Paul McCloskey faces man of steel in Amir Khan
Published 10/02/2011 | 08:30
The fresh-faced nervous excitement has been replaced by a swagger; the crown doesn't weigh heavily on Amir Khan.
From the moment he was picked up by local businessman Robert Elliott from the International airport to the point of his departure from the press conference at the Ulster Museum, Khan strode the stage with all the assurance of an Oscar winner.
Five years ago when he first touched down in Belfast it was to star as the chief support to Eamonn Magee at the King's Hall. His bubbly enthusiasm was infectious but yesterday there was a harder edge, no less well mannered but more measured and to the point.
Defeat to Breidis Prescott in 2008 had a lot to do with knocking off the rough edges but also the subsequent move to Los Angeles and the Wild Card gym where you either show your mettle or go elsewhere.
It didn't take Khan long to show coach Freddie Roach that he was raw material to be honed into a champion of note and having made two successful defences of the WBA light-welterweight title he has no desire to let it slip away when he meets Dungiven's Paul McCloskey on April 16 at the MEN Arena.
“There's always pressure because I've tasted defeat and I never want to taste defeat again,” said Khan. “Paul's an unbeaten fighter and I have to be on the ball, I have to be sharp and stick to my instructions. Sometimes an underdog can cause a shock but it's not going to happen on April 16 because I'm going to be totally focused.
“Every fight I have my game plan is different, my style is different. Freddie has been watching a lot of videos of Paul and he knows what I have to do to win this fight. He knows how I have to be conditioned and when I sit down with him on Thursday he'll tell me exactly what I have to do.”
McCloskey soaked up the buzz that inevitably swirls around the announcement of such a fight, a high profile duel which few Irish fighters have been involved in over the past 25 years. Khan is box office and unbeaten McCloskey believes he has the tools to cash in on his fame.
“This is my rainbow fight; there's a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow,” smiled McCloskey. “It's every fighter's dream to fight for — and win — a world title, and I know I'm capable of doing it. My opportunity is here now and I intend to grab it.
“I've won the British and European titles, I've had 22 fights and I've won every one of them and I'm world ranked now, so I deserve a title shot.
“I've trained hard my whole life — I'm boxing since the age of six — but I guarantee you that I'll train harder for this than I ever have. I don't know what it's like to lose as a professional.
“Amir is what he is, a superstar in world boxing. I’m onto another level, so I know I'm going to have to be at my very best — if not better than ever.
“I feel that, as a fighter, I'm at my peak right now, so there's no point in waiting for another two years when I'll be two years older.
“I feel this is the right time.” McCloskey only fluffed his lines once when he suggested that he would “see you all in September”, to which coach John Breen quipped, “That's the first defence!”.
The only sour note seemed to be a row brewing over the allocation of well priced tickets or McCloskey's fans with Barry Hearn's son Eddie claiming “it is something that has to be sorted out. It would be bad form if McCloskey's fans couldn't sit together”.
Asif Vali, Khan's manager, apologised that all the lowest priced tickets had gone “within 15 minutes” but he was adamant that the issue would be resolved.
Tickets can be purchased from Breen's Gym on 07715421021