Amir Khan: ‘I have two years and four fights left in me’

In a free-flowing interview, boxer Amir Khan talks about his latest business venture, his memorable childhood, success, family, fatherhood, legacy, Islam, friends and lots more...

Boxer Amir Khan poses for a photograph during a visit to Fight Label, who make his shorts, in Sheffield, England.   -  Getty Images

Amir Khan possesses infectious energy. It has to be seen to be believed. As a British-Pakistani icon, who has wowed the boxing world with his exploits for nearly a decade and a half, Khan is also a passionate philanthropist. Only 30, he’s in a happy space and giving back to the society brings him more joy than earning all those pounds and dollars. No wonder, then, he says that he wants to help more. He is in India to promote the Super Boxing League, an IPL-styled property that wants to revolutionise the way the sport is watched and viewed in the country. In an exclusive and free-flowing interview with Sportstar, Khan talks about his latest business venture, his memorable childhood, success, family, fatherhood, legacy, Islam, friends and lots more...

Excerpts:

Question: The official website of the Super Boxing League (SBL) welcomes us with a very powerful line — ‘you’ve got only three chances in life: give up, give in or give it all you’ve got.’ Did you come up with that?

Answer: Yes, 100 per cent. And this is what I live by. When I train, I work very hard. This is how I live — day in and day out. Boxing, to me, is everything. And you have to be dedicated and disciplined if you have to achieve something. You have got to push hard. And that’s the reason I believe in this motto. And I keep telling people the same thing. I used this line for the SBL because I want all the boxers taking part in the league to hear these things. I have lived by these words because I was taught to do so. If you want to be a champion, then you have to live by those words and follow those rules.

Amir Khan, one of the promoters of Super Boxing League, with Bollywood actor Suniel Shetty during SBL’s New Delhi leg.   -  PTI

Sport in India is going through a very interesting and exciting phase. Almost every discipline boasts a franchise-based league. Did the success of these leagues inspire you to launch the SBL?

Yes, they definitely inspired us. Bill (Dosanjh, the British-Indian entrepreneur who’s partnered Khan in the SBL) and I were in Las Vegas when the idea of a boxing league sprung to mind. I was like, ‘Bill, why don’t we do a boxing league, man?’ And he was like ‘no man, it won’t work’. But I persuaded him. Three years ago, we launched the Super Fight League (SFL). And that did well. I also told Bill that the boxing league will be bigger and better than the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) league. So, this is not just a fight between the boxers who are going to take part in the SBL. It’s also a fight between Bill and me (laughs).

What made you launch the SFL before the SBL?

I like MMA. I’m a fan of MMA. The fighting style is entertaining. But yes, three years after launching the SFL, I have come back to my first love. How could I betray my first love? Boxing has given me everything. It has made me who I am. So. it’s time for me to show respect and appreciation for the sport. So, I am doing the SBL for the sport. And I also want to prove Bill wrong (laughs).

India has produced some very good boxers. They have done well at the Olympic, Asian and Commonwealth Games for nearly 10 years now. But as far as professional boxing is concerned, we only have, say, a Vijender Singh. And boxing isn’t exactly as popular in India as it is in the UK or the US. Are you apprehensive?

Look, we have eight franchises in the SBL. Some big people have come forward and bought these franchises. The team owners have faith in us. My job is to make sure that this works out. The fighters will get a lot of publicity. We are here to put it all together. I come here with a lot of international experience. I chose India because I like it here. The systems are in place. I also got the World Boxing Council to support the league. Look, we are not here to step on anybody’s toes. We are not doing this for ourselves. This league is for the fighters. They can do well here and get picked for the Olympics. We are here to produce world champions. I can tell you that one day we will produce a world champion. I say give me five years. Who knows, we could do it even quicker!

Read: Amir Khan's training regime

The SBL is not your only foray into business. Tell us more about Amir Khan the businessman.

Look, I am a normal guy. I do a lot of charity work through the Amir Khan Foundation. We have established orphanages all over the world — England, Pakistan, Africa and even Mumbai. I just love to support such causes.

Shilpa Shetty is a great friend. She and I did a fund-raiser in London six months ago. Apart from that I donated £100,000 for the orphanage in Mumbai. God has given me so much. And, now, it’s time for me to give back to society. I want to help more and more people. It makes me happy. The people I help pray for me.

How tough is it to be so hands-on? On one hand, you are busy launching the SBL and running a foundation. And, on the other hand, you are planning your next fight? How do you manage all this?

It’s important to have a good team. My team comprises 10 or more people who help me strike a fine balance. I have Asif (Vali) who handles my public relations and marketing. I have Riz Malik who takes care of the Amir Khan Foundation. He has two more people working with him. Then I have a person who takes care of my emails. Then there’s my wife (Faryal Makhdoom Khan) who handles all my banking work. On the boxing front, I have a trainer (Virgil Hunter), a strength and conditioning coach, a masseuse and a chef. They keep me focused. When I am training, the last thing I want to think about is my food and my PR and my business. My team members are all experts in their respective fields. I let them run the show and I give them credit for what they do. I never take credit for their work.

Amir Khan with Manny Pacquiao at the Fitzroy Lodge Amateur Boxing Club in January 2015. There have been numerous talks about a fight between the British boxer and Pacquiao, but nothing has materialised so far. Amir hasn’t given up hope, though, and says: “I hope I can fight Manny Pacquaio.”   -  Getty Images

 

Your parents moved to England in the 1980s. Tell us about life back then.

It was hard. My dad was a mechanic. There were four kids in the house (Amir has an older sister, a younger sister and a younger brother). My dad did two jobs. My mom was a housewife. I remember going to Pakistan twice during our summer break. We used to visit our village near Rawalpindi. I never used to like it there because it was so hot. Now, I enjoy going back. There are good hotels too. I remember so many things about my childhood in England. If I liked a pair of shoes, there was never enough money for me to buy them. Also, there were three other kids in the house, so I never put my parents under pressure. I used to tell myself that I will buy it the next time. One day, I remember telling my mother that I wanted a particular pair of shoes. And she said, ‘Amir, it’s too expensive. Can we get cheaper ones?’ Now, it’s so different with Adidas and Reebok and Nike. I get shoes for free. Look how life has changed. I get them for free. Actually, if I want, I can wear a new pair of shoes every single day of the year. Funnily enough, back then, I used to take care of my shoes my cleaning them regularly so that they would shine. Now, I am like wow! Well, I think all this is a test. That’s life.

Were you always this philosophical?

Look, there’s a reason behind everything that happens in life.

You have always had a lean frame. As a Pakistani boy who had a cricketer to look up to in the family (Sajid Mahmood, the former England fast bowler, is Khan’s first cousin), how come you ended up choosing boxing?

I was very, very naughty. I used to fight all the time. I started beating up kids when I was five or six years old (laughs). I was naughty and restless and hyperactive.

Can you recall one such brawl?

Yeah, sure. A bunch of guys, about four or five of them, tried to steal my bike. So I beat them up.

Really?

Yeah. I was about eight years old. They were, maybe, nine or 10. But I beat them up. All of them (laughs).

What happened next?

My dad got worried. So, he took me to the boxing gym near our house. His idea was to divert all that nervous energy. I looked at the place and it was wow! I ended up dedicating my whole life to boxing. Soon, I became very calm. People think that boxing makes you aggressive. No, it doesn’t. It calms you down. My teachers were very surprised to see this change. So they summoned my dad and asked them what he had done with me (laughs). My first proper bout was when I was 11 years old. It was in Stoke-on- Trent. My opponent was 12 years old. He was a white kid. He was much taller than me, but I beat him up bad (laughs). After a few more fights, I realised I was good at this. And I thought I could, maybe, make a career out of this. I grew in confidence.

Yeah, so that’s how it all started. My dad has watched most of my bouts. My mother was very nervous. She hated all that blood and boxing. She has watched just two of my professional fights, but I was winning everything back then. I know how she feels. I would never want to watch my kids fight.

You remind people of Naseem Hamed, the British boxer of Yemeni parentage, who was born and raised in Sheffield, Yorkshire. He was very flamboyant and flashy. Do you remember watching him as a kid?

Yeah, I do! Naseem is a great friend now. He’s about 12 years my senior. I remember watching his fights. We keep texting each other. Our boxing styles are pretty similar, yeah.

Your professional record reads a brilliant 31 wins, 4 losses. Breidis Prescott, Lamont Peterson, Danny Garcia and Canelo Alvarez are the only boxers you have lost to. Which of these defeats was the toughest and why?

The toughest and most hurtful and most painful loss was the one against Garcia. I took my head off my game. I should have won that fight. I should have beaten him. I lost to Alvarez after he knocked me out. Let me tell you that punch would have knocked out even a horse. Also, I went up two weight categories. Alvarez is a very good boxer. When Alvarez beats Triple-G (Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin, the Kazakhstani who holds the unified WBA (Super), WBC, IBF, and IBO middleweight titles), people will know what I am saying.

Amir Khan and wife Faryal on the red carpet during the BT Sport Industry Awards 2017 at Battersea Evolution. “My wife handles all my banking work,” Amir says.   -  Getty Images

What’s left for Amir Khan, the boxer, to achieve?

I have two years of boxing left in me. That’s four fights. I know I am going to fight at the end of this year, but I don’t know who. People want to see me fight Vijender Singh, so let’s see. I hope I can fight Manny Pacquaio too. I also want to fight Garcia one more time. It’s all up to Al Haymon (the American boxing advisor-manager whose clients include Khan, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and over 40 other top boxers).

Tell us about fatherhood. Your daughter, Lamaisah, is three years old.

Fatherhood is amazing. Everything I do now is for her. You won’t believe this. She goes and picks up my boxing gloves, wears them and walks around the house. Sometimes, she even punches me (laughs). She even gets hold of my head guard and wears it perfectly. She has seen me on TV. How else does she know how to punch! She’s so smart. I got her an iPhone. But, now, her mother has told her she can use it only for an hour a day. She cries when the phone is taken away but we have to have discipline, don’t we?

How do you get into the ‘zone’ during training or before a fight?

It’s easy. I focus. And I pray. I recite the Quran. Yes, I do pray that I want to win this fight. But that’s only the only thing. I pray because I find peace.

How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be remembered as a fighter and a great champion who also worked for the poor and needy. Boxing is the hardest sport in the world. I want to organise fights and leagues to promote boxing.

Will you let Lamaisah become a boxer?

No way! I will promote boxing and let the others fight, but I don’t want to see my daughter take up boxing (laughs). My wife and I were very good at studies but we couldn’t go all the way. So, we want Lamaisah to study and go all the way.

What are the other sports you play?

Running, cricket, football and pool, but I am not good at anything (laughs). Actually, I like swimming too. And, I am getting pretty good at it. I am a right-arm fast bowler just like my cousin Sajid is. We have similar body frames even though he is a lot taller. Football, well, I used to train with the lads at Bolton Wanderers but I am not good at football. On the pool table, well, my mates and I take 20 to 30 minutes to finish a game. If you are good, you don’t need more than five minutes to clear the table (laughs). I play video games too. I like the racing games and the fighting games.

Who are your friends from other sporting disciplines?

Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Lewis Hamilton. They text me before every bout. Look, Rooney plays a match almost every week, but I have a fight once in six months. So, I don’t text him every week (laughs). In any case, my friendship with these guys is personal. We don’t talk about the other person’s work (sporting commitments). I never talk to Rooney about football. Yeah, I ask him for a signed football for my friend and he asks me for a signed pair of gloves for his friend but we don’t discuss sport.

You are an icon for the Muslim community. Does it pain you to see your religion being sullied?

My message to people is that they should not believe in terrorism. Terrorists are cowards. They are spoiling it for the rest of the Muslims who live in peace and harmony. None of what they do is right. They are trying to make a name for themselves by spreading the wrong message about Islam. They are killing people, including Muslims, destroying property. They are even destroying mosques. Where in the Quran is it said that you must kill innocent people? About 15 years ago, nobody knew anything about terrorism. All this started after 9/11.

Have you been singled out?

No, never. I am the last person anybody will target in the UK. I am an Olympic medallist who does good things for people all over the world.