Khan mans up
If Amir Khan entered the ring against Marcos Maidana last December a boy and left it a man, then Britain's WBA light-welterweight champion is fast discovering being a fully-fledged grown-up in the ruthless world of boxing has plenty of downsides.
The 24-year-old from Bolton is set to defend his crown for a fourth time against European champion Paul McCloskey in Manchester on Saturday - but not on Sky as planned. Irked by a series of withdrawals on the undercard, Sky decided the bill was not worthy of pay-per-view and switched it to one of its regular channels. Camp Khan, stung by a reported £1m pay cut, jumped ship to fringe cable outfit Primetime.
While the actions of Khan and Hatton Promotions are understandable - they cannot be blamed for accepting a higher bid from a rival channel in the hope of breaking even, although some reports suggest Khan will get next to nothing - one has to wonder whether they have all fallen victim to short-termism, perhaps the sport's most debilitating disease.
Many will applaud Sky for its stance. David Haye's tragicomic fight against Audley Harrison last November has clearly made it wary of short-changing fans, especially in these straitened times. If a fight is to be deemed worthy of pay-per-view from now on, it has to be worthwhile viewing.
Khan (left) expects McCloskey to be awkward but says he has his number. Photo: Getty
And many will see a bigger picture. Khan fighting McCloskey on a free-to-air channel would have been the perfect way to sell the Englishman's planned unification bout against American Tim Bradley in Las Vegas this summer.
The last-minute wrangling is hardly the best preparation for what Khan hoped would be a glorious homecoming. But the Olympic silver medalist at the 2004 Games in Athens has learned that success in the ring, like success in any field, does not necessarily make life any less complicated.
Take recent tabloid speculation linking Khan to glamour model Katie Price. While the tabloid newspapers seem convinced the pair are an item - the tale of a Muslim boxer and a woman famous for getting her kit off was always going to work them into a lather, whether true or not - Khan insists the relationship is purely platonic.
"To be honest, it was more about my friend and Katie. My name was just being used because my friend was involved in the story," Khan tells BBC Sport. "It's frustrating but I knew it was going to come. If you win a medal at the Olympics, keep winning fights and make a name for yourself, people are going to want to know your business.
"That's what it's like, people want to know exactly what I get up to, people get the wrong end of the stick and little things get blown up. But I'll walk out of the situation as the cleaner person and it will be proved I had to nothing to do with it all along."
Khan (left) suffered plenty of punishment against the hard-hitting Maidana. Photo: Getty
Khan, who is trained by the venerable Freddie Roach, spent some of the build-up to Saturday's fight working with the planet's best pound-for-pound fighter, Manny Pacquiao, in Baguio City in the Philippines. It was the perfect way to escape his celebrity while getting a hands-on lesson in the pitfalls of fame.
"It was crazy," says Khan. "Wherever Manny goes, he gets hounded. It's kind of difficult for him and it's a bit like my situation when I'm in England. I don't think I could ever train back home now I've got used to training abroad, where people don't know me as much."
While Khan is nowhere near Pacquiao in the fame stakes - the Philippine was voted one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2009 by Time magazine - his victory over Maidana, and the nature of it, certainly moved him up a couple of notches. It also dismayed those - and there were many - who had gleefully foretold his downfall.
"It showed I can be a big name in boxing," says Khan, whose career almost came undone when he was knocked out by Colombian Breidis Prescott in 2008. "A lot of people were down on me before that fight and I proved a lot of critics wrong.
"Maidana is such a big hitter and lots of people were saying he was going to knock me out. But I showed I could take a good shot, stand there and fight back. It was all about shutting the critics up and proving to everyone how good I was. And I won a lot more fans because I showed how exciting I can be that night."
McCloskey is a very different fighter to Maidana. An unorthodox southpaw in the mould of the mercurial Herol Graham, the Dungiven man carries his hands low, throws shots from funky angles and, like Graham, brings knockout power. But he will not have faced a fighter of Khan's class before and could be in for a very uncomfortable night.
However, Khan is confident he has McCloskey's number: "I know he is very awkward," he says, "but we've been working with a lot of awkward opponents, I'm with the best trainer in the world and I don't think anything can go wrong."
Khan is man enough now to know things can, and always do, go wrong in boxing. Some of these things he has little or no control over, such as scuppered TV deals and tabloid stings. But the signs are he is on his way to mastering the vicissitudes of the ring.