Khan’s switch to Roach paying off

Less than a year ago, Amir Khan was the wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

The place was flat on his back in the corner, the time 54 seconds into a fight with Breidis Prescott. That is how long it took the hard-punching Colombian to shatter British boxing’s brightest reputation and Khan’s suspect chin.

No sooner had Khan staggered to his feet, the knives were out. He would never make the grade, they said. His chin will always let him down, they said. He was not worth all the hype, they said.

Well, less than 10 months later, the man from Bolton, England, is in a completely different place — a world title fight against WBA light welterweight boss Andriy Kotelnik, And now, Khan is expected to win. Come Saturday night in Manchester, England, he could be on top of the world, the man who would be king.

The journey has not been as long as it has been arduous, but that is typical of the Khan whirlwind. Changes were made instantly in his camp and since then his prospects move as fast as his punches.

And there is one place that has made all this possible — the Wildcard Gym in Hollywood.

No sooner had Khan’s senses cleared then trainer Jorge Rubio was replaced by Freddie Roach. Already the game’s leading name, the Wildcard owner became Khan’s trainer and tactician. Since then Oisin Fagan was despatched and the legend of Marco Antonio Barrera dismantled.

It is no secret that Roach is good and it is no secret that sparring in America is a surefire way of improving, but put the two together and Khan could not be in a better place — even if that means sharing a ring with current pound-for-pound supremo and stablemate, Manny Pacquiao.

“It was brilliant,” he said of mixing it with the Filipino.

“When I spent time in the ring sparring with him, I got my respect in the gym, when I did really well with Manny — and that was two or three fights ago. I’m a completely different fighter now. I’d love to spar with him again to see how far I’ve come on.

“I used to treat sparring like a fight because that’s what Freddie says: You have to treat it as a fight. If the guy gets knocked down, you put him down.

“Freddie had bets of $1,000 for me to knock Manny down and says whoever knocks Amir down will get $1,000!

“The sparring partners don’t take it easy here. It’s like a fight, it’s their living and they have to make sure they’re good enough for Freddie to have them back again. It’s that or ‘there’s your check, see you later!'”

There have been changes at the Wildcard since the Barrera win back in March. Former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer, who worked closely with Khan, has left.

But Roach is still there, predicting a late knockout against Kotelnik, ably assisted by Jesse Reid. And conditioner Alex Ariza is still working as hard on Khan’s physique.

They say they have taken more upper-body weight off and beefed up his legs. Inside the ring and out, Khan has been remodeled. It is a far cry from the dark days of Rubio, who was blamed for picking Prescott as an opponent and did little visibly to help Khan come fight night, even if it lasted less than a minute.

“It’s the right team I need around me,” he said. “I’ve got the ability to beat anyone in the world but you need the right team around to bring the best out of you — and I think Freddie’s the right guy for that.

“It put me back where I wanted to be after Prescott. Everyone knows my name, in America everyone knows of me and now the fight with Kotelnik has been made, people think ‘Yeah, this is a good fight’.

“Whereas if I hadn’t beaten Barrera, people would be saying I didn’t deserve the fight.”

Khan though, believes in the not too distant future, he will deserve more. Far more.

His immediate attention is on the Ukrainian champion Kotelnik, who has lost only twice in 34 fights and both times on the judges’ scorecards.

Whisper it quietly, but Khan believes he should be mixing it with boxing’s very best. That means Floyd Mayweather Jr., Juan Manuel Marquez, maybe even Pacquiao and quite possibly his friend, Ricky Hatton.

Khan admits he would rather have Hatton and his family supporting him and offering him advice — as they did after the Prescott fight — but such are his dreams and the doors now opening for him, he won’t rule out an all-British showdown with the Hitman.

“A lot of people might be thinking ‘Amir’s stupid talking about the fact he wants to fight Marquez or Mayweather’, but I’ve got targets and ambitions and I want to share the ring with these guys,” he said. “Even Manny Pacquiao or Ricky Hatton.

“I want to be in the same ring as them and fight them and to beat them will be huge. I’m not saying I’d fight them now because I’m not ready for them, but in the future I would like to fight them.

“I get a lot of criticism for people saying I’m jumping the gun and getting big fights straight away, but I’m saying in the future I want to fight them. There’s no point in fighting these guys now, when I’ve not hit my peak.”

He might not have done that just yet, but Amir Khan is certainly on track. And in the right place.