WASHINGTON, D.C. — Calling him “one of Britain’s greatest boxing champions,” British Embassy representative Philip Barton offered glowing praise for WBA and IBF junior welterweight titleholder Amir Khan, an English-born practicing Muslim of Pakistani decent who became an Olympic silver medalist at the age of 17 in 2004.
“Amir Khan became the youngest-ever British winner of a boxing Olympic medal in Athens. The British nation was captivated. He became one of the youngest-ever British champions by winning the WBA title at the age of 22. But for us, in the U.K., Amir is much more than that,” said Barton.
“He’s been an ambassador since his Olympic bid and helped us to secure the Olympics for 2012 in London. Amir is going to be bringing the U.S. and Pakistani Olympic boxing teams to his very own boxing center in Bolton, England, for their pre-games training. He’s also been a role model for the Muslim youth in the United Kingdom. Amir has contributed to the fundraising charities, most recently, for those affected by the drought in Pakistan.”
Barton spoke of Khan (26-1, 18 knockouts) during a recent press conference at the W Hotel in downtown Washington, DC., which touted Khan’s upcoming title defense against Lamont Peterson (29-1-1, 15 KOs) that will take place at the Washington Convention Center on Dec. 10.
The “Capitol Showdown: Khan vs. Peterson” conference was held on the top floor of the hotel against the backdrop of the White House.
Khan got the idea to defend his belts in Peterson’s hometown during a visit to the Nation’s Capitol on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, when he was invited to Washington, D.C. as a guest of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a dinner honoring prominent Muslim-American athletes.
“I want to bring life to Washington, because Washington is the capitol of America. When I came here to meet Hilary Clinton, I felt like it needed a boxing event to maybe get the place going. That’s the reason I chose a place like this,” said Khan, who will celebrate his 25th birthday two days prior to facing Peterson, a 27-year-old resident of Washington’s South East section.
“I really believe that we can sell out the arena. You know, this reminds me of my own town, Bolton, very quiet, chill, but when there is a big event, you know that it’s going to be massive. I think that I can make this place more lively by putting on a big boxing event here and fighting here.”
A winner of eight consecutive fights, four of them by knockout, Khan debuted in America with an 11th-round knockout of Paulie Malignaggi in May of last year at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
When the fight was over, Khan had won the approval of the roaring crowd of more than 4,412 that filled Madison Square Garden’s 5,000 capacity WaMu Theater, and left the trash-talking Malignaggi beaten, battered and bloodied in his own hometown.
“I think that Lamont thought that the judging wouldn’t be fair if he fought me in England or Las Vegas or somewhere else, so I said, ‘No problem, I’ll fight him in his home town. I think that I would get more credit for beating him here, and that people would get more appreciation out of what I’m doing,” said Khan.
“I’m the only guy in the division fighting the best guys in the division, and fighting them wherever they say. I respect Lamont for taking the fight. If I had asked him to come to Vegas, I don’t think that he would have taken it.”
Khan made his second appearance on American soil in December of last year, scoring a unanimous decision over Marcos Maidana at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas.
Khan had his third fight in the United States in July, dethroning Zab Judah as IBF titleholder by fifth-round stoppage at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
But Khan’s grace against political pressures is as admirable as his success on U.S. soil.
Prior to facing Malignaggi, Khan was saddled with month-long visa issues that threatened his ability travel to America, and, with that, the fight, given that the situation developed near the time of a Times Square bombing attempt by Faisal Shahzad in April of that year.
The actions of Shahzad, a native of Pakistan who became a U.S. citizen a year earlier, resulted in a failed attack after having left an SUV rigged with a homemade bombing device in Times Square.
“First of all, I want to say that what happened in New York is unfortunate, and it does give a lot of Pakistanis a bad name. Not all Pakistanis are like that. I want people to follow in my footsteps. People need to look up to people like me who want to bring everyone together,” said Khan at the time.
“I realize that I have so many American fans of all sorts of diverse backgrounds. You’ve got Mexicans, you’ve got Pakistanis in New York. You look up into the stands during my fights and you see all different colors. The good thing about it is that they’re all just supporting me as fighter.”
It is there that Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer believes Khan’s transformation began.
“I really think that Amir Khan has what it takes to become that ambassador of sports and to unify thousands of people through boxing,” said Schaefer.
“The fact that Secretary of State Clinton did reach out to him and invite him to Washington in such a capacity shows you that he’s being recognized at the highest level to be such an ambassador.”
Khan said that he was honored to be invited to Washington by Clinton.
“I think that it was about my being a Muslim, and she just wanted to have a few influential Muslims here. Maybe it’s because I fought here in America a few times, and she felt like I was good for sport. It was amazing. She spoke to my father [Shah Khan.] It was a big shock,” said Khan.
“To be invited by the Secretary of State, to visit her and to say hi to her. She made a big speech where she mentioned that she wanted to thank Amir Khan for turning up here. So that was a big thing for me. I’m only 24. I didn’t think that boxing was going to open these kinds of doors for me.”
On Tuesday, Khan and Peterson were in London promoting the fight. Khan found himself on the same flight to the U.S. as Pakistan’s former president.
This coming Monday, Khan will begin training alongside pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao in Los Angeles as he prepares to defend his WBO welterweight title against RING lightweight champ Juan Manuel Marquez on Nov. 12.
The 32-year-old Pacquiao is a congressman in his native Philippines.
“Maybe Amir Khan should be like Manny Pacquiao,” said Schaefer. “Maybe he should run for president.”
But Khan said that he will “stick to boxing” rather than get deeply involved in politics — at least for now.
“I’ll watch Manny Pacquiao, and I’ll learn from his mistakes. When the subject of politics comes up, I don’t mind talking about it and telling them how I feel. But I’m not a politician,” said Khan.
“I like helping and doing a lot of charity work and making things better. I mean, I do have a lot to say when there are things going on in the Middle East and Pakistan. You’ve go to go with it wherever you are, and that’s what I’ve done.”
Photo by Delane Rouse
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org