Britain’s best boxer, Amir Khan, puts the new season’s smartest fashion through the full 12 rounds. (For our money, this time he wins on points).
“Did you see my white Range Rover in the car park?” asks Amir Khan, glancing out of the window. No, I reply, I didn’t. His face betrays a hint of concern, “Someone’s probably nicked it. We’re in Bolton here!” He’s right: this probably isn’t the most salubrious spot in north Manchester, but that’s sort of the point.
The 25-year-old light-welterweight boxer set up the Gloves Community Centre here, in 2008, spending £1m of his own money, deliberately picking one of the dodgier parts of town. In the last four years, the two rings and assorted punchbags and speedballs have entertained, Khan estimates, 300,000 visitors, including a huge number of kids who want to emulate the most naturally gifted fighter that Britain has produced in many years.
Khan is in a boisterous mood today, which comes as something of a surprise. In Washington DC last December, he lost his WBA and IBF titles on points to hometown hero Lamont Peterson; a decision that, to put it mildly, Khan bitterly contests.
He will talk — and talk and talk — about doctored scorecards and the infamous “man in the hat”, but we start on the football shirts and sports memorabilia filling every inch of wall space in the Gloves gym.
ESQUIRE: You have signed tops from all of the greats here: Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rooney, Kevin Davies…
AK: Ah man, Bolton are the best team going. I’d rather have Bolton than all of them, Thierry Henry and those guys, Beckham. But that’s only a few, I’ve got everyone, so if I ever become broke I can sell them [laughs].
So, the bell rings after 12 rounds with Peterson: how are you feeling?
I’m confident I’ve won the fight, definitely. I thought it would be close, having those two points taken off me [for pushing], but I thought I’d done enough. You can see my face when the referee raises Peterson’s arm — worst feeling ever. But I’d just turned 25 two days before, so it’s not the end of my career, I’m not even at my peak yet. I’m already a two-time world champion, winning it again is not a problem.
What do you think about your performance looking back now?
I’d change a few things. I would have tried to go for the knockout early because I hurt him in the first round with two knockdowns. But I wanted to get a couple of rounds under the belt and put on a performance for the crowd. Forget the crowd now: it’s a job and I want to clean him up.
What can you tell us about the man in the hat, Mustafa Ameen?
He was a guy who was sat ringside who should never have been there. He was handling scorecards, other papers. It’s like my dad handling scorecards, you get me? Then after the fight he was celebrating with Lamont Peterson. That’s what you call illegal.
Did you underestimate Peterson?
I knew it would be a tough fight, but he showed a lot of guts. He took some big shots, his eyes were closed and he still kept coming forward. On top of that, Peterson put 16lbs on in 24 hours after the weigh-in — that’s unheard of. I tried, but I only put on seven pounds.
That’s a lot of protein shakes…
I’m telling ya. That weight makes a massive difference. If he didn’t put on so much maybe I’d have knocked him out. But you don’t know. I’m not going to moan about anything, I’ll take the defeat, fine.
Your aim is to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world: how much has this defeat derailed your plans?
It’s only put me back three months. I still want to fight Floyd Mayweather in December this year. The first time I lost [a first-round knockout by Breidis Prescott in 2008] was much harder. You hear all the negative stuff and you think, “How can this be true?” But it’s sometimes good to have a loss because it puts your feet back on the ground: you analyse your mistakes and don’t make them again.
A lot of experts thought your career was over after the Prescott defeat. Do you feel you’ve proved them wrong?
People thought I’d never be the same fighter again, but I knew I’d made a mistake in the fight. I was killing myself making the weight, my upper body was too big, I had to change trainers and had to move away from all distractions in the UK [Khan now trains in Los Angeles with Freddie Roach, one of boxing’s most revered coaches].
I had to become a professional fighter and as soon as I did that my whole life changed. I probably made the best comeback ever in the history of boxing. To be knocked out — and it was a devastating knockout — and to come back and become a world champion, it shuts up all the critics.
Your pal Andrew Flintoff recently admitted to suffering from depression. Do you think it’s common among sports people?
Every sportsman is different. Mentally, we do the same thing but we think differently. Flintoff might have gone the alcohol way with drinking and getting away from it.
Ricky Hatton says he used to train hard and not touch a drink in camp but outside of that he used to drink loads just to mentally give himself a break.
But for both of them and other sportsmen, I think it knocks a lot of years off your career. Ricky might still be boxing now if he hadn’t drunk as much, and the same with Flintoff. You don’t know, but Flintoff could still be an elite cricket player now.
You’ve just got engaged to your girlfriend, Faryal Makhdoom. Congratulations.
Thanks. I’m getting older and I thought this would be a good time to settle down. That’s why a lot of sportsmen make mistakes, going all over the place and getting caught with different girls. I don’t have to worry about that now, I can put all my energy into boxing.
Where did you meet her?
She’s Pakistani-Muslim, but we met in New York and stayed in touch. She’s a student in… What’s the subject now? Some law subject, I just leave her to it, man, but she’s very smart, a clever girl.
You’ve said you’d never be unfaithful because of the discipline that boxing has given you…
It’s true: boxing made me a totally different person. I still see my teachers and they cannot believe where I’ve got to because I was so naughty in school.
How would you feel about your kids boxing?
They can train, but I wouldn’t want them to go into a fight. You wouldn’t want to see your kid being punched in the face, would you? I don’t know how my parents do it and, actually, my mum can’t do it anymore. My kids can be football players instead.
Do you get a lot of kids at the gym?
We get up to 400 a week coming in. They only pay £1 a session and the reason I charge them £1 — it’s not a profitable business — is that it’s a bit of discipline because they know if they’ve paid for something. When something’s free you’re not going to appreciate it.
Do you still plan to retire in your twenties?
About 28, the perfect age. Making the weight is very hard, your diet has to be really precise. I was brought up eating curries, fried foods and samosas, so boiled vegetables and fish is a bit boring after all the spicy food. But by 28 I’ll have done everything I want in boxing and I can sit back, chill and get fat.
It’s said you’re descended from a warrior clan in Pakistan: are you just a natural for boxing?
Yeah, we come from the Rajput clan, and it has to be something to do with that because I never fear anything. I’ve done everything early: when I was 17, I won the silver medal in the 2004 Olympic Games; it was unheard of in a sport when you’re fighting guys of 34. Then I became one of the youngest world champions out there. It shows what kind of character I am.
As a proud member of the Rajput clan, is it true that you’re scared of spiders?
Yeah, I don’t like spiders. If I see one in my bedroom I have to call my whole family and, even when they do take it out, I won’t sleep in that room for a couple of days or I’ll sleep at my parents. Even as big and strong as I am, I’ll call my mum and she’ll sort it out.
(Khaki cotton military style jacket, £260 by Lacoste. Yellow cotton jumper, £100 by Tommy Hilfiger. Grey 519 cords, £90 by Levis. Purple suede lace up shoes, £265 by Paul Smith. Sliver ring, Amir's own)
(Purple wool and mohair single-breasted slim-fit blazer, £695; matching trousers, £295; violet cotton shirt, £195; violet silk and linen knitted tie, £115, all by Burberry London. Brown leather brogues, £195, by Grenson)
(Black and blue wool/mohair jacket with suede detail, £1,620; navy cotton shirt, £185; black cotton riding pants with contrast tape, £460, all by Gucci)
Photography by David Titlow
Fashion by Catherine Hayward
Interview by Tim Lewis