By Craig Watt
When British boxer Amir Khan won the Silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics at lightweight he captivated the UK boxing public, partly as he was just 17 years of age. Viewing figures in the UK were in excess of 15 million for his final when he lost to Cuban veteran Mario Kindelan 30-23 on the scorecards. When he turned professional with Frank Warren and Sports Network in 2005 he was destined to become one of the UK’s top fighters in a period when Joe Calzaghe and Ricky Hatton had elevated the country’s boxing pedigree to new heights.
On the morning of September 6th 2008 Amir Khan was on course to become one of the world’s elite fighters at lightweight, having built up an unbeaten record of 18-0 and enjoying a growing fan base that was filling arenas up and down the country. He was the face of sports giant Reebok in the UK and had his own TV show called, “Angry Young Men” where he took underprivileged teenagers and showed them how the disciplines of boxing could turn their lives around. The world was at his feet and talk of emulating the achievements of Naseem Hamed by winning a world title at the age of 21 were being mentioned more and more in each interview.
By 10pm on September 6th 2008 these dreams were shattered in just 54 seconds by a relatively unknown Columbian from Barranquillo called Bredis Prescott. He dumped Khan to the canvas and handed quite a severe beating that many thought he would never recover. In quick time however, with astute match making from Frank Warren and a new training focus from Freddie Roach, Team Khan are prepared to put their reputations on the line when Amir takes on 35 year old Marco Antonio Barrera at the MEN Arena in Manchester in an official eliminator for the WBO lightweight title.
Khan now has a record of 19-1 with 15 KO’s and many people feel this is a gamble for the young fighter from Bolton, still only 22 years of age and many years ahead of him to develop and hone his skills in the demanding sport of boxing. On paper, the fight could be called a “mismatch” in terms of experience with Barrera having his first world title fight in March 1995, when Amir Khan was just 9 years old. In this fight,Barerra secured the WBO super-bantamweight title with a twelve round victory over Daniel Jiminez. This was the first world championship fight for Barrera and now has enjoyed 28 world title fights in his impressive 65-6 record with 43 wins by KO. He is a future “Hall of Famer” and some of his fights against Eric Morales rank as the greatest in recent boxing history.
After just one fight following the Prescott defeat, Amir Khan is a, “man on a mission”, determined to show that the Prescott fight was a “blip” and that his underlying pedigree lies in the top flight at 135 pounds. This is an exciting time for the lightweight division with perhaps the greatest strength in depth of any current weight division – Khan needs to deliver to persuade the global boxing public he has all the credentials to be a world champion.
Trainer Freddie Roach masterminded two defeats on Barrera’s record through Manny Pacquaio and now Team Khan has the benefit of his undoubted skill and pedigree. Frank Warren has built a longstanding career on being perfectly astute in his matchmaking and as we near the fight, more people are convinced this is a 50-50 fight. What Barrera has in experience, Khan has in speed. Whatever Barrera has in world championship pedigree, Khan has in motivation. Whatever Barrera has in terms of boxing ability, Khan has in knockout power. As the fight grows closer, the fight becomes more intruiging and in the process, more even and a genuine 50-50 fight – one man’s weaknesses can be balanced by the opponent’s strength.
The fight will take place at the MEN Arena in Manchester on March 14th and a crowd of 19,160 is expected for the fight. This fight venue is symbolic as it was here that Ricky Hatton announced his arrival on the world scene in 2005 when he defeated the great Kostya Tszyu. Many point to the similar standings in the build up, the respective rising prospect and the established champion on the cusp and possible decline – Amir Khan has the opportunity to show the boxing public in the UK and on the global scenethat he is ready to mount a serious challenge for the lightweight title. If he defeats Barrera, he takes on lightweight kingpin Juan Manuel Marquez – the challenges do not get any bigger than this and Khan cannot be accused of taking an easy route to his world championship challenge.
Perhaps “Timing” is the defining factor for this fight and the skill behind the match making of Frank Warren. After all, Barrera is 2-2 in his last four fights and these wins have been against Sammy Ventura who was 25-19 going into their November 2008 fight and in his last fight Freudis Rojas was 1-7-1 before he fought Barrera. Previous to these fights, the 35 year old lost unanimous decisions to Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez in 2007 and many thought he would retire.
In the build up at the start of fight week, Khan believes he is the fighter who will bring down the curtain on the illustrious career of one of the most exciting fighters in the last ten years. Many believe he has the speed, youth, power, determination to add this heavy scalp to his record – especially with over 19,000 roaring British fans behind him. The same crowd, at the same venue took Ricky Hatton to new heights and it just may be that Amir Khan is ready to follow in these illustrious footsteps. If he does win – he will have conquered his greatest challenge to date.
Integrated Sports will distribute the world-class pay-per-view card, headlined by Amir Khan versus “The Baby Faced Assassin” Marco Antonio Barrera, Saturday, March 14 live from The M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, United Kingdom. Integrated Sports is distributing three 12-round championship bouts featured on the “Khan-Barrera” card, presented by Frank Warren, in North America for live viewing at 4 PM/ET – 1 PM/PT on cable and satellite pay-per-view via iN Demand, TVN, DirecTV and Dish Network in the United States, as well as Viewer’s Choice and Bell TV in Canada, for a suggested retail price of only $24.95.