HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Amir Khan has come a long way since he left his home in England to train with Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Boxing Club in 2008.
The two have worked together for eight fights now, including his title-unification matchup with Zab Judah on July 23 in Las Vegas on HBO. In that time, the junior welterweight titleholder has evolved from a gifted but wild colt into a thoroughbred.
Khan seems to do the right things before and during his fights and is careful about what he says, although he talks a little trash.
“Amir was reckless,” said Roach, speaking at Khan’s media workout on Tuesday. “He was strong in his upper body so he just tired to knock people out. Now he’s doing it in a much smarter way.”
“… I think he still gets excited to engage but I think it has all sunken in."
Roach first worked with Khan shortly after the 2004 Olympian was knocked out by Breidis Prescott.
The triainer was unable to work Khan’s corner for his comeback fight against Oisin Fagan in London but was there when Khan stopped Marco Antonio Barrera in Manchester and has been at his side ever since.
In all, they’re 7-0 (with three knockouts) and have won the WBA 140-pound title. Khan will be making his fifth defense of the belt and will try to take Judah’s IBF title.
Roach described his 24-year-old protege as the best “listener” he works with, which might explain why Roach said the fighter has turned a corner.
“Amir is pretty much at the point where we’re not working on improving anything,” he said. “We’ve done that. We’re working more on taking what his opponents have and picking that apart.”
Roach was asked how close Khan is to his peak. His response: “very.”
“I think he could peak against (Floyd) Mayweather,” said Roach, referring to a possible matchup next year if Mayweather beats Victor Ortiz on Sept. 17. “I’d definitely take that fight. I think Amir has the style to beat him. He can’t handle Amir’s speed and power.
“And if Victor (Ortiz) wins, we want him. They fought as amateurs. That would be a great fight.”
First he must get past Judah (41-6, 28 KOs).
Khan says the right things. He is aware of the perception that Judah has tended to fade late in fights, particularly when faced with adversity, but says he’s training as if his opponent will be a beast for 12 rounds.
He said he respects Judah’s power and acknowledges that fighting a southpaw presents extra challenges, particularly when the southpaw is athletic and more experienced than he is.
Only when prodded with the question “What about his heart?” does Khan get a little cocky.
“Once he feels my shots, feels my pressure, the presence I have in the fight, I think that’ll make him change his mind about a lot of things,” Khan said. “He’ll cover up a little more, try to survive.
“He can’t run too far, though. He’ll always be there. He can fight or box or run. I know exactly how to beat him.
Roach is bolder than his protégé.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we can go in there a blow this guy away in the first round, Zab Judah,” he said. “But why? If we do that, we give him a chance. Let’s box him, sharp-shoot him. When he goes to the ropes, he’s setting a trap. When he goes to the corner, he’s setting a trap. Don’t go after him.
“Box him. Be a real pro out there. Sharp-shoot him and get him out a little later.”
You can bet the Khan of today won’t be reckless.
Khan on Haye: Khan was charitable but honest when asked about his countryman’s performance against Wladimir Klitschko on July 2.
Haye lost a one-sided decision and was criticized for a lackluster effort.
“David went in there and tried,” he said. “Wladimir is just so much bigger than he is. I didn’t realize how big he is until he stood next to David Haye. I stood next to David Haye and he was huge. I never thought Wladimir was that big. I think David should’ve gone in a little bit more and not shown him any respect. If that was me, if I was in his shoes, I would've walked out happily with a knockout — if I got knocked out — would've been happy with that rather than not going in there. That’s just me.
“David is still a great champion, though. He’ll be back; he’ll win another world title. Klitschko is almost unbeatable. He’s so big and strong and so rangy with those long arms. It’s so hard to get to him. David tried his best.”