No one knows better than Amir Khan the courage required and the gravity of the risks entailed when entering a ring to do combat with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez amid the Hispanic celebrations of Mexico’s patriotic Cinco de Mayo weekend.
Five years ago on Friday, Khan dared to step up two divisions to challenge the red-haired Canelo for the middleweight championship of the world.
Too brave for his own good. Knocked out cold, despite boxing his heart out for the best part of six rounds.
Amir Khan knows what it’s like to be knocked out cold by Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (above)
Khan (left) was defeated by the Mexican (right) back in 2016 in a Las Vegas encounter
Memories of that steamy night on the Las Vegas Strip still burn deep. All of them warnings to Billy Joe Saunders of the pain in waiting as the scene shifts this Saturday night to the Tex-Mex hot bed of Dallas, where 70,000 fanatics are expected to be roaring for Alvarez and gypsy blood in the Cowboys Stadium.
Less than a third of that number occupied the T-Mobile Arena in Vegas to see Khan become the third of six English fighters already culled by Canelo, but the claustrophobic intensity of that gathering swamped him.
‘I’ve never fought in any atmosphere as overwhelming as that,’ he says. ‘There was a big crowd of Brits shouting for me but they couldn’t be heard. The Mexican sound was huge but with Canelo, there is something different about the noise.
‘Something more powerful. Somehow it generates huge, unique energy on which he draws. Billy Joe had better be ready for it.’
Khan claims Saunders (above) needs to be ready for the ‘powerful’ Canelo with ‘unique energy’
Just as the Hatfield traveller needs to prepare himself for the unexpected from the first bell, Saunders voices confidence that his athletic mobility, express reflexes and alert head movement can be his keys to a stupendous British upset.
‘Beware,’ says Khan from his retreat in Dubai. ‘Everyone who watches Canelo from outside the ring thinks he’s slow. He’s not. He’s very quick through his timing. He makes you think you are in a slow-paced fight. Believe that and you make a big mistake. You will find yourself getting hit with big shots. Body and head.
‘Being quick myself, I found it fairly easy to catch him with some good shots. But he is very good at closing down the ring and has a good chin.
‘He is happy to take punches so that he can land really telling shots. By the time he fought me his punching was becoming really powerful. He’s gone on to prove it by winning world titles up to light-heavyweight and now back down a notch at super-middleweight.’
Khan claims Canelo is very quick with his timing and his boxing record proves how good he is
Khan was ahead going into the sixth round on the cards of a majority of ringside pundits, so brilliantly was he boxing. But he had suspected that he could not afford to let Canelo catch him flush on his allegedly fragile jaw.
‘It was when the referee told us to touch gloves,’ he says. ‘I could feel his knuckles. He always wears MX boxing gloves which have pretty thin covering. I was using my regular Everlast, which have fluffier padding. Even before the knockout, I felt the full force of his power.
‘He’s just as effective to the body as the head and that’s how he got me in the sixth. A left to the ribs brought my guard down and then he landed that enormous right to the chin.
‘Do not get me wrong: those gloves are properly approved and I have never accused him of doing anything illegal. Quite simply he hit me with the biggest punch I’ve ever taken.
The British boxer also claims Canelo (right) hit him with the ‘biggest punch he’s ever taken’
‘I withstood huge blows from Marcos Maidana in that famous 10th round and won. I got up twice after being knocked down by that massive puncher Danny Garcia before the referee stopped me. But there was no coming back from this one.’
Saunders, backed vociferously by his fellow traveller Tyson Fury, is complaining about Eddie Hearn promoting Alvarez more prominently this week. Khan counsels: ‘This is how it is when you fight the No 1 rated boxer on the planet.
‘With Canelo you have to accept that he brings the big money you’re going to get a share of. He’s huge not only in Mexico but also America.’
Khan, 34, has not fought since a routine win two years ago but he plans to do so again against — at last — Kell Brook.
Khan (above) has not fought in two years but wants to take on Kell Brook in the coming months
‘I’m back in training in my gym in Dubai,’ he says. ‘And I’ll be coming home to Bolton in three weeks to step it up. Kell is still calling me out and I can be fully ready in two or three months if he really wants it.’
Can Saunders go one better and end Canelo’s slaughter of the Brits?
‘Billy Joe has the style that can give Canelo a few problems for a few rounds,’ muses Khan. ‘But, sorry to say, he gets knocked out in the sixth.’ No one is better qualified to offer that prediction.