Amir Khan: Bigots only drive me on to new glory
Last updated at 1:07 AM on 05th December 2009
Amir Khan will not be surprised if he is subjected to sporadic booing as he enters the ring on Saturday night.
He is too intelligent a son of Islam not to know that a few hard-core racists may be lurking in the darker corners of the arena.
What makes him a champion - not only of the world light-welterweight division but of Anglo-Muslim relations - is the way he deals with the prejudice.
Face to face: Amir Khan and Dimitry Salita
As he braces himself for this first defence of his WBA title he says: ‘I know if I was a white English fighter I would be a superstar in Britain. I don’t get racial remarks aimed at me directly but it’s always out there. You can’t stop it. It’s probably jealousy but sometimes skin colour makes a difference.
‘You live and learn what people are about. I just choose to ignore them and carry on with my career.’
He does a lot more than that. So much more that our politicians, who are seemingly at a bewildered loss as to how to soothe the racial tensions festering in this country, should come out of their cloisters and make the trip to Tyneside.
There they could watch and listen to a 22-year-old boxer from the real world of Bolton, who says: ‘I’m confronting issues like the London bombings to try to fix things between the Asian and English communities. I say look at me. If all Muslims were like that I could have chosen to go to the Olympics for Pakistan.
‘Instead, I went to the Games and won a medal for Britain. I’m proud to be British.
‘There’s always going to be racial problems, people not getting on with each other. I’m trying to break that barrier and prove it’s not really like that.’
The issue has been brought more sharply into focus because the man he is about to fight in Newcastle is a Jewish American immigrant.
Khan will be throwing his punches at New York’s adopted Dimitriy Salita in the ring but refutes utterly any suggestion that this is a Holy War.
One such lurid headline greeted the making of this match and Khan was so angered that the newspaper in question backed off that stance.
Number one: Amir Khan hopes to show his quality again in Newcastle
He says: ‘I’m a Muslim but I respect other religions and cultures. Take Salita. I respect him and the Jewish religion. He respects me and my religion. He’s got no chance against me but our faiths have nothing to do with it.
‘In the ring I’m doing what I love but in the world I’m a man of peace. If, as a sportsman and an icon, I can send a message that will help people, I will do that.
‘I’ve never experienced the problem face to face but if you go on the message boards and chat forums there are always people getting in with the religious thing. It’s a very small minority but it does hurt. You get it the other way, too. From young Muslim men. I would rather have peace.’
The bigots will be dismayed to learn, also, that he uses their bitterness to fuel his motivation. That process began after his only defeat, a shattering 54-second knock-out by Colombian Breidis Prescott.
It was not the questioning of his chin which upset Khan. He said: ‘People said I was finished but there were some racial remarks. It made me come back stronger. It helped me win a world title for Britain, even if sometimes you don’t get the appreciation.
‘It also made me a better fighter.’
That process - seven months thus far - has also involved taking up partial residence in Los Angeles and being taken in hand by super-trainer Freddie Roach at the gym where he developed Filipino folk hero Manny Pacquiao into the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world.
Brit of all right: Khan burst into the limelight at the 2004 Athens Olympics
The intensity of his work there is described by Khan like this: ‘There are buckets of blood everywhere. I’ve learned that if you take it easy in sparring you will take it easy in the ring. It’s not tip-tap stuff.
'It’s two people almost killing each other. Freddie is a very calm person but when he tells me to go for it I knock them out. That will happen at some point against Salita.’
Khan's challenger, the son of Ukrainian exiles who fled the anti-Jewish violence there to make Brooklyn their home, is also an articulate defender of his faith.
He, too, has taken a deeply responsible approach to the implications of this fight.
Echoing Khan, he says: ‘Religion shouldn’t come into sport.’
Salita, 27, is a devout practitioner of his faith and aware of the hopes that he can pick up the legacy of Jewish fighters which stretches back to Ted Kid Lewis, East London’s world welterweight champion of 1915, and 1934 heavyweight king Max Baer.
Salita is unbeaten in 32 bouts, but Khan says: ‘He hasn’t fought the quality of fighters on my record. Some are miles better than he has faced. His one draw was against a nobody. He is about to be the first to discover that I now pack as much power in my left hand as my right.’
Nor is Salita renowned as a knock-out puncher. The man with that weapon, the aforementioned Prescott, is on the under-card. A spectacular win over British prospect Kevin Mitchell could provoke a rematch against Khan.
More probably, Khan will look to accommodate Ricky Hatton in a huge British fight, should the Manchester Hitman want to come back from his crushing defeats by Floyd Mayweather Jnr and Pacquiao or look for big pay-nights in the US, where the admiration he receives is a seductive factor.
He says: ‘They treat me like a god over there. Everyone wants to shake my hand. Oscar (De La Hoya) and (Shane) Mosley come to see me train. I have so many Puerto Rican fans and Filipinos follow me because I train with Manny.
'I’ve only been in America a year and maybe I haven’t seen the reality. But so far everything is positive. The culture seems different. It’s more about celebrating success.’
The odds - 1-8 with Ladbrokes - are on more success for this young but most prominent campaigner for racial harmony in Britain.
TV: Khan v Salita, Sky Box Office, from 8pm tonight.