Two years ago when Amir Khan had his senses scrambled in less than a minute by Breidis Prescott at Manchester’s MEN Arena, I was punching the air with delight. Khan had been building himself up as the second coming of ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, despite having faced nothing more threatening than the usual array of has-beens, never-weres and Mexican roadsweepers during his fledgling career. With complete disregard to this questionable level of opposition, his promoters had the temerity to showcase the contest with Prescott on Sky Box Office. Fifteen quid to watch a protected fighter walk through another bum – what a joke. I had no intention of chucking my hard-earned money into Sky’s coffers for this one, but, like a hopeless crack addict, I picked up the phone to my boxing dealer two hours before the main event… My expectations for an evening of genuine sporting drama were lower than a rattlesnake’s testicles, but then Khan saw fit to rush towards Prescott at the opening bell like an 11-year-old novice and walked onto a shot that would have poleaxed a two-tonne elephant.
Get in there! Despite being weighed down by an extra large Dominos pizza and the best part of two bottles of plonk, and even though Khan was flying the Union Flag, I was dancing around the room. The warning signs had been there for a while. Willie Limond, who couldn’t punch his way out of a wet paper bag, floored him in a life-and-death struggle for the Commonwealth lightweight title, as did the unheralded Rachid Drilzane and even blown-up super-featherweight Michael Gomez who was at the tail-end of a long, arduous career. For me, Khan was a European level fighter with an amateurish style and non-existent defence who would get found out as soon as he mixed in top class. But fast-forward two years and the transformation of Khan, under the expert tutelage of coach Freddie Roach, has been astounding. On Saturday night he faced a man who the trade had accused him of avoiding, Marcus Maidana – the hardest puncher in the light-welterweight division. It was a match made in hell for the supposedly weak-chinned Bolton fighter. However, for the first five rounds Khan was every bit as good as his great friend, gym-mate and pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet, Manny Pacquiao. His assaults had a percussive intensity, delivered with a ruthless combination of speed and spite. For those 15 minutes of controlled violence he made the sport look like a balletic art. He withstood some rocky moments in the mid rounds before regaining control, but then, in the tenth, came the biggest gut-check of his career by far. After catching Khan flush with a wild overhand right, Maidana sensed blood and moved in for the kill, raining punches on the Brit whose legs were failing to respond to his brain’s instructions. It appeared only a matter of time before Khan hit the deck, but somehow he hung on, stubbornly refusing to wilt under an incessant barrage. His resilience was as improbable as the Queen eating witchetty grubs in the I’m A Celebrity jungle. For me, Khan’s victory was up there with Calzaghe’s masterclass against Kessler, Haye’s up-and-down thriller with Mormeck, Hatton’s relentless assault of Tszyu and Froch’s brilliant victory over Abraham. In the early hours of Sunday morning I was punching the air in delight at the bravery and skill of one of Britain’s truly outstanding sportsmen.