x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Amir Khan hails Dubai as 'better than Las Vegas' as boxing destination

British boxer plans to take sport in UAE to new level by fighting American champion Devon Alexander for IBF Welterweight title, reports Omar Al Raisi.

Amir Khan, above, has been to Dubai a few times and, if the father of the Olympic silver medallist is to be believed, chances of the Briton’s IBF Welterweight title fight with American Devon Alexander, next, happening in Dubai on December 7 are good. Paulo Vecina / The National; Al Bello / Getty Images
Amir Khan, above, has been to Dubai a few times and, if the father of the Olympic silver medallist is to be believed, chances of the Briton’s IBF Welterweight title fight with American Devon Alexander, next, happening in Dubai on December 7 are good. Paulo Vecina / The National; Al Bello / Getty Images

British boxer Amir Khan is planning to take the sport in the UAE and Middle East to a new level by fighting American champion Devon Alexander in Dubai at the end of the year.

Last month, reports in the British press revealed that Golden Boy Promotions, who look after Khan's interests, were in talks with authorities in Dubai about staging the fight, which would be for Alexander's IBF Welterweight title and take place on December 7.

Khan's father, Shah, later told The National that a deal for the fight was "maybe 90 per cent there" with Dubai or the US the top choices to host it.

Amir talked up Dubai's prospects to be a major player on the boxing scene, saying: "Dubai is a place which could be as good as Vegas or even better in terms of boxing.

"It's a sport which is much bigger than Ultimate Fighting Championship, and UAE did a great job of organising that over there, they can do the same for boxing."

If December's bout comes to fruition it will mark the region's first high-profile professional match since former super middleweight king Chris Eubank beat Camilo Alarcon at Dubai's tennis stadium in 1997.

In 2008, Michael Moorer knocked out fellow American Shelby Gross in the first round at Sheikh Rashid Hall in Dubai. It was the three-time heavyweight champion Moorer's last fight.

Mike Tyson was also set to fight Evander Holyfield in Abu Dhabi four years ago, but the fight failed to materialise.

Last week China's Xiong Zhao Zhong beat Filipino Denver Cuello to retain his WBC Strawweight belt at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

Khan said Dubai has the potential to become one of the world's key boxing venues.

"There is a big opportunity for Dubai to attract big names in boxing like [Floyd] Mayweather Jr, Manny [Pacquiao], myself and many others, the sport is loved there but I think they didn't have an opportunity before to put big fights on," says Khan.

"Dubai is a city which is big for many things but not boxing, it's a sport which people know about and like, but it's not talked about on the streets like in the UK or in America.

"Putting on world title fights with big names will get them that attention, and when other fighters see the benefit, then they will think about Dubai as their next fight."

Khan said initially Alexander, 26, was reluctant to fight in Dubai, but the Bolton-born fighter says the man nicknamed "The Great" is warming to the idea of staging the bout in the Emirates.

"We discussed Dubai and put it on the table as my preferred option to Devon. He wasn't sure at first. He suggested we fight in Vegas," says Khan. "Negotiations are going on right now; my dad and Richard Schaefer [CEO of Golden Boy Promotions] are talking to the right people in Dubai, so inshallah all will be OK to stage the fight there."

The biggest hurdle to staging the fight on these shores would be the eight-hour time difference to between here and the United States (11 hours to the west coast), meaning an evening fight would be in the middle of the day in the US, limiting its pay-per-view potential.

However, Showtime, the American cable TV network who are bankrolling a record US$200 million-plus (Dh734.6m) six-fight deal for Mayweather, have given their seal of approval for the Alexander fight to take place here, according to Khan.

"Time difference could be an issue, but we can work on that depending on when we stage the fight in Dubai. My team will look into that, as negotiations are going on," says Khan.

"The fight will be aired on Showtime in the US, BoxNation in the UK and I think in Al Jazeera Sports in the Middle East, but it's not confirmed yet. We might air it on Abu Dhabi or Dubai Sports as well, depending on the negotiations."

Khan has built an impressive 28-3 record since turning professional in 2005, winning the WBA Light Welterweight title four years later age 22. That came after an amateur career which included winning a silver medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004 when he was just 17.

But some of the sheen has been taken off recently by high-profile losses in 2011 and 2012 to Americans Lamont Peterson and Danny Garcia. He has won his two subsequent fights, the last a unanimous points decision over Julio Diaz in April.

As one of the world's most prominent Muslim boxers, Khan, who is of Pakistani descent, is hoping he can capture the imagination of the UAE public and put prizefighting on the map in Dubai, a city he has visited many times before.

"I am a Muslim and I think it would be great to fight in a Muslim country in the UAE. It would be huge exposure for Dubai as a boxing destination," he says. "Whenever I visit Dubai, I often go there for holidays, people stop me everywhere for pictures, autographs, and they love the sport."

Khan hopes to use the Alexander fight as a launchpad to set up a lucrative shot at mystical pound-for-pound king Mayweather (44-0), possibly next year in England.

The undefeated American, 36, announced he intends to box in Britain before retiring. An open-air fight next summer, potentially at London's Wembley Stadium or Manchester United's Old Trafford, have been mooted as possible venues.

"I take it one fight at a time, but yes I would like to fight him, inshallah if all goes well and I beat Devon, I would like to fight Mayweather," says Khan.

"He said it himself, that he wants to fight me. The thing is he has a deal with Showtime for six fights and he has two other fights pencilled in, so I will just have to wait for him after my fight.

"With my attacking and speed-combination-punching style, and the way he fights, I think I can take him down – I can beat him."

Mayweather's next bout is on September 14 in Las Vegas against the Mexican Saul "El Canelo" Alvarez.

Khan split with trainer Freddie Roach last year, who also happens to handle Manny Pacquiao. If the Mayweather bout – for whatever reason – could not be put together, Khan says he would happily test himself against the Filipino great, a man he has sparred with on many occasions.

"I never say no to a big fight, I always want to fight the best and be the best, so why not, if promotions and other formal issues allow it, I would surely take him on," Khan says.

"I have sparred with Manny maybe over 100 times, he is a great fighter, but had a bad KO against [Juan Manuel] Marquez [last December] and he is set to have a rematch against him, let's wait and see how he comes back," says Khan.

"But I believe he still has a long career ahead of him, and he will get back to his best."

As negotiations gather pace, the venue for the potential Alexander bout is yet to be finalised, but the Dubai World Trade Centre and the Burj Khalifa have been mentioned. Amir's father, Shah, will be in Dubai this week to try to iron out the remaining creases in the deal.

The UAE hosting a Formula One Grand Prix was just a dream 10 years ago. Now it is a reality. Boxing fans will hope Khan v Alexander is the first step to making Dubai a top destination for their sport, too.

With Amir "King" Khan, they have the man to make it a reality.


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