Khan's future in Britain uncertain
Since he signed with Golden Boy at the start of 2010, Amir Khan’s attention has been primarily focused on successfully making it in the richest boxing market in the world, with his debuts in New York against Paulie Malignaggi and in Las Vegas against Marcos Maidana impressing American fight fans and commentators.
Indeed the Maidana contest was many people’s pick for Fight of the Year, and the way he survived the late onslaught from the Argentine puncher seemingly put to bed doubts about his heart and resiliency.
But Khan decided not to build on this strong start to his American career, instead returning to Manchester, England for his fourth defense of his WBA light welterweight title. Khan’s management was determined to keep him fighting regularly in his home country in an attempt to grow the same sort of domestic fanbase that meant Ricky Hatton could negotiate with the likes of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao as a pay-per-view star of equal worth and allowed both Hatton and Joe Calzaghe to draw huge crowds to soccer stadiums for their title defenses. Unfortunately for Khan Promotions, the economics of the situation have fatally undermined their strategy.
Despite what the HBO and Golden Boy hype may have led you to believe, Khan has repeatedly struggled to translate genuine celebrity into commercial success in his home country. Khan's exploits in the 2004 Olympics won him a silver medal, and a series of early matches on network television have made him one of the best-known boxers in Britain. Despite the fame, Khan has been unable to convince enough people to purchase his pay-per-view events. His last fight in the UK against Dmitry Salita did so poorly the event’s broadcaster, Sky, turned down his fight against Malignaggi and only agreed to show Maidana due to being able to package it with other fights. With his recent matches in the UK coming nowhere close to selling out at the box office, Khan has been unable to draw the large crowds that so defined Hatton and Calzaghe.
The consequence of this commercial underperformance is that Khan lacks the budget to organize major contests in Britain, something aggravated by the fact that he is not working with an established British-based promoter. Whereas his former Hall of Fame promoter, Frank Warren, had the contacts and the determination to bring in in the likes of Andreas Kotelnik and Marco Antonio Barrera to face Khan, Golden Boy has only been able to offer second-string figures from its roster — and even then, it has never been able to seal the deal. Last year a title defense scheduled for London for July 31 against Joel Casamayor was canceled when a financial deal couldn’t be worked out and similar issues prevented Lamont Peterson from being the man to face Khan tomorrow night.
Instead, Khan is to face unbeaten European champion Paul McCloskey in what is clearly positioned as a stay-busy fight before the expected unification against Timothy Bradley this summer. McCloskey is an awkward southpaw who could stifle and frustrate the champion, but in all likelihood Khan’s speed, power and general class should show against a challenger who is not even a full-time fighter.
But the build-up to the fight has been overshadowed by the most spectacular row between Khan and Sky. The broadcaster had demanded Khan’s management organize a stacked undercard for the fight in return for them agreeing to present it as a pay-per-view event. A series of withdrawals prevented Khan’s partner, Hatton Promotions, from organizing any quality supporting contests and Sky Sports responded by canceling the pay-per-view and offering Khan the consolation of the fight being shown for free to their subscribers.
Khan’s management eventually turned down the offer from the dominant broadcaster in British boxing and, in a move derided as “commercial suicide” by McCloskey’s promoter Eddie Hearn, went with a significantly smaller pay-per-view outlet. The collapse of the Sky PPV has likely cost Khan over $1.5 million, and Hearn believes the challenger may well end up earning more for the fight once Khan Promotions has paid all the expenses of hosting the event. What is clear is that few would disagree with Hearn when he derides the organization of the event as a “farce.“
And it’s a farce with profound consequences. Already today Khan has spoken of the fact that he doesn’t expect to be able to fight in the UK again anytime soon, something he blames on a lack of support he’s receiving from British television companies. Should he successfully navigate McCloskey, he will surely follow the example of former undisputed heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis in fighting almost exclusively in America.
As one of the most exciting young fighters in the sport, Khan’s future is bright. But his future is unquestionably American.