Why does Britain hate Amir Khan
By Alan Francis: For a few years now there has been a growing number of people joining the hate campaign directed at WBA light-welterweight champion Amir Khan. These are the people that boo Khan when he makes his entrance to the ring, these are the people who boo him again when he wins, these are the people that spend an extraordinary amount of time on boxing forums just to mock him, but most astonishingly, these are the people who cheered him in Athens and made him a national hero at 17. This begs the question why?
There are many factors to weigh up in answering this question. Many of the online forums and hate groups suggest he is cocky, he is arrogant, he is chinny, that he has ducked challenges and has had an easy route to a world title but there is definitely a strong racial undertone surrounding some of the Khan haters and I feel this is the best point to look at first.
Khan made his debut on the 16th of July 2005, just nine days after the terrorist attacks in London made by islamic extremists. The cultural and racial landscape of Britain has changed dramatically over the last 10 years due to political factors which really have no place in sport and Britain is generally a more segregated country than it was in the 90’s. None of this has anything to do with Amir Khan of course but I feel it does help paint a picture of the country we live in today. Most of the hate groups I have visited in research for this article feature various racial slurs and derogatory remarks made against Khan’s ethnicity. In fact both Khan and promoter Frank Warren are in the process of suing social networking site facebook for such groups, claiming the site should take more responsibility in censoring the material which is posted regularly. And having attended the Barrera fight in Manchester where Khan was heavily booed, I constantly heard racial slurs from the man in the crowd. You can’t see this man but you can hear him and you know he’s there. You can hear him in the pub as well chatting to the locals and you sometimes hear him at work or on a bus or in the street. We all know him. This is the most ugly side of Khan’s haters and it should be pointed out that not everyone who dislikes Khan is a racist, as previously stated there are many other factors to consider such as his apparent arrogance.
When the Bolton lad was coming through in the first year of his pro career he made some bold statements about his progress which caught the attention of his peers, the media and paying public. To his detriment, Khan claimed he could be Britains youngest ever world champion at the age of 21. Considering he turned pro at 18 I don’t think that this was an unreasonable goal to set himself and I feel that it’s unfair that the cynics have held him to this. It’s not anywhere near as ridiculous as Audley Harrison boldly claiming he could lift the British title within five fights of turning pro. Amir hasn’t achieved his goal of becoming Britains youngest champion at 21 but he did become the third youngest at 22 with a knockout loss setting him back so at age 18 I just cannot see how this was an unrealistic target to set himself. To his credit, since the Breidis Prescott nightmare Khan has relaxed a little and in light of the criticism directed at him he has developed a greater understanding of how to play the media game. Many people also resent the fact that Khan was fighting on pay per view before he became champion, the perception being that he thinks he’s some kind of big shot. This is hardly the fighter’s fault, boxing is a business and when a young prospect is under contract to a major promoter it is the promoter who makes such decisions. It’s the promoter that invests in the fighter therefore it’s the promoter’s job to think of the best way to secure the most lucrative financial return on their investment. All such business decisions lie with Frank Warren, not Amir Khan.
Another criticism directed at Khan was the quality of opposition in his early career but lets put things in perspective. Khan’s first 10 opponents had a combined record of 117-99-10. Ricky Hatton’s was 78-179-22. Joe Calzaghe’s was 97-139-11. Both Hatton and Calzaghe’s early victims had less wins, more losses and more draws that that of Khan’s so why was Khan criticised for fighting journeyman? It’s simple, the embryonic phase of Khan’s career was shown live terrestrial tv in front of millions of viewers thus generating far more widespread opinion on his progress than that of Hatton and Calzaghe who were for the most part fighting away from the cameras at that stage. The fact that Khan was fighting on live tv should not have taken away from the fact that like all budding prospects he simply had to go through this learning curve. Maybe he should have fought for the British title in his fifth pro fight, or maybe he should have challenged Manny Pacquiao instead of Andreas Kotelnik, or maybe he should move up in weight again and defeat the Klitschko brothers to gain the respect his achievements should already merit!
People also bash Khan for his choice of domestic rivals, accusing him of ducking both John Murray and John Thaxton. Again, I feel that this should not be held against Khan as both Thaxton and Murray are both signed to Mick Hennessy who is Frank Warren’s nearest rival in the UK. Warren and Hennessy have never engaged in a co-promotion and throughout Khan’s pro career the two promoters have always held deals with rival tv companies. That’s not to say that any potential match was impossible to make at any point because I think Mick Hennessy is wise enough to realise that Khan was the draw and therefore would have let one his two fighters box on a Frank Warren show. Khan has always went on record as saying he’ll fight anyone at anytime but the fact is he is not responsible for the selection of his opponents. Amir’s first real test at domestic level came against Scotland’s Willie Limond at the O2 in July of 2007. At that time Limond was the defending commonwealth champion and was regarded as one of the top 3 lightweights in the country, John Thaxton was the british champion and John Murray hadn’t yet made his mark on the domestic scene. Khan stopped Limond in 8 rounds then followed up with a solid win over Scott Lawton, in fact It should be noted that Khan actually disposed of Lawton in quicker time than both Murray and Thaxton. Then Khan was matched against the man most observers felt to be at the top of the domestic heap, Graham Earl. In a coming of age fight that took place on the young prospect’s 21st birthday, Khan disposed of his challenger inside a round. Now hindsight is a wonderful thing in boxing and given Earl’s form post Khan hindsight tells us that maybe he wasn’t the best going into the Khan fight. This should not matter, we can all be wise after the event but the fact is this was considered to be a risky assignment for Khan and the feeling going in was that Earl, ever the warrior would take Khan to the trenches. Frank Warren pulled off a masterstroke in timing the Barrera fight to set up Khan’s world title challenge but people still resented Khan for not tackling his domestic duties before stepping up. Are we supposed to believe Murray or Thaxton would have turned down the chance to fight a living legend? And you can be assured that if Thaxton or Murray had beaten an old Barrera they too would have been relieved of their domestic duties and catapulted into world class.
Now I couldn’t write an article about Amir Khan without dwelling on the most talked about flaw in his game. After the knockout loss to Prescott the “I told you so” chorus came flooding in from all corners of the boxing fraternity and perhaps rightly so, the evidence against Khan’s chin had been building for quite some time. Down against Craig Watson in the amateurs, down and almost out in the Limond fight, down again against Michael Gomez then the Prescott nightmare highlighted what we all suspected for quite some time, Amir just can’t take a hard clean shot. There was a real public backlash against Khan after he was blown away by Breidis Prescott. It’s been said many times now but this really was a major turning point in Khan’s career, he finally took charge and made the necessary adjustments and sacrifices he felt he needed to in order to make it to the top. All media appearances not related to boxing were stopped. No more cutting ribbons at shopping centres. No more after dinner speaking. No more tv appearances that could hinder his training. And most importantly of all, Khan realised that he had to address the chinks in his armour in order to make it beyond domestic level. Enter Freddie Roach.
Since moving to the wild card gym no one can deny the improvement in Amir’s game. There he gets tough quality sparring and is trained by arguably the best strategist in boxing today, Freddie the so called ‘joke coach’ Roach. Under Roach Khan has greatly improved his defence, movement, ring generalship, timing and footwork. Conditioning coach Alex Ariza has taken the weight off Amir’s upper body and transferred it to his legs, giving him better balance and allowing him to absorb blows without doing that funny dance so many boxers do when they’re hurt. All the improvements were there to see in Khan’s masterful title winning effort against Kotelnik but there is still a way to go, he can get better yet. Look at the work Roach has done with pound for pound star Manny Pacquiao. I struggle to think of another fighter who has improved as much as Pacquiao has since first gaining elite status by defeating Barrera. Amir can do the same. Despite the obvious improvements in Khan’s game, after the Kotelnik fight there were still the ringside murmurs of “Ah but what about Prescott?” What about Prescott? The columbian puncher was defeated quite handily the previous night by mexican Miguel Vazquez. Compare Khan to Irish star Bernard Dunne. Dunne built up an undefeated record fighting on Irish terrestrial channel RTE before getting exposed and blown away inside a round by spanish puncher Kiko Martinez, 3 fights later Dunne wins the WBA title, sound familiar? In the meantime Martinez has lost his unbeaten record having been outboxed by Rendall Munroe. No one is calling Dunne a phony and no one is calling for him to fight Martinez again, I think that puts things in perspective with regards to Khan’s situation and those who are saying “what about Prescott?”
Khan’s next two fights should tell us a lot in terms of how far he can go in the sport. He has two mandatory defences lined up, first he must tackle Dimitry Salita which is a very winnable fight for Khan. Salita is an intelligent fighter though not a huge puncher who has had to wait a long time for his shot at the title so nobody can deny his hunger going in to the fight. Assuming Khan gets past Salita he then must defend against Argentina’s Marcos Maidana who impressively stopped Golden Boy’s top prospect Victor Ortiz. The Maidana fight should be very interesting as he really is a huge puncher, in fact he has a higher knockout percentage than Breidis Prescott and against a higher level of competition. Maybe the critics are right and Amir will be knocked out again, but should we not be supporting him seeing as he is representing Britain at world level? And maybe Khan is arrogant, but can anyone really say he’s more arrogant than his fellow brits Carl Froch and David Haye?
I think it’s time we got behind Amir Khan as he is a fantastic talent representing Britain on a world level, he has done extraordinarily well in coping with the criticism and pressure he’s been under since the Prescott fight and for that it’s made him more head strong. He is always exciting to watch and despite his vastly improved defence there is always that vulnerability surrounding him, he may get knocked out at any moment in any round in any fight. I say we should get behind Amir and support him in taking his undeniable talent as far as he possibly can and cheer him on through all of his future fights representing Great Britain at world level. The only thing we shouldn’t do when watching Amir progress in his fights is blink!