Boxing: Khan keeps faith in school of hard knocks
Amir Khan had it all until he walked into a Colombian missile two years ago. British boxing's new golden boy was looking tarnished but within three fights he was World champion and is now plotting a course to becoming pound for pound the best fighter in the world.
Khan's star shot across the sporting landscape in 2004 when as the sole boxing representative for Great Britain he came away with a silver medal after a series of swashbuckling performances — only missing out on gold at the hands of Cuban legend Mario Kindelan.
A mouthwatering deal was handed to him on a plate by promoter Frank Warren a year later and so he began his rise to the top, claiming the Commonwealth lightweight title in his 13th fight but when his first serious test came against Breidis Prescott in September 2008 Khan was left staring into oblivion in 54 seconds.
Change was needed, the old amateur traits had to go and he was shipped out to Freddie Roach and his famous Wild Card gym in LA where only the toughest survive. Khan's career was on the line and he wasn't about to let his boyhood dream of conquering the world slip away.
“I knew that I had the skills but I had to prove myself. In the Wild Card Gym there are world champions, middle of the road fighters, novices but all are ready for a fight. I had to build up my respect in the gym and that built up my confidence as well,” said Khan, who works out regularly with the World's current number one Manny Pacquiao.
“When you're sparring someone like Manny Pacquiao, it's a full on spar, it's like a fight all the time and you have to go in and produce your best all the time.
“Losing to Prescott was the best thing that could happened to me because without that I wouldn't be in the position I am now, I wouldn't have been with Freddie Roach who has had a massive impact on my career.
“I think I got a little carried away... when you're young people are saying you're the best and you start believing in your own hype. I learned the hard way and I'm happy I learned the hard way.”
Khan, who won his World title in July 2009 with a points win over Andriy Kotelnik and makes his fourth defence against Paul McCloskey on Saturday night, may be leading a celebrity lifestyle away from the ring but when it comes to preparation he is totally focused and the 24-year-old champion says that has always been the way, from the moment he first laced on a pair of gloves in Bolton.
“I remember the first time I walked into a gym, I was about eight years old. I felt a little shy but it immediately felt like home to me, to hear the bags being punched it was in a basement and you could smell the hot sweat. I absorbed it all, loved it all. It was a very cold, dusty place but I loved it. It was just around the corner from where I lived.
“After a few fights I was told that if I kept going I could be a champion. I never missed a session and I was always there on time. I was always very dedicated.
“I think that dedication is down to the support of my parents though it's also an individual thing as well because you have to want it. But also it's my religion, being a muslim, praying every day. I respect it, I respect boxing and boxing became like a religion to me. I believed that I could be world champion.
“Like every young kid I was dreaming of boxing in New York and Las Vegas and I did that by the age of 23.
“I was the youngest British boxer to win an Olympic medal when I won silver in Athens in 2004.
“I was a world champion at 22 and now I want to be the unified champion. To become the unified world champion at 24 would be amazing.”