Friday, November 13, 2009

Roach Developing Khan to Fill Pacquiao's Void

Freddie Roach and Amir Khan work on the finer points of throwing a straight right hand at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood.

LOS ANGELES – If it is true that Manny Pacquiao will only fight one more time after facing Miguel Cotto, then the sport of boxing will have a huge void to fill.

Pacquiao is the recognized world's best pound-for-pound boxer and he is beginning to transcend the sport in a way that few do. When he leaves boxing for a career in politics in the Philippines, his absence will be felt from the casinos of Las Vegas to the halls of HBO to the steps of Freddie Roach's Wild Card Gym.

In boxing, as in the entertainment industry that thrives only a few blocks from Freddie Roach's Wild Card Gym here in Hollywood, the sport is always on the lookout for the next big star.

Enter Amir Khan.

Khan is poised to one day step into the role that Pacquiao currently fills. He is a 2004 Olympic silver medal winner and currently holds the WBA junior welterweight title. Still a youngster at age 22, with a record of 21-1, 15 KOs, Khan still has a long way to go to ever match what Pacquiao has accomplished.

However, Khan is a developing and improving fighter. And perhaps the biggest ace he has up his sleeve is that he and Pacquiao share the same trainer - Freddie Roach.

Roach is considered the finest trainer in the sport. Fighters from around the world seek him out for the answers that he can help bring them when it comes to the complexities of strategy and training that will take them to the next level.

It is why Khan has come all the way to Hollywood, California from his home in Bolton, England. It is inside the small, crowded gym up above a laundromat, that Khan hopes he will find the answers that will lead him to the notoriety, fame and fortune currently enjoyed by Pacquiao.

“He has a long way to go, but anything is possible,” said Roach on Monday morning when asked if he thought there was a chance for Khan to match what Pacquiao has accomplished. “He's a young kid, still. But when Manny walked in here few years ago there wasn't too many people that thought he would go on to become what he is now.”

Khan has already developed quite a following in his native Great Britain. He will meet Dmitriy Salita on Dec. 5 in Newcastle, England and with only a few weeks to go before that fight happens, the arena where the fight will be held is virtually sold out.

Khan has the type of popularity that routinely makes headlines in the British newspapers and television crews from England have followed him here to California. Frank Warren, the most influential and well-known promoter in Great Britain is helping to direct his career.

Certainly all of the pieces seem to be in place for Khan to one day achieve what Pacquiao has. The biggest piece is of course whether Khan will ever develop the skills and the tenacity that has seen Pacquiao become a superstar in the sporting world.

“Most people don't know the type of dedication that it takes to get to the level that Manny is at,” said Roach. “People come in here to the gym everyday and they look around and they don't think this stuff looks that difficult. But they try it and they see how hard it is. Guys like Manny, obviously, are at the top and he's different. Amir is below him in terms of ability. But when I say he has a ways to go, some people think I'm crazy.”

Khan worked out Monday at the Wild Card. After he was finished, he stood outside on the steps of the gym to talk to a news crew from Sky Sports. It was a bright and warm day and he mingled with fans and others that were coming and going.

Khan has a chance to one day become an elite fighter. However, it will mean many more hours spent in Roach's gym.

Khan certainly has the personality to become a star. He is friendly and engaging and he likes to talk, joke with fans, pose for pictures and sign autographs. One day, after Pacquiao is gone, it is easy to envision Khan as the next big thing in the sport. He has all of the components in place outside the ring.

However, inside the ring can often be a different story. Khan was starched in the first round by the unknown Breidis Prescott last year. The critics say that he doesn't have the chin to take a world-class punch and ultimately that will prove to be his undoing.

While that point is still yet to be proven - Khan is dedicated to his craft. He has sacrificed an easier life in England for a more Spartan existence here in Los Angeles. It is here, half a world away, that Khan and his advisers believe he needs to be. Here is the place, they are certain, that will take him to the next step in a career that is at a stage where he could soon fill arenas on this continent, too.

“If you're asking me do I think Amir can do what Manny has done, I think he can,” says Roach. “Manny has shown anything is possible. Nobody would have thought that a guy from the Philippines, a little guy, could ever do what he has done. He couldn't even speak English when he first got here. Now he's beat De La Hoya. He beat Hatton. A little guy, who used to be a flyweight. If Manny could do all that, maybe Amir can, too."

November 2009

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