By Terence Dooley
When Haroon Khan steps into the ring at Sheffield’s Motorpoint venue on Saturday night the former star amateur will be taking part in a pro debut that’s been a long time in the making. Bolton’s latest boxing hope takes his bow against Bulgaria’s Stefan Slavchev, 3-7 (1), over four-threes on the undercard of Amir Khan’s fight with Julio Diaz. Haroon shares his surname with his older brother, a former WBA and IBF light-welterweight world titlist, and, like Amir, brings a sterling amateur slate to the ring.
Throw in the fact that Haroon’s taking his bow on a big show, which will be shown live on BoxNation (Sky channel 437), and the pressure on the fledgling pro should be intense, but the Super flyweight sounds anything but tense. “I can’t wait for it now, I’m counting the days,” he said when speaking to BoxingScene.
“People are telling me it is a big bill, so to get your first win on a big show is something to look forward too. I’m just focused on my fight. I wanted to turn pro straight after the Commonwealth Games [in Delhi in 2010, where he won bronze, beating Andrew Selby en route to his flyweight medal] and sat down to talk about it with my mum [Falak] and my family, but it wasn’t the right time.”
Khan’s mother stopped attending fights after Amir was swept aside by Breidis Prescott in a single round at Manchester’s MEN Arena in September 2008. Amir bounced back yet his mother elected to stay away from the fights. When Haroon announced his desire to follow his big brother into what is now the family trade, their mother tried to convince the 21-year-old to pursue a blossoming, and safe, modeling career instead, but to no avail.
“My mum was like: ‘You don’t need boxing because you’ve already got modeling’, but by that point I was ready to turn professional for the experience of boxing without the head guard and big gloves, and I’ve got my whole family behind me,” he said. “If anything comes up then I’ll model again because I enjoyed it — although it was harder than I expected because there’s a lot of hanging around. Boxing’s my true profession.
“It is hard for my mum because she was totally against me turning pro, but I had to do what I had to do because I have the talent and am capable of achieving what Amir’s done, so she’ll see it was the right decision to make. My mum will wait for the phone call saying I’ve come through it safe. I’ve spoken with Amir about professional boxing many times. He’s told me about the mistakes you can make if you rush things after getting hit, so I won’t make those mistakes myself.”
Khan was bitterly disappointed not to have been selected for Team GB ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. This perceived snub led to a war of words with Robert McCracken, the performance director of Team GB, and Haroon headed over to the Pakistani team. A Commonwealth Games win over Selby, who was picked ahead of him by Team GB, was seen as a vindication by Team Khan, but the Team GB snub still rankles.
He said: “I’m still disappointed because to this day I don’t know why I didn’t get into the squad despite beating people who were in the squad. I don’t get why I wasn’t picked — no disrespect to McCracken. You talk to other talented people in the amateurs who can’t get into that squad, my advice to them would be to turn professional as they’ll just get overlooked.”
Khan is working under his brother’s first trainer, Oliver Harrison, and is happy at Harrison’s Salford-based gym. Amir split with the laidback coach early in 2008 yet he has remained in touch with the former boxer. Indeed, Amir, 27-3 (19), advised his younger brother to turn over with the man who guided him to the Commonwealth lightweight belt.
“It was Amir’s idea to go to Oliver for training because he knows how good Oliver is,” revealed Khan. “I went for a few sessions, we gelled and I felt comfortable from the moment I walked into the gym and worked with Oliver. Oliver’s been working with me on my style. We won’t try to change it. We’ll do things stage-by-stage and work with what I have and maybe plant my feet a bit more for power. And I didn’t want to go into a corner where someone just screams at you. Oliver’s dead calm, even in the gym, and that’s the best way to give people advice.”
Now that there are two Khans in the pro ranks, sibling rivalry could rear its head. Haroon admitted to sharing a competitive edge with his brother, who stole a march by bringing home multiple world titles while laying his own promotional foundations to ensure that his younger brother could turn over under the Khan Promotions banner.
“Yeah, we are competitive so we have the banter,” said Haroon when asked if they will be comparing world titles somewhere down the line. “I’m a younger age so we were amateur and pro before. Now I’m a pro so we’ll have the banter again. I’ve always wanted to turn professional — if I didn’t do it then I’d always have that question in my mind. I’ve made my choice. I won’t regret it because now is the right time.
“I just want to keep as busy as I can, I’ll go back to the gym after this fight and, whatever dates Asif [Vali of Khan Promotions] gives me then I’ll be ready for them. I need to be busy and will be active.”
All that remains to be asked is whether or not Haroon shares Amir’s “fight fire with fire” mentality and, if he does, will it will be hard to reign this inclination in once he gets a whack on the chin?
“At times, I don’t mind taking a shot, but I try to use my speed to avoid it and stay focused,” answered Khan. “Sometimes you get caught, but you try to keep your head and stick to the game plan — that’s what Amir’s taught me and has learned himself. A lot of people say I’m a great little boxer, so I think it is my time to shine and then Amir’s got a tough one against Diaz, he doesn’t take easy fights, but he will win it to get back to that world-level and show people how he’s adapted [under new coach Virgil Hunter].”
Tickets for Amir Khan vs. Julio Diaz can be purchased from www.motorpointarenasheffield.co.uk or by calling 0114 256 5656. Alternatively, fight fans can tune into BoxNation via Sky Channel 437 or Virgin Channel 546. Visit www.boxnation.com to subscribe.
Please send news and views to [email protected] or Twitter @Terryboxing.