Are you willing to bet everything on yourself? Do you trust your own ability in the face of “all or nothing” odds? Many times, we’re told be friends, family members and society at large to “play it smart,” which many times translates as “be safe and conservative.” Don’t take unnecessary risks. Be deliberate and consistent with all your investments. Welterweight Amir Khan is doing the exact opposite this Saturday when he jumps two weight classes to face middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez on HBO pay-per-view.
For years, the UK-born Khan has chased stardom in America while his calls for showdowns against Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fell on deaf ears. Sometimes, the cold shoulder from those boxing superstars was due to Khan’s own shortcomings (a KO loss to Danny Garcia, a disputed upset defeat to Lamont Peterson). Other times, he was bypassed for easier stylistic foes.
The potential for a cruel poetic irony is already in place . Khan finally gets his headlining pay-per-view fight in Vegas — only to get washed by a younger, bigger and stronger foe with his own goals of boxing supremacy. In this exclusive discussion with AllHipHop.com, Khan explains why his boxing dream will have a happy ending.
First off, what was your training regimen to get your body big enough to compete at middleweight?
I had to switch it up and focused more on strength. The way we switched it was a lot of explosive, lightweight training first and then moved to heavy and mixed them up. I did a lot of roadwork to make sure my fitness would still be high with the extra weight. We did lots of circuit training so it’ll be strength mixed with endurance.
The diet was the more important thing. What I wanted to do was not really put weight on, but hold my weight and still be strong. I did high protein with good carbs.
Obviously, bigger sparring partners were needed to prepare. Who gave you your best work?
I had a sparring partner ranked #10 at middleweight in Michel Soro. [Writer’s Note: Soro holds a 2015 KO win over Glen Tapia, who faces David Lemieux in Saturday’s pay-per-view co-feature.] He was also training for a fight and we did a lot of good work. I stuck with heavier guys to get the feel of bigger guys hitting me back and getting that pressure put on me. I wanted to get used to being hit by middleweights. I coped with it a lot more better now than what I did at the start. Everything is coming together at the right time.
Battling bigger men constantly will wear you out. Was there any concern about injuries being that you were being constantly pushed against guys outside your natural weight class?
Y’know what, I felt strong and I like to push myself that way. I ever had that issue but I did feel the weight difference. But I didn’t affect me. I knew on fight night I needed all that adversity. The harder I made it in the gym, the easier the fight would be.
The big knock on Canelo continues to be his stamina. Have you seen any improvement in that area?
Looking at that fight against Mayweather, I think he’s gotten stronger and better. He’s a tough guy and a legit middleweight. I have to be on my A-game. I’m don’t see him getting tired after 2-3 rounds. Normally you see him slowing down in the second half of fights, but I expect him to be strong throughout and always dangerous with his punches. I’m not expecting him to fight off the back foot.
This fight has caused a lot of debate about how much control the “A-side” fighter should have in dictating terms, specifically when referring to the winner here facing mandatory challenger Gennady Golovkin. If you win, you’re now in that supposed “A-side” driver’s seat. Would you continue fighting in Vegas, or make guys come to the UK to face you?
Y’know, I love Vegas and fighting there has been my dream. The biggest fighters fight there. When you compete there, you become a global star. My goal is to be a global fighter.
Let me give you the chance to answer your critics. When you were chasing Mayweather and Pacquiao, people said you’re arrogant and sometimes delusional…
Yeah, I hear that and I think it’s because people don’t know me. I’ve been on the big stages for a long time and I think people expect me to be arrogant because I’ve achieved so much. But once they meet me a lot of people say, “Wow, I never expected you to be so down to earth.”
I’m sure I’m one of the most down to earth fighters in boxing. I’m not one of those fighters. I respect everyone.
It has been some years since you’ve KO’d anyone. What is that and do you feel that’s a legit criticism considering you’re about to face a bigger man?
The reason for that is before with my style I’d look for it and make myself more vulnerable to get caught. Now [under Virgil Hunter], sometimes I get too comfortable and enjoy going through the 12 rounds. I’m learning new things in there. I’m not looking for the KO now and that’s why I never get it. I know going for the KO is when I’ve made mistakes. I learn more winning fights comfortably than rushing in there and swinging for the fences.
I choose to not look for the KO.
Oscar has lauded this fight because of its diversity in having a Catholic in Canelo facing you, a Muslim. What influence has Islam had on your approach to boxing?
For Ramadan I like to get that time off, not train, spend time with families and my other religious activities. I still keep up my training so not to fall off. It’s a challenge to maintain my daily prayers and training. But I think following Islam has made me a tougher and stronger person.
Canelo vs. Khan airs live Saturday May 7 on HBO pay-per-view. The card begins at 9 p.m. ET.
Ismael AbduSalaam is the founder of the Hip-Hop/sports site Beats, Boxing & Mayhem, and the Knicks news site NYKLoyalist.com. He is a contributing writer for AllHipHop.com, BadCulture.net, and an on-air personality for Bad Culture Radio. The New Jersey native is also a member of the BWAA (Boxing Writers Association of America). Now residing in Atlanta, he lives for the Sweet Science and by the mantra “beats, rhymes and life.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.