When Amir Khan faces Julio Diaz on April 27 at the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield, it will mark the first time THE RING’s No. 2-rated junior welterweight has fought on British soil in two years.
Over that period the 26-year-old Bolton star’s career has gone through numerous peaks and troughs including victory, defeat, relocation and career resurrection. The next step towards the latter takes place in the form of a 143-pound catch weight bout with Diaz and the former champion is elated to be fighting at home.
“I’m looking forward to the crowd and being back in England,” said Khan. “There’s nothing better than fighting in front of your own fans, so it’ll be nice to give them an exciting show. The past four fights have been in America but now I’m bringing a big event back to my country.”
Khan was in the process of unifying the junior welterweight division when back to back losses to Lamont Peterson and Danny Garcia sent his career into a tailspin. An emergency overhaul was required, which led to the dismissal of acclaimed trainer Freddie Roach, who was substituted by Oakland, Calif.-based Virgil Hunter.
“It’s all about focus and sticking to the game plan now,” stated Khan in reference to his new alliance. “Virgil and I are working on the defensive side of the sport, which is a habit we’ll be sticking to. In a fight I’ll be fully aware of what to do and, more importantly, what not to do.”
“I won’t be making the same old mistakes and will continue to improve.”
Khan looked sharp and defensively adept against Carlos Molina in his first assignment under Hunter, but he was never tested by the lightweight prospect. So will the 2004 Olympic silver medalist maintain his composure when he takes a direct hit from a big puncher?
“Oh definitely,” remarked Khan. “If I get caught then I’ll retain the technique we’ve been working on. When I fought Molina in December, Virgil and I had only been together for nine weeks but I learned so much during that time. Now I’ve had a further 10 weeks of training and my knowledge continues to improve.”
“The more fights I have, the better I’ll be.”
“King” Khan is heavily favored to topple Diaz but refuses to underestimate the veteran as evidenced by his knowledge of the opponent and the strategy he seeks to implement against the experience Mexican.
“Diaz is a tough guy,” remarked Khan. “He’s fought all the way up to 147 pounds and earned a draw against Shawn Porter who I think is a great fighter and a future world champion. A lot of people think Diaz won that fight so he has definitely got his career back on track.”
“If I get past this guy then I’ll be fighting for a world title.”
Khan continued, “I’m not going in looking for a knockout because the priority is to give a good boxing lesson and win the fight. If it goes the distance we’ll have won every round by throwing the correct shots and utilizing the proper game plan. It’s about fighting smart.”
The catch-weight agreement with the Diaz camp led this reporter to ask if boiling down to 140 pounds is proving too arduous.
“I can make junior welterweight,” said Khan cutting in. “It wasn’t my decision to fight at 143 and the reason we’re at that weight is because nobody at 140 was willing to fight me. I still have unfinished business with the likes of Garcia and I don’t want to move up, get used to the new weight, and dread coming back down.”
“Diaz is a welterweight so that’s the reason the fight is 143, because we’re meeting him half way.”
During his championship reign Khan always had top quality opposition available and nothing has changed. Peterson, Garcia and Lucas Matthysse are not only in the same weight class but share the same promoter (Golden Boy Promotions) so rematches and new targets remain tantalizing.
“I think Garcia beats Judah because he’s the fresher fighter and I hope he wins because it brings the (Garcia) rematch closer. Peterson and Matthysse is a 50/50 fight but, for me, a good boxer will beat Matthysse so we’ll see.”
And what of new welterweight arrival, Adrien “The Problem” Broner?
“Broner is fighting Paulie Malignaggi and that is a tough test,” said Khan. “He knows he won’t absorb a lot of punishment though because Paulie isn’t a big hitter but if he stays at welterweight that could be a superb fight down the road. Adrien has a big name, styles make fights and that would be an amazing event.”
For now Khan has crosshairs locked on Julio Diaz in a show which features Deontay Wilder versus Audley Harrison, plus the professional debuts of Olympic medalist Anthony Ogogo and Amir’s younger brother, Haroon, who captured Commonwealth bronze.
“It’ll be brilliant fighting on the same show,” stated Khan with excitement. “Haroon is a good fighter so he’ll be fine and it’ll be great for him to fight in front of a big crowd. This is an amazing show with a quality undercard and myself in the main event. Haroon is in a position where he can learn so much.”
Amir Khan is also learning under the tutelage of Virgil Hunter and study hall reconvenes on April 27th. Going forward the lightning quick technician vows to remain active and is putting the junior welterweight champions on notice.
“I’ll be out three times in 2013,” remarked Khan confidently. “I’ll also take part in a couple of mini training camps so I can work on things. I’m keeping busy and hopefully I’ll be in with one of the champions by the end of this year.”
“A title fight will likely be in America, so it was important to have the fight with Diaz at home.”
Tickets for Amir Khan vs. Julio Diaz can be purchased from www.motorpointarenasheffield.co.ukor by calling 0114 256 5656. British fight fans can tune into BoxNation via Sky Channel 437 or Virgin Channel 546. Visit www.boxnation.comto subscribe. US fans can see the bout following Live Showtime Championship Boxing on April 27th.
Photos / Jeff Gross-Golden Boy,Harry How-Golden Boy, John Gurzinski-AFP
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and contributes to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing