The Man Behind The Name
But Amir isn’t a stranger to having to prove himself when the big opportunity arises. Only six years after he started fighting competitively at the age of 11, his first test came as he prepared to compete at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Despite hesitancy from his home country to back someone who was only a teenager, Khan’s prowess in the ring against fighters much older than himself—winning gold at the World Junior Championships, and a notable second-round TKO of Victor Ortiz—finally led England back to Khan.
Being the only British boxer at the Games, Khan did not disappoint as he brought home the silver medal, his only loss coming to 33-year-old Cuban Mario Kindelan in the final. “I got beat by a guy that was already a two time Olympic champion. He was Cuban. And Cubans are like professionals. Six months down the line I fought him again and beat him,” says Khan.
Nonetheless, Brits were pleased with the 17-year-old that they sent as their sole boxing representative to that year’s games. As expected, in a scenario with the appropriate soundtrack of Mike Jones’ “Back Then” anthem, Khan returned as a national hero, and is now an Olympic ambassador for the 2012 Games in London. No longer is he the baby-faced kid who hadn’t nearly seen enough experience in the ring to represent his country, now he's both the present and future of British boxing. England’s history of great fighters like Naseem Hamed, Lennox Lewis, Ken Buchanan, and Joe Calzaghe left some pretty big boots to fill for Khan, who turned professional at 18. But by 22 he won his first world title and now, two years later, he holds two light welterweight titles.
When I got beat by [Prescott], that’s when I kind of changed everything. I moved away from all the distractions in England, I changed my whole team and how things go.
The path to becoming one of the youngest champions in boxing history was no cake walk. One of his most defining moments actually came via a loss. In his Sky Box Office debut (England’s Pay-Per-View outlet for top boxing matches), Khan suffered his first and only professional defeat in a first-round knockout by Breidis Prescott on September 6, 2008. In 54 seconds, nearly five years of hard work, moving up through the professional ranks, was lost. That fall, following the embarrassing loss, Khan’s trainer Jorge Rubio was fired and Freddie Roach was brought in. But even one of Britain’s top boxing prospects realized that you can’t make the world’s top trainer come to you, you have to go to him.
“When I got beat by [Prescott], that’s when I kind of changed everything. I moved away from all the distractions in England, I changed my whole team and how things go. Now I’ve got a new conditioning instructor in Alex Ariza and a new trainer in Freddie Roach, one of the best trainers in the world.”
Not only did the move to Los Angeles bring Khan some of the best training in the world, it also brought the best sparring partner in the form of boxing’s pound-for-pound king, Manny Pacquiao. That fateful decision to move led to a bit of redemption in December 2008 when he defeated Irish fighter Oisin Fagan for the WBA International lightweight title in London.
Four fights later came his U.S. debut as he faced New York-native Paul Malignaggi at Madison Square Garden to defend his WBA light welterweight title. Khan made American boxing fans take notice as he pummelled Malignaggi before the ref stopped the fight in the 11th round.
Beating a fighter in their hometown is something that Khan will have to do again as he faces Peterson this weekend in the boxer’s turf in Washington D.C. But hometown favoritism is just another motivating factor for Khan, who is thousands of miles away from home but still feels he has the advantage. “It makes me train harder, to be honest with you. It makes me want to go in there and win this fight more comfortably. It makes me want to go in there and knock him out because I don’t want to let this be a close fight. It’s the best feeling to beat someone in the place they’re from.”