Khan wants to close on a high

Terence Crawford and Amir Khan during their Wednesday press conference at New York's Madison Square Garden, where tonight's fight will take place. The 31-year-old American is putting his 34-fight unbeaten record on the line against the Briton, who is the
Terence Crawford and Amir Khan during their Wednesday press conference at New York's Madison Square Garden, where tonight's fight will take place. The 31-year-old American is putting his 34-fight unbeaten record on the line against the Briton, who is the huge underdog but is banking on his vast experience to pull off an upset and perhaps walk away for good. PHOTO: REUTERS

Veteran takes big risk with Crawford but is relying on experience in welterweight bout

NEW YORK • Amir Khan is in fight mode in the last days before trying to engineer a seismic shock at Madison Square Garden, but he can still spare time to look back.

A mainstay in the boxing world for 15 years, the interim has been awash with medals, belts and the occasional savage beating.

While the British former world champion has insisted he does not want to retire on a loss, he is 32 and knows that the end game is not far away, so when talk turns to legacy, he steps outside the ring.

Today's fight against the unbeaten World Boxing Organisation welterweight champion Terence Crawford, one of the best pound-for-pound boxers anywhere, comes loaded with risk.

Some have termed it a mismatch.

Styled by speed, Khan is slower these days and the devastating, and probably inevitable loss, to Mexican middleweight champion Saul "Canelo" Alvarez as he moved up the weight divisions in Las Vegas almost three years ago was the sort that can drain a fighter of his spirit.

He did not fight again for nearly two years, swopping the big stage for the small screen to star on reality TV show I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!

Although he was injured at the time and got a record fee for the programme, this was not the sort of rumble in the jungle that he envisaged when winning a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Games and then adding the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation world light-welterweight titles in 2009 and 2011 respectively.

Ahead of the Crawford fight, it is hard to discern quite why Khan is fighting the American, one of the most dangerous opponents around.

"It's the last chapter of my career," he said. "You want to know how long the chapter is, don't you? I want to retire young and where I can enjoy life afterwards.

"I have two kids now and I have enough money in the bank. I do so much outside of boxing too, doing charity work, travelling the world.

"I want to do that without the pressure... I still have the enthusiasm I had when I was a kid and I don't want that ever not to be there. That's why I will stop before I get to the point where I hate the sport."

If anything truly is achievable and the last chapter sees him beat Crawford, then it would be the perfect bookend for one of boxing's most exciting modern fighters.

Khan is a big underdog at 9-1 with bookmakers after two mediocre wins against Canadian Phil lo Greco and Colombian Samuel Vargas last year, but he feels his experience makes him a threat.

"I've been at world-class level for 10 years and the body takes a lot of beatings, but I take care of it. I don't drink or smoke," he said. "Maybe that's why I'm going strong. I feel fitter now than when I was 25.

"When I was young, I lived a bit of a flashy life. I loved fast cars and jewellery. All that's changed. I had a crazy past, being young and getting into trouble, but I have two girls and like helping people less fortunate.

"Crawford is a very, very good fighter, skilful and on a winning streak. What makes me train even harder is I know this guy believes he can't lose.

"I'm better now, wiser, smarter. I know I can't make a mistake. At any second, he can catch and hurt me, so everything I do has to be switched on, but I'm a lot more professional now. I don't waste energy in the ring. I keep to my game plan more than I used to."

However, it may not be enough in New York, and Khan knows that he is counting down.

But upset the odds against Crawford and defy the rush of time, and this story may be the most remarkable yet.

He added: "I've been there, done it, but I want to be the one who calls it a day, not the one who has to call it a day. I've given my heart for this chance."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2019, with the headline 'Khan wants to close on a high'. Print Edition | Subscribe