In a quiet room of his rented house in Colorado Springs, located close to a training base at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Amir Khan is contemplating a life without boxing. Even as a married father of three, with myriad business and charitable interests, nothing channels his focus like fighting and the thought of losing it troubles him.
‘It does scare me, it does because boxing is what I do,’ he says, sipping an energy drink on a bright, clear morning, having delayed his training session to conduct the interview. ‘Boxing is everything to me. It keeps me occupied, keeps me focused. If I didn’t have boxing in my life, I would be quite lost.’
Khan is preparing for his long-awaited bout with Kell Brook on February 19. With 39 fights on his record and 17 years in the professional ranks, he can reflect on his career with the perspective of a seasoned veteran and, typically, is content to tackle all questions head on.
Khan is finally poised to settle his differences with arch-rival Brook on February 19
Fans have demanded a showdown between Khan and Brook for the best part of a decade
The hour-long conversation takes in the longstanding hostility between him and Brook, his marriage, professional mistakes and the issue of prejudice against British-Asian athletes.
Having turned 35 last month, he is also willing to expand on the subject of retirement, however difficult the prospect. ‘I don’t know,’ he says, via a Zoom video link. ‘I’m just going to wait and see. I’m just going see how this fight goes.
‘I’ve always said that I don’t want boxing to retire me. I don’t want to be one of them fighters. I want to retire from boxing. I’m just going to go in there and enjoy it. I really feel while I’m in camp now that I’ve got a few fights left in me, though I don’t know what the wife’s going to think about that, or my kids!’
Fans have wanted Khan to fight Brook almost since the pair emerged from the British amateur scene as its two brightest prospects.
Brook has long criticised his domestic rival for dodging their highly-demanded contest
But Khan believes his bitter foe has always been jealous of his achievements in the ring
The rivalry certainly includes a few ideal ingredients, with the two former world champions born in the same year and regional neighbours. Khan’s family home is in Bolton and Brook is still based in Sheffield. More exciting for the promoter is the mutual animosity that appears only to have grown the longer they were kept apart.
Khan puts it down to Brook’s jealousy over the sharp trajectory of his career. While Khan has remained in the public eye since winning an unlikely Olympic silver medal in 2004, aged just 17, his next opponent has never quite managed to transcend the sport.
Brook, for his part, has criticised Khan for supposedly spending years dodging the fight. He also feels that Khan has never shown him due respect in public.
With the pay-per-view bout in Manchester to promote, Khan is in no mood to soften his antipathy today. ‘It’s got to the stage where everyone knows that we don’t like each other,’ he says. ‘With me, I think it’s not as bad because Kell Brook has always wanted to do what I’ve done in the sport.
‘I was very lucky to have the nation behind me when I came back from the Olympics. Made it in America, travelled, I made a lot of money from boxing. He’s always felt like he was overshadowed.
‘The truth is, the fight never happened earlier because I was campaigning in America and he was in the UK. I didn’t think it ever needed to happen, but with the fans still talking about it, I couldn’t let it go any longer. I couldn’t leave the sport without taking it.’
The fight has been billed as a clash of distinctly different styles, pitting Khan’s skill and speed against the strength and durability of Brook. It has also been suggested that the extent to which Khan might have slowed with age will prove important to the outcome. He is, inevitably, quick to dismiss any such decline, even after losing two years of boxing to the pandemic.
‘I’m sparring younger guys, fresher guys. I’m throwing more punches than them. I’m outworking them. I’m doing circuit training and keeping up with other guys who are 10 years younger than me, which is huge for my confidence. So I think I’m all right. I feel strong.
‘Yes, as you get older your body doesn’t recover as quick. Your muscles are breaking down [in training], and instead of them taking a day to recover it might take them two or three days. But if you can push through the pain barrier then you can still perform at the highest level.’
The former unified light-welterweight champion admits his body doesn’t recover like it used to
But he is still capable of pushing his body through the pain barrier in training for the fight
As a younger fighter Khan was known for getting drawn into dust-ups at times when he would have been better served fighting at distance. It has produced some memorable bouts — witness his world-title victory over Marcos Maidana, which was voted fight of the year in 2010 — but he promises to tune out the friction with Brook.
‘I did let emotion get to me,’ he admits. ‘It can affect you. Because you don’t think about things. You just go in there and try to have a war. This time I’m a little bit wiser. I’m smarter. I’m not going to let my anger get in the way. This is my 40th fight. I should have the experience to learn to put that aside and box.’
How does he envisage the fight unfolding? ‘As soon as the bell goes, Kell is going to try to put pressure on me. He is going to try to show his strength and go for a knockout. I’ll be ready for that.
‘But if he wants to try to box on the back foot, then fine. The way these guys are training me over here, we’ve got two, three different sparring partners, one coming at you all the time, pushing you back and giving you a war. Then one guy who is a little bit more skilful and another guy who’s a bit of both. It’s tough, but it means I’ll be ready for whatever he brings to the table.’
Khan has relocated to Colorado to carry out his training for the fight with Brook next month
Khan relocated to Colorado to work with Brian McIntyre, Terence Crawford’s trainer, having been impressed by how well prepared was the American for their 2019 fight. Training at altitude should improve his endurance but it means an extended period away from his wife Faryal and their children, Lamaisah (7), Alayna (3) and son Muhammad, born in February 2020.
He identifies leaving them at home as the most challenging aspect of training in isolation, a marked change from his younger days when he was prone to compromising the stoic lifestyle his sport demands.
‘There were times when the focus wasn’t there,’ he admits. ‘In LA, I’d be training and I’d get phone calls from all these A-list celebrities. You’ll have Mark Wahlberg, Vinnie Jones. They’d say, ‘Amir, why don’t you come out with us?’ I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m a big fan of your movies.’ So I’d go to events with them while I’m in training camp.
‘I’d have singers invite me to concerts, give me VIP passes. I’d say I’ll go out with them for a night. Then it turns into a longer night. The next thing you’re training, you’re sparring, and you’re tired. I was young, I should have said no. So there are things I regret.’
The BBC reality show Meet The Khans, which was filmed during lockdown, addresses the subject of Khan’s youthful mistakes. In one episode, Faryal visits a therapist and breaks down in tears while discussing the abuse she receives on social media for giving Khan a second chance. The trolls had dredged up old newspaper stories of his indiscretions.
The British boxing icon also opened up on the difficulties of his marriage with Faryal
While he lifted the lid on the inspiration of seeing mother Falak (left) beat pancreatic cancer
In what is mostly a gentle portrayal of celebrity life, the scene is strikingly intimate.
‘I didn’t know that would be filmed,’ says Khan. ‘When I was told about it afterwards, I was like ‘Wow, OK’. But the BBC wanted to show it and, at the end of the day, it’s what she was doing. I thought it’d be good for people to see that because there are people who go through that same thing.
‘If you want a relationship to work, you have to do anything. And with our relationship, I think Faryal really became a little bit desperate as she wanted to make this work.’
The film-makers also captured Khan coming to terms with his mother Falak’s battle with stage-four cancer of the pancreas. The family learnt in the autumn that an operation to remove it was successful, enabling Khan to head to the United States with a clear head.
‘It was a massive inspiration,’ he says. ‘You could see her breaking down. It was like being in the 10th, 11th, 12th round and your body’s gone and you can’t do any more, but she kept pushing. Didn’t give up. Never even gave us the impression she was in pain.’
Khan is speaking a few days before the start of the parliamentary inquiry into racism in cricket. He has not closely engaged with the case of Azeem Rafiq, the former Yorkshire player, which sparked it.
But young British-Asian athletes have raised with him the subject of racism against the community. ‘They say, ‘We’re Asian, I don’t think we’ll get picked.’ I think that’s something in their mind. If you’re the best at your sport, you’re going to get picked because what Britain wants is champions, medals. Look at my cousin Sajid Mahmood, he played cricket. He was picked for England. It was down to hard work and family support. His father always took him to the cricket games. Met the right people.
‘My father did the same thing. Took me everywhere. Paid for the gym, kit, training camps abroad.
‘You have to dedicate yourself, but your family have to dedicate themselves too. A lot of Asian kids might not get far because their family might not support them because they would rather have them go into education and get a solid job. Sport is a risk and they don’t want to take it. That’s why we don’t see many Asian youngsters out there.’ He is talking mostly about parents older than him. ‘The new generation supports our kids differently because we’ve seen what sport can do.’
It has been said that Khan and Brook finally agreed to the bout with both fighters slightly past their best. Neither has held a world title since Errol Spence Jnr dethroned Brook as IBF welterweight champion in 2017, while both men are coming off defeats by Crawford, the brilliant American.
Both Khan and Brook were outclassed by Terence Crawford in their last world-title contests
Crawford stopped the pair, who are both in the twilight of their careers, inside the distance
But two of the most successful British boxers of their generation remain capable of competing to a formidable level and interest in the fight is duly strong. Organisers reported that tickets for the 21,000-capacity AO Arena sold out in 10 minutes.
Khan has arranged to use the home dressing room and to embark on the second ring walk, two demands of negotiations that one insider described as the most difficult that he had been involved in, such was the fighters’ reluctance to cede a psychological advantage.
Brook has said defeat would signal his retirement. Khan’s outside interests would give him good reason to think likewise. In September, he was appointed president of the WBC’s newly created Middle East Boxing Council. He has started to managing young fighters, owns a boxing academy in Bolton and his business investments include a retail unit in his hometown. He also set up a foundation for disadvantaged children.
By end of the interview, however, his mind is settled on seeking another challenge in the ring.
‘Looking back at my career, I wouldn’t change anything. I have never shied away from a fight, or an opportunity, even when people thought I was crazy. It means I’ve had some losses, but I’m glad I did. They made me the fighter I am. And, looking forward, yes, I feel like I have a lot left in me.’
Source: Daily Mail