown with Khan, who defends against Dimitry Salita in Newcastle, live on Sky Box Office.

The Dungiven man believes he can wrench away Khan’s belt given the chance and that means the Bolton star needs to get through his big night with Salita.

McCloskey said: “I think Khan is the weakest of the champions, though if any world title chance came up I would grab it.

“People ask when would I be ready to fight Khan, well I would take him right now.

“I’m probably going to defend my European title in late February, early March but of course if the Khan fight could be made I’d take it.

“It seems a natural fight because he’s from England and I’m from here. So I just hope that he wins on Saturday night and it would be a massive upset if he didn’t.

“But I must say that Salita looks in great shape. He’s not a big puncher but then neither is Willie Limond and he had Khan on the floor.”

It is noteworthy that Salita is a devout Jew and Khan a Muslim and yet, thankfully, this has not become an issue in the countdown to their showdown, which is expcted to be a 12,000 sell-out at the Metro Radio Arena.

Salita, born in Ukraine, has made a name for himself in Flatbush, Brooklyn and now has the chance he has dreamed of.

“When we arrived in America it was tough,” said Salita. “We were poor — poorer than most everybody in our neighbourhood. I had the cheapest sneakers, sneakers from Ukraine that cost a few dollars, probably even less. We had welfare, we had food stamps and 300 dollars.

“That is all that my family had. I've heard a lot of talk about me making trillions of dollars, but back then we had nothing. I'm still fighting for something.”

When Salita arrived from Ukraine he was not an orthodox Jew and he is quick to remind people that he was a boxer long before he was a scholar.

“He embraced his ancient faith after a chance meeting with a rabbi in a hospital corridor, not far from the room where his mother was dying from cancer. He now keeps kosher, refuses to fight on the Sabbath and covers his head.

He follows a long line of Jewish boxers who became heroes in New York, most notably Benny Leonard, an all-time great who still inspires young men like Salita.

But whether or not he can overcome Khan is another matter and the 2004 Olympic silver medallist is determined to take a first step towards establishing himself as a worthy champion.

“Physically I'm fit, strong and getting towards my peak, and mentally I'm prepared for this fight,” Khan said.

“It's a big fight for me, defending my WBA title. It's my first defence and it is true what people say — it's tougher to keep hold of a title than win it.

“I don't want to be one of those fighters who wins it in one fight and loses in the second fight. I want to keep hold of my title.

“It will be a tough fight but I'm ready for it and I know I can take this guy out.”

Yesterday, Aussie Danny Green knocked out American legend Roy Jones Jnr in the first round of their IBO world cruiserweight title fight in Sydney.

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