By Terence Dooley
Amir “King” Khan returns to a U.K. ring for the first time in two-years on April 27th when he takes on Mexico’s Julio “The Kidd” Diaz at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena. The fight takes place at a catchweight of 143lbs and is Khan’s first on home soil since his sixth-round technical decision win over Belfast’s Paul McCloskey in April 2011.
A lot has changed since the bitty win over McCloskey, which took place at Manchester’s MEN Arena. Khan annexed the WBA and IBF titles in his next fight, a fifth-round KO over Zab Judah, then lost both titles to Lamont Peterson in December of the same year. Khan’s WBA belt was reinstated when Peterson failed a drugs test ahead of their scheduled May 2012 return only for WBC titlist Danny Garica to add to the Bolton-born boxer’s woes with a fourth-round TKO victory last July.
Freddie Roach, who joined Khan in the wake of his September 2008 loss to Breidis Prescott, was released as his trainer following the loss to Garcia; Virgil Hunter took up the reins for Khan’s 10th-round TKO win over Carlos Molina in December. Throw in a switch from HBO to Showtime in the U.S. and from Sky TV to potentially BoxNation here in the U.K., and it all adds up to a turbulent few years for Khan.
Still, there is a huge incentive for the 2004 Olympic silver medalist going into what should be a routine fight versus Diaz, a former IBF lightweight titlist, as Richard Shaefer of Golden Boy Promotions has revealed that Khan will meet the eventual overall winner of their 140lb tournament.
For Khan, though, thoughts of rematches and titles are on hold, he’s concentrating on Diaz, 40-7-1 (29), and is looking forward to boxing in front of his U.K. fans. “It feels good to be coming back to Britain,” said Khan when speaking to BoxingScene.
“I really want to fight back there because people keep saying to me: ‘When are you coming back to England?’, so I’ve taken a pay cheque cut for this fight to come back to my loyal fans. I’m excited about it.
“I’ve never fought in Sheffield before, as an amateur and pro, so it will be big. I am looking forward to fighting there and showing the fans what I’m all about. It will bring the big time back because I don’t think they’ve had too many big fights there since the days of Naz. We can bring those memories back with this fight.”
Diaz boxed a draw with undefeated contender Shawn Porter on the undercard of Khan-Molina. The 33-year-old had taken a year out after losing to Kendall Holt in May 2011, but he returned to action with wins over Henry Aurad and Hector Sanchez before drawing with Porter. Diaz has been widely written off yet Khan believes his opponent will be dangerous as he has everything to gain and nothing to lose.
“I thought he won his fight against Shawn Porter,” said the 27-3 (19) fighter. “Porter was a good amateur as well, so it shows that Diaz is a tough fighter who is putting his career back on the line again. He’ll be up for it. I can’t go in there thinking it is going to be easy. It is a tough fight against a fighter who has boxed at welterweight recently.”
As for the thinking behind a catchweight contest, Khan declared that all the big names were tied up at 140 and he was against the idea of heading to 147 only to move back down in weight as, historically, fighters have suffered when doing this.
“If I came in at 147 then I’d have made that weight and having to lose it again would be very difficult, so that’s the reason we’re fighting at 143,” explained Khan. “There is another reason, there was no one to fight. We offered Peterson and Vyacheslav Senchenko the fight, they’re the people I wanted to face, and there was no one else to fight against at 140. Rather than look at more names in the weight above we fought Diaz because no one else would step up. It means another training camp with Virgil, so I’m just concentrating on Diaz and will get the winner of those other fights.”
Switching trainers does not always produce instant results. Indeed, Evander Holyfield joined Manny Steward after losing to Riddick Bowe in 1992; “The Real Deal” took an interim fight with Alex Stewart and produced a disjointed performance despite winning a clear 12-round decision before a return with Bowe. The rounds against Steward paid off as Holyfield eked out a revenge split decision win over Bowe in 1993, with the adjustments that first began to appear in the Steward fight really kicking in during the rematch.
Khan believes he is still a work in progress and that extra rounds under Hunter’s guidance will serve him in good stead. He said: “We’ve been working on new things and have been focusing on more things than I did in my last fight, looking at being more careful and focused, things that will make me a better fighter.
“I’ve been in fights where I’ve made mistakes and won’t make those mistakes again. I’ll still be using my speed and power, but I’ll be boxing my way into fights. There’s no point looking for the knockout all the time. I’ll be smarter. I need someone like Virgil who will push me and tell me it straight. That will only make me a better fighter by making me understand the sport better and understand what I’m doing. I’m only 26 so I’m still a baby in the sport, really. People forget that. I just forget all the criticism, focus on what I need to do, train hard and stay disciplined.”
He added: “In the last fight, we could have won just on the jab, so for this one we’ve worked on that shot and other punches off the jab. I know I have a good jab and can do a job with it. You need to be smart when you fight. You can’t just get hit with a shot and rush back into a war. It happened once in the last fight, so Virgil told me to go back to basics and the plan. He told me that if I am smart then I’ll win the fights — I can’t just go back into the trenches. But I’ll still be exciting without going back to that other stuff. As long I listen in the corner and stick to instructions, not get wild or leave myself open, then I’ll be fine.”
A series of wins at 140 would lead to titles, redemption, depending on whether Garcia or Peterson win their next few fights, and set Khan up for a move to welterweight, where a tantalising all-British showdown with Sheffield’s Kell Brook would lie in wait. Khan, though, insists that Brook must fulfill his part of the bargain by beating Devon Alexander for the IBF welterweight title on May 18th.
“It is all banter,” said Khan when discussing his long-running rivalry with Brook, 29-0 (19). “I’ve got nothing against this or that fighter. Banter’s what boxing’s about when you have to promote a fight between us, but he has to win a world title for that fight to be made. Even if he beats the guys I’ve already beaten, Judah, Maidana and them types, then he’ll still be behind me because they’ve not got titles — he’s not even fought anyone in the top ten yet.
“There’s only going to be pressure on me because I’m fighting someone who can’t do anything for me. I’d just be doing it because of what people or his fans have been saying. If I win then people will say they expected it. If I lose, for some reason, then people will have a lot to say. I’ve got nothing to win in that fight. I’d beat him anyway because boxing’s all about styles — my hand speed and style would be too much for him.
“I saw his fight against Carson Jones, who has far less hand speed and style than me, and Kell suffered against him so badly — it was a very hard fight. With my style, he’d stand no chance. It is a fight for the future, we both have fights coming up so if we get through them it could happen.”
Khan has been in the thick of the HBO/Showtime merry-go-round. He used to be tied down to HBO, but is now one fight into a three-fight deal with Showtime. His network and promotional company both wanted him to box Diaz in the U.S., but Britain and Sheffield won out eventually.
“It shows how much loyalty Golden Boy have and how much they still believe in me,” said Khan, referring to the amount of support he receives from Golden Boy and the U.S. TV stations. “Me taking this fight at home has caused shock waves in America because no one goes back home for a fight after a win, and takes a pay cut, but I told them I wanted to do this for my fans. Golden Boy and Showtime TV couldn’t believe it.
“I’m one of the only fighters who has had contracts with both American TV (stations). I had one with HBO — most fighters do a fight-by-fight contract with them —and it is the same with Showtime — me and Floyd [Mayweather] have a contract with Showtime.”
The 26-year-old still hankers after a showdown with Mayweather. In this sense he is no different to a multitude of fighters between 140 and 160, but Khan believes that, should he repair the damage to his reputation picked up during the defeats to Peterson and Garcia, a meeting with “Money” could still be economically viable for Mayweather as well as an interesting proposition boxing-wise.
“Exactly, you never know,” said Khan when reminded that network and promotional proximity can be huge factors in making the biggest fights. “People will say it is crazy because I didn’t have a good year last year. I made mistakes, and then I changed and really want to move forward, be smart and not make those mistakes again. I’m glad it happened this early in my title career because I can keep moving forward now and listen to my corner and team. It is all about being dedicated and disciplined.”
It has not been finalized who will televise Khan versus Diaz here in the U.K.
Tickets for Amir Khan vs. Julio Diaz can be purchased from www.motorpointarenasheffield.co.uk or by calling 0114 256 5656. Or via Sports Corporation at www.sportscorporation.com or by phone on 0845 163 0845.
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