NEW YORK — Former unified junior welterweight titleholder Amir Khan — the leading candidate to face Floyd Mayweather next May — sat down with SI.com on Wednesday to discuss Mayweather, his pairing with Virgil Hunter and the criticism that his weak chin will prevent him from ever becoming an elite fighter again
SI.com: So, you are fighting Floyd Mayweather…
Amir Khan: That’s your first question, huh?
SI.com: Well why beat around the bush?
AK: Well it’s a fight I’d love to have. That’s what I’m supposed to say, right? Floyd is the best fighter out there and you would love to see how you fight against the best. I’m not going to shy away from that fight. Styles make fights and I know for a fact that I will do better than most of the guys that he has fought. I’ll beat him. My speed and movement will give Floyd problems. I’m not taking any time off. I know that’s a fight that will change my life. That’s why I’m so focused on winning it.
SI.com: What about the argument that you have not earned the fight?
AK: Well who else out there can give Floyd problems? No one. Danny Garcia? Floyd has fought many opponents like him. I have a style that has given him problems before. I’m an orthodox fighter who is quicker than him and faster than him. And if Floyd wants to be a global superstar, he has to fight me. It will make him popular in the UK and the Asia area.
SI.com: OK, I’ll play along. If this fight happens, would it be in the U.S. or the UK?
AK: It would be amazing if it were in the UK. I can’t see it happening there though because of the pay-per-view timing. But if it were in the UK it would be huge because the UK fans love to get behind their fighters. In the UK, we could sell out Wembley Stadium.
SI.com: You have had one fight above 140-pounds. How do you feel at that weight?
AK: Making 143 was tough. Physically I’m growing. I’m 26, turning 27 [on December 8th], I should have moved up a long time ago. Killing yourself makes you a weaker fighter. That’s what I was doing my last few fights to try and make weight. I was in the same position when I was at 135. When I moved to 140 I fought Marcos Maidana and Zab Judah, I walked right through them, no problem. I think it will be the same at 147.
SI.com: How has the pairing with Virgil Hunter been?
AK: Virgil, he’s a great trainer. He understands the sport, how not to make mistakes. We go into the ring with a game plan that we stick to. In the past, I’ve gone off the game plan and tried to get into a fight. I tried to show that I had heart. We don’t need to do that now. We know we have heart. We know we can box. We have to be technical and box. When it comes time to fight, you fight. But if you don’t have to, why fight?
SI.com: So no regrets about the split with Freddie Roach?
AK: No. The loss [to Danny Garcia] was a blessing because if I had not lost I don’t think I would have moved to Virgil. Freddie is a great trainer. I like Freddie. But I think Virgil is bringing something else to the camp. So maybe things happen for a reason. I lose, go to Virgil and now I have maybe the biggest fight in my life coming up. I’m in a good position. I’m enjoying it.
SI.com: Could you use one fight at 147 before going to a super fight?
AK: When I do my hard sparring, it’s at 154-pounds. I’m ready to fight at 147. I think I’m ready for a big fight. Moving up to 147 and going straight to a big fight isn’t something that I’m scared of. I know I’ll be a stronger and better fighter at that weight.
SI.com: For a long time people talked about you and Manny Pacquiao fighting. When did you start thinking about the possibility of fighting Floyd?
AK: It was when I unified the titles at 140 [in 2011]. A lot of people said that fight would happen. Also, Golden Boy wanted the fight to happen. But I wanted it to wait a little bit longer. I felt if I waited, I would be more mature and ready to fight him.
SI.com: You say styles make fights. Why is Floyd a good style for you?
AK: He’s more of a boxer. Fighting Floyd Mayweather is like a game of chess. It’s not about going in there with big shots and trying to knock him out. I’d have to go in there and try to box him. I can’t look for the knockout. You can’t make mistakes because when you are fighting the best out there he will catch you with something and make you pay for it. When you go in to fight a Floyd Mayweather, you have to be so focused and so disciplined. It’s the biggest fight of your whole life. You know you have to give 100 percent. And that’s what I’m going to do.
SI.com: You know we have heard this before, right? Canelo Alvarez thought he had the blueprint to beat Floyd, too.
AK: Canelo had the wrong game plan. He fought the wrong fight. When you are slower than someone physically and your feet are not quick enough, and you are standing in front of someone who is a good mover and has fast reactions, you are made for him. I’m the total opposite of Canelo, Victor Ortiz or [Robert Guerrero]. What I bring is something he hasn’t faced in a long time. It will be a skills match. It will be a boxing match.
SI.com: You haven’t been doubted this much since the loss to Breidis Prescott in 2008…
AK: I’m glad that people are saying I’m an underdog. To be honest, I love it. It’s only going to make me work harder. I want to be the underdog fighter. People think it is going to be a nice easy fight for Floyd but they will be in for a surprise. It would be a great fight. I know how hard I am going to train for it.
SI.com: What’s the biggest UK fight for you?
AK: Ricky Hatton
SI.com: You think Ricky would be interested?
AK: Maybe. It could happen. He’s not too old. I’ve been out with him a few times. The way he looks, I’d love to take that fight straight away (laughs). But look, it could happen. If I beat Floyd Mayweather and I’m the pound-for-pound champion, you’re telling me Ricky Hatton won’t come out of retirement to fight me? They will all come out!
• While Top Rank cashed in on various revenue streams while in China last month for Manny Pacquiao’s fight against Brandon Rios — including an enormous site fee — the U.S. pay per view numbers did not meet expectations. Bob Arum told SI.com that the final numbers were in the 500,000 to 550,000 range. However, two sources told SI.com that the number was closer to between 450,000 and 500,000.
While Pacquiao’s next fight will be in the U.S., Arum made it clear that Top Rank would have no hesitation bringing Pacquiao back to China next year. As for Pacquiao’s next opponent, Arum indicated that Timothy Bradley—who won a controversial decision over Pacquiao last year—is the leading candidate.
“[Juan Manuel] Marquez isn’t going to fight him,” Arum said. “I’m not going to get on my knees to get Marquez to do it. Period, he isn’t going to fight him. So I have Bradley, Marquez and Ruslan Provodnikov. What I would like to do is if Pacquiao fights Bradley, have Ruslan fight Marquez. That would punish Marquez for refusing to fight Pacquiao.”
“Marquez is very comfortable with the amount of money he has. That’s not longer a big problem. And he knows he can’t do any better against Pacquiao than he did last time. How much better can you do than knocking a guy face down, out cold?
• Official contracts have not been signed yet but Main Events has its NBC Sports Network televised January show set. Middlweight contender Curtis Stevens— last seen on the wrong end of a knockout loss to Gennady Golovkin in November— will make his return to the ring. Stevens will face Patrick Majewski (21-2-0). On the undercard, Garrett Wilson, who gave a spirited effort in a loss to heavyweight contender Czar Glazkov last month, will drop back down to cruiserweight to face Thabiso Mchunu.
• Last weekend was a big weekend for HBO. Per Nielsen, Adonis Stevenson’s sixth round knockout of Tony Bellew attracted 1.31 million viewers, peaking at 1.36. That leaps past both of Stevenson’s prior HBO bouts (11 percent above Stevenson vs. Tavoris Cloud’s 1.18 million viewers on September 28 and 27 percent above Stevenson vs. Chad Dawson’s 1.02 million viewers on June 8th). Stevenson vs. Bellew ranks as HBO and cable TV’s 5th most watched bout in 2013.
The numbers were almost as good for rising star Sergey Kovalev’s second round knockout win over Ismayl Sillakh. Per Nielsen, Kovalev-Sillakh drew 1.25 million viewers, peaking at 1.33 million. That’s 242 percent above Kovalev’s debut appearance on HBO last August against Nathan Cleverly (367,000 viewers). Kovalev-Sillahk ranks as cable’s 8th most watched bout in 2013.
— Chris Mannix