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Amir Khan on going down… but getting back up

7:35 pm, 13th September 2018

“People think I can’t take a shot.”

Khan rolls with the punches when they come outside the ring – less so, inside of it. The talking point that plagues his career reared its ugly head again last weekend when he was forced to climb off the floor in an otherwise comfortable win over Samuel Vargas.

“The first thing that went through my mind was: ‘oh my, people will be saying that Amir got knocked down again’,” Khan exclusively told Sky Sports four days after the second win of his comeback.

“I wasn’t hurt and got up straight away. If I was hurt, I would have taken my time in getting up.

“I lose focus. That’s just something in me.”

Lapses of concentration have got Khan hurt, badly hurt, in the past – he has three brutal knockout defeats that unfairly cast a shadow over achievements that are the envy of most who trade punches for a living. Nobody yet, though, has knocked the twinkle out of his eye.

Khan is a long-time darling of British sport; the vulnerability he shows when punched is paradoxical to his sensational skills, and is what makes him lovable. You watch Khan through your fingers, if you dare.

Are you chinny, Amir?

“No, not at all.

“I’ve been doing this game for so long. I know that I’m skilful and I’m better than opponents, technically.

“Sometimes I lose respect and get caught. Then I have to switch on.

“I think that’s what happens. I take it for granted. I think ‘I’m fine’ then take my eye off the game.

“That’s just me. I tried to change it, but I don’t think that I can.”

Five trainers have tried and failed to curb his tendency to turn a cakewalk into a rock climb. Oliver Harrison, Jorge Rubio, Freddie Roach, Virgil Hunter and now Joe Goossen must have licked their lips at the chance to polish this rough diamond.

Aged 31 and, by his own admission, with two fights left in him Khan is still searching for answers of how to stay upright. Some of his revelations can provide rare insight into his sporadic concentration.

“In sparring I need to be hit hard before I think: ‘wow’. I need to be hit to respect my opponent and get to my A-game. Maybe that’s because I was controlling my sparring against good fighters – I can switch off.”

Under Goossen for this past fight, he sparred 10 rounds four times per week. Khan reflected: “I get used to taking a breather, and chilling out. I used to think that doing lots of sparring rounds makes you better. But actually, for me, I think it makes me too comfortable. I really believe this is true. In the [Vargas fight] I was too comfortable. You can get too comfortable being in the ring.”

Khan’s mind wanders back to being on the canvas last weekend, and now being forced to discuss it again, despite actually winning.

“With me, the problem is not punch resistance. It’s about not being in the right position to take a shot. Some fighters are so focused about staying in the right position when they get hit. I’m so quick and light on my feet that, sometimes, I can get hit.”

Maybe there is substance to that claim – Khan glides so quickly that he can be easily redirected. He doesn’t, by design, plant his feet which would make him sturdier but slower. But the perception is that his machismo overcomes his sensibility, too.

Khan claims he doesn’t enjoy brawls, saying: “Not really – but I always end up in them. When there’s someone in front of me who wants to fight, I want to out-punch him, out-power him.

“Sometimes I think ‘here we go again’.

“I know how to deal with it – some fighters don’t. But I do. I just get involved – out-power them, throw more punches, throw them off, out-work them.”

Khan’s accomplishments are genuine, and perhaps his best was to overcome the unexpected setback of his 54-second loss to Breidis Prescott as a 21-year-old a decade ago to still forge a world championship career. Three fights later he won the WBA light-welterweight title, unified it against Zab Judah, and has an outstandingly brave win over Marcos Maidana.

His entire adult life, since winning an Olympic silver medal in 2004 aged 17, has been in the public eye, not unlike Anthony Joshua’s rise.

“Learn from me,” Khan tells Joshua. “We had a very similar stock.

“I lost fights but that’s when you see the real champion. I lost a fight before I was a world champion against Prescott and people said: ‘he’s finished’. But I came back stronger.

“If Joshua does get beaten, that’s the time when people will realise what type of champion he is. To be a great champion you have to come back from losses.

“Look at me; people thought I was done when I was 21. Three fights later, I won a world title.”

More recently Khan the wide-eyed teenager from the Olympics has evolved Khan the public personality. His personal life has been splashed across the front page of newpapers and he has rubbed shoulders with Ant and Dec. It is a lifestyle he has pursued but not one that he is entirely comfortable with yet.

“I want to be a people’s champion. A normal guy. When friends come to see me, I help in the kitchen like a normal guy. I don’t want to be a superstar or bigger than anyone else.

“I’m normal.

“You saw me in the jungle, I was outside of my comfort zone. Looking back, it was good – I was myself, people saw a different side to me, and I won fans. It was positive.

“But boxing is what I do best, man.”

There are more layers to Khan, which should be encouraged because boxers can notoriously struggle to adapt to life when their gloves are hung up. The Amir Khan Foundation helps Syrian refugees, among others, and he assumes a leading role in speaking out for British Muslims. He is already a boxing promoter, has an academy in Islamabad producing Pakistani boxers, and co-owns MMA and boxing shows in Asia.

There is money in the bank, he says, so why fight on?

“You know why? It will make me the biggest name that I can be in the boxing world, and the non-boxing world. If I leave this sport having not fought either Kell Brook or Manny Pacquiao, I will only have had one big fight against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. I went up two weight categories and gave too much away, because I thought it would make me a star.

“I want a big fight to show the world that I belong at the top.

“Then I will finish and be happy to walk away, knowing that I’ve given my fans everything that I have. It will be on my terms.

“I swear, this is what burns my energy. I want to burn my energy in a positive way. I love that people like me because of my boxing. Why should I leave?”

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