MMA: Amir Khan vows 'performance of career' in comeback fight on March 26

Despite being lighter now, Amir says he has been able to produce more force in his punches and kicks, and lift heavier weights. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Amir Khan has spent the better part of the past year reflecting and rebuilding. Now, he is ready to reclaim his status as one of One Championship's most exciting athletes.

After having to cope with the death of his father Tajudeen Ansari and then sidelined by a serious knee injury, the Singaporean told The Straits Times on Tuesday (Feb 8) that he will return to the cage at One: X at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on March 26, when he will take on Japan's Ryogo Takahashi in a featherweight bout.

The fight will mark his move down to the featherweight (up to 70.3kg) division from lightweight (up to 77.1kg), where he unsuccessfully challenged for the title in November 2018.

The switch, said Amir, was a result of him reassessing his MMA goals as he recovered from surgery to his right anterior cruciate ligament, which snapped during grappling practice in April 2021. The injury came less than six months after he lost his dad to brain cancer, but Amir said he refused to let the setbacks get him down.

"The moment I found out (the extent of the injury), straightaway I switched my mindset to how I could heal in the fastest possible time," he said.

Having carved out a reputation as one of the promotion’s top knockout artists – 10 of his first 11 wins all came through stoppages – Amir earned a shot at the lightweight title but suffered a unanimous defeat by Filipino Eduard Folayang. That was the first of five losses he would suffer in seven fights, the last of which came in December 2020.

Said Amir: "The last one-and-a-half years might be a blessing to me. It allowed me to properly reflect and analyse why I was not achieving the things I wanted.

"I even studied people like Michael Jordan and how obsessed he was to succeed, and I questioned whether I was as obsessed. And obviously the answer was no.

"I've always trained hard, don't get me wrong, but I realised it is the one per cent of things that athletes do or don't do, that makes the difference."

Taking a step down to featherweight is one such change Amir has made as he hopes to reverse his fortunes. Previously weighing about 82kg outside of competition, he has trimmed down to about 74kg.

Despite being lighter now, Amir says he has been able to produce more force in his punches and kicks, and lift heavier weights. He is excited to see how this will translate in the cage.

"At (featherweight), in terms of relative strength, I don't think anyone is stronger than me," he said. "I have a huge reach advantage (because of his 1.8m frame) and I bring a lot of experience with me. I also think I will have an edge that I didn't have before because now I have to be more focused and disciplined."

His rival at One: X, Takahashi, is also coming off a difficult spell having lost two of his last three bouts, but Amir is only focused on showcasing his reinvented self.

He said: "I've been preparing for this moment for the last six or seven months. I want to show I'm a different person, a different fighter, and I know I will have the performance of my career."

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