Amir Khan and his trainer Virgil Hunter talk to BoxNation’s Steve Bunce about Saturday’s fight with Julio Diaz at Glory Gym in the former 140-pound beltholder’s native Bolton, England.
Peace and tranquillity in the gym will bring composure and maturity inside the ring. That appears to be the master-plan for Amir Khan as he rebuilds and repairs his battered reputation among the sport’s elite.
It is, of course, why Khan, the dethroned former double junior welterweight titleholder from Bolton, Eng., insists he has swapped the glamour and glitz of Freddie Roach’s Wild Card set-up in L.A. for Virgil Hunter’s more low-key, low-profile camp in Oakland, Calif.
Well, that and the fact his gung-ho, tear-it-up approach, which had worked wonders en route to the IBF and WBA belts, was suddenly costing him big time after crushing back-to-back defeats to Lamont Peterson and then Danny Garcia in the space of seven months between December 2011 and last July.
But, whatever the rights and wrongs of the Roach era, where, understandably, he played second fiddle to living legend Manny Pacquiao, that debate has all been put to one side, according to the 26-year-old Brit, who this Saturday in Sheffield, Yorkshire, aims to make it two wins out of two under the watchful, studious eye of his still-relatively new trainer.
Khan (27-3, 19 knockouts) faces experienced Mexican welterweight Julio Diaz (40-7-1, 29 KOs) in a 143-pound catchweight contest at the Motorpoint Arena. The scheduled 12-rounder will air on Showtime in the U.S. If successful, it will be Khan’s last bout on home soil for a long, long time. Yet right now there is no talk of what lies ahead for him back in the States or even how he plans to beat his opponent this weekend.
On Monday evening, having opened the doors of his gym in Bolton to Saturday’s host broadcasters Box Nation and frontman Steve Bunce, the Englishman, flanked by Hunter, was more interested in detailing the significant differences between his chaotic past and calmer present – and how this, allied to rubbing shoulders in training with the likes of THE RING’s super middleweight champion, Andre Ward, might enable him to curb those reckless instincts in the heat of battle.
“We have fighters like Andre and Demetrius Andrade there. Training alongside them and having Virgin instructing and telling you what to do and what not to do, always there keeping an eye on each fighter and making sure we’re not making mistakes, is amazing. You can train there every day in the gym because it’s nice and quiet. Not like Wild Card at all,” said Khan, whose younger brother Haroon, 21, makes his pro debut on the Sheffield undercard.
“It’s very different. You actually think about you are doing. Virgil doesn’t need to shout or scream. He can say things nice and easy and everyone is able to listen and going to listen. The gym is so very peaceful. That’s the way he likes it and it’s the way I like it. I believe that brings the best out of you as a fighter because you can hear yourself think and you’re able to learn.
“Rather than have hundreds of people in there all the time, it suits me better that’s it’s just me and my team and Virgil and his guys. It makes me work much harder. The only noise there is the music and Virgil talking and pushing me. In the past I had too big a heart and, when I got hit, I used to go into a war. Don’t get me wrong, that still happens at times in sparring but now Virgil will stop me, pull me to one side and ask me what am I doing?
“That’s the only way I am going to learn that it’s not the way to do it in a fight or in a spar because what you do in sparring you end up doing in a fight as well.”
Hunter, a former probation office of 30 years, is clearly happy with that assessment from his latest charge and at the way Khan is taking to his instructions. Yet for any of Khan’s fan base in the UK and beyond fearing he will soon be a hit-and-run, 12-round merchant, and nowhere near as exciting to watch as previously, Hunter is quick to dismiss that idea. Indeed, it is quite the opposite. When Khan, who in his last outing forced Carlos Molina to retire in the tenth, is ready to be let off the leash in a fight, rest assured Hunter will give his seal approval..
“We want him to respond to any given situation. Let’s face it, he’s going to be caught with big punches again and he has to deal with it. I’ve seen two fights where I really thought he could have survived the round and come back in the next and gradually put himself back in the fight,” Hunter said. “Instinctively, I think that’s now in the back of his head because he’s heard my voice enough and, as long as he knows where he’s at, he will be able to recover.
“There could have been times in the last fight with Molina when I could’ve told Amir to go and knock him out. But I knew he was in control, that Molina had mentally quit, and I wanted Amir to experience the fact he could stop a man more than by jumping on him – by making him quit.
“But there will be times in the future, if he continues to be successful, that he will come back to the corner and I’ll tell him: ‘Go and knock him out’. That’s because he’ll know how to do it.”
Whisper it quietly but it seems the penny really might have dropped at last.
Photo / Scott Heavey