There is a justifiable argument that British boxing has never had it so good.
David Haye and Carl Froch have both reached truly elite status in this incredibly difficult sport. Scotland’s Ricky Burns and Wales’ Nathan Cleverly both hold world titles, while the likes of Matthew Macklin, Kell Brook and Kevin Mitchell all sit patiently waiting in the wings for their shot at the big time.
Yet, it is a boy from Bolton who arguably eclipses all of these fine fighters on pure talent alone. The precocious Amir Khan already established as one of boxing’s brightest lights at the tender age of 24.
An Olympic silver medal at just 17 years old was followed by a professional world title at 22, with Khan already taking the prestigious scalps of Marco Antonio Barrera, Paul Malignaggi and Marcos Maidana before his 25th birthday.
He appears to have everything—fast hands, great footwork, knockout power and, on the back of that epic war with Maidana at the end of last year, an undeniably resolute chin that many thought could be his downfall.
Surprisingly, one thing Khan doesn’t have is British support.
While there is decent coverage in the media of Khan’s exploits, and the majority of Brits always want to see him win, he has not been accepted into the nation’s hearts with the same affection reserved for the likes of Ricky Hatton.
Hatton, you see, was a brawler rather than a boxer—brave to the last, always putting his heart on the line and never giving in. He would frequently be hit with punches that could stop a rhinoceros, but our Ricky usually kept plugging away until he fought his way to victory.
Khan, on the other hand, with his flashy footwork and ability to stay away from danger, simply doesn’t fit the stereotype of old British warhorse. He’s got some talent and we Brits reserve a very special contempt for those gifted practitioners whose ability is partly due to God’s work rather than hard work.
Inevitably, racism is also a factor. While significant strides have been made for the better, British culture has still not embraced it’s thoroughly multicultural society of today.
The sad fact is, in any working-class pub across the country that happens to be screening Khan’s showdown with Judah on Saturday night, I guarantee you the air will be filled with race-related jokes at Khan’s expense by the ignorant white Brit still unable to accept that the world is a mighty big place.
However, Khan himself is not blameless in his inability to endear himself entirely to the British public.
While he always comes across in interviews and other media work as a thoroughly nice chap (he can be very annoying on Twitter, but that’s just a personal gripe rather than any long-standing cultural problem), there appears to be an undercurrent of arrogance surrounding those that promote him.
His recent homecoming fight against Paul McCloskey was a prime example.
Being organized under the triad of Khan Promotions, Hatton Promotions and Golden Boy, the whole show lurched from one controversy to the next. It went some way to dismantle the credibility that Khan had gained following his battling victory over Maidana, only four months previous.
Britain’s premier boxing broadcaster is Sky Sports, and they flat-out refused to put the show on pay-per-view, given the somewhat shoddy nature of the undercard.
However, they did offer to broadcast it on one of their free-to-air channels, which would have given Khan a massive viewing audience for a fight that was supposed to act as his homecoming. But Team Khan were in no mood to compromise on cash.
No, Khan Promotions’ ill-judged reaction was to cut their ties with Sky, move the broadcast to low-key pay-per-view outfit Primetime and spout off about Sky’s lack of respect towards one of their own. This was very rich coming from a company whose own incompetence to deliver a satisfactory undercard was the only reason Sky scrapped plans to make the fight pay-per-view.
The relationship between Team Khan and Sky Sports remains decidedly frosty—the Judah fight is once again being shown exclusively on Primetime. There has been plenty of mud-slinging from both sides, as Britain’s best boxer and broadcaster struggle to repair their fractured relationship.
The thing is, despite Khan’s claims to the contrary, the whole incident has lowered British sports fans' opinion of Khan and Khan alone. With the whole event giving the impression that Khan was acting like a spoilt child, throwing his toys out of the pram because mean old Sky wouldn’t make people pay to watch him.
It is a similar story surrounding Alex Ariza’s brief departure from Khan’s camp. As rumor has it, a financial disagreements between Ariza and Khan’s management was apparently the reason the best conditioning coach in the game briefly left the WBA light-welterweight champion’s side.
While it is unclear how heavily Khan is involved in the day-to-day running of his affairs, all these things create the wrong persona around a man who actually appears to be one of the nicest pugilists on the planet.
Perhaps most importantly, Khan’s migration to America is the biggest blow to his chances at rebuilding his brand in Britain.
At only 24 years young, the Bolton boy has sadly left his Lancashire roots behind, wowing the fans across boxing’s modern day Mecca in Las Vegas. And doing so before he had really established a hardcore base of British fans.
Is this necessarily a bad thing though? Modern British greats such as Hatton and Joe Calzaghe only migrated to the bright lights of Vegas late in their career. Calzaghe’s legacy was particularly criticized for spending his life in the relative bubble of Britain and not trying his luck against America’s best in the prime of his career.
Amir Khan has been brave though. He sacrificed his hometown comforts and set out to establish a genuine boxing legacy in the unforgiving surroundings of Freddie Roach’s Wild Card gym. Where no one is going to be in awe of just another talented young fighter.
Britain’s sporting faithful would do well to appreciate this bravery before the finest British fighter of his generation grows permanently disillusioned with life in the country of his birth.