Amir Khan is the unified super lightweight champion of the world. He can fight most anywhere he chooses, whether in his home country of England, at opulent hotels in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, or at New York’s Madison Square Garden, the most storied entertainment venue of them all.
Khan instead chose the District for his final bout this year, never mind his opponent was born in the nation’s capital. That’s just how fearless Khan is and why his trajectory soon may land him in boxing’s stratosphere with Floyd Mayweather and perhaps even Manny Pacquiao.
The British-born fighter of Pakistani descent is fully aware, though, that in order to reach such altitudes, he must expand his profile stateside, and thus the WBA and IBF title holder is fighting for the fourth time in the United States. Khan’s foil on Saturday at the convention center will be IBF No. 1 contender Lamont Peterson, whose D.C. roots are sure to attract boisterous hometown support.
“We thought we’ll take the fight to him,” said Khan, who turns 25 on Thursday. “I’ve always wanted to fight in different states to build my status on the way up as a professional. I want people to know who Amir Khan is. It’s different watching on TV than watching live performances. I want to give everyone the chance to see me fight live, and that’s what I’m doing here is to travel and fight away from where you feel comfortable fighting.”
Boxing aside, Khan (26-1, 18 knockouts) does have an affinity for the District stemming from his visit in September at the invitation of Hillary Clinton. The secretary of state and former first lady was hosting a dinner at the White House for prominent Muslims on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Khan recalled getting noticed during his brief stay while walking along the streets surrounding monuments and historic buildings. That recognition got him to consider coming back for a fight, and several months later following a fifth-round knockout of Zab Judah, Khan was set for his first bout on American soil outside Las Vegas or New York.
“All my life I’ve been fighting away from home,” Khan said. “I train away from home, and I’ve kind of gotten used to it. I win fans over, and that’s what I love doing. I mean the best fighters in the world have done that. You look at Manny Pacquiao. He lives in the Philippines, but he chooses to come to America to train and also fight.”
It’s no coincidence Khan’s trainer is Freddie Roach, whose most high profile pupil is Pacquiao, regarded as the preeminent pound-for-pound fighter in the world and among the most accomplished of this or any generation. Pacquiao was born in the Philippines, where he is a congressman representing the Sarangani province, but has fought in uniquely American venues such as the Alamodome and Cowboys Stadium.
Khan adjusts his schedule so he can train with Roach, who set up camp in Los Angeles in preparation for this fight against Peterson (29-1-1, 15 knockouts). Khan also trained in Los Angeles for this initial U.S. fight against Paulie Malignaggi at Madison Square Garden, scoring an 11th round technical knockout over his Brooklyn-born challenger to retain his WBA belt.
Before that bout, Khan had fought only in the United Kingdom, where his popularity is soaring but has yet to match that of other British fighters such as Ricky Hatton or Lennox Lewis. Hatton, for instance, had tens of thousands follow him to the United States for fights against Mayweather and Pacquiao.
A victory over Peterson would move Khan that much closer to gaining a robust worldwide following in line with his more celebrated British peers.
“The thing is, the ring’s the same size in L.A. that it is in Washington, and we have a new crowd there, and we’re going to impress that new crowd,” Roach said when asked about Khan’s willingness to fight opponents in their home towns. “I think it’s the sign of a true champion.”