Amir Khan retires a trailblazer, famous for his vulnerabilities as much as his storied boxing career

·6-min read
Amir Khan, the 2004 Olympic silver medallist who became a unified world champion at light-welterweight, has announced the end of his in-ring career - Nick Potts/PA Wire
Amir Khan, the 2004 Olympic silver medallist who became a unified world champion at light-welterweight, has announced the end of his in-ring career - Nick Potts/PA Wire

Amir Khan, the trailblazing boxer from the British Pakistani Muslim community, has finally called time on a long and storied career that began with an Olympic medal, peaked with a unified world championship and ended as so many journeys do with one fight too many.

'King' Khan leaves the sport with a 40-fight career under his belt, with 34 victories and six defeats, but he will be best remembered for his lightning fast hands, desire for a war in the ring, and, at times, his vulnerability at the highest level.

But most of all, the 35-year-old Khan remains one of the stand-out fighters of this era. “It’s time to hang up my gloves,” wrote Khan on his social media accounts on Friday.

The statement comes 12 weeks after his final fight, when Khan was stopped in the sixth round of a one-sided grudge match by arch-rival Kell Brook. Brook, indeed, hung up his gloves a week ago, announcing it in an exclusive interview with The Telegraph.

His career first came to prominence with a silver medal at Athens 2004, after which he turned professional and soon became a unified light-welterweight world champion before challenging for world titles at welterweight and middleweight.

Remarkably, Khan was as much a success in the United States as he was in the UK, training in the shadow of Manny Pacquiao and sharing a mentor in Freddie Roach, in Los Angeles. The biggest promoters in the world, from Frank Warren to Oscar de la Hoya, all wanted to work with Khan, who had star-like qualities from the days he claimed Olympic silver as a 17-year-old, GB's youngest medallist ever at a Games. Khan lost to the Cuban Mario Kindelan in that final, but avenged that defeat before joining the paid ranks under Warren.

Recalling the reception after his Olympic success, Khan told Telegraph Sport: “I won a silver medal there, but the way I got treated when I came back, it was like I won the gold medal. The British people, I have to thank them for giving them this chance to prove myself.”

Khan takes home silver after losing to Matrio Kindelan in the lightweight final - Russell Cheyne for The Telegraph
Khan takes home silver after losing to Matrio Kindelan in the lightweight final - Russell Cheyne for The Telegraph

Khan, indeed, has lived a very public life. “You get hate the day you become famous. The day you don’t get hate, you’re finished. I’ve been getting hate from the day I made it into the newspapers for the first time," Khan told this reporter in an interview three years ago.

"The day I won the Olympic medal, it started. I never let it get to me and I never think it’s a religious or colour thing. I just go with the flow. Because if you go to any of my fights, most of the people who buy my tickets are British and white. I respect that. I live in a world where there’s a lot of racial issues, but in England I get looked after and have a great relationship with English people.”

Khan admitted, moreover, that he will always be "a mummy's boy" - relating in an interview for The Telegraph Magazine that his mother removed spiders from his bedroom as a child due to his absolute fear of them. Yet in 2017, revealing that he was unaware of what was awaiting him in the Australian jungle, Khan went into "I'm a Celebrity... Get me out of here..." where his greatest fears were realised for the entertainment of the nation. Yet on the show, Khan endeared himself to the public once more, proving that prizefighters are rarely mean-spirited.

Khan fought a modern Who's Who around his weight class, enjoying victories over Marco Antonio Barrera, Andreas Kotelnik - winning his first world title - and going on to notable victories over Paulie Malignaggi, Marcos Maidana and Zab Judah. Back to back losses in 2011 and 2012, controversially to Lamont Peterson and the following year being stopped by Danny Garcia, slowed his rise.

In the next decade, and in essence going on too long, Khan lost three of 11 fights, to Saul Canelo Alvarez - at middleweight - and to Terence Crawford and Brook, at welterweight, never regaining the world title.

Prior to the Canelo fight, Khan told me: “It’s a defining fight for him, but it’s also a fight that can cement my legacy. I really believe winning this fight will give me a huge status in boxing by beating one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.” Khan was knocked out by the power of the Mexican in the sixth round.

So why did he box on? Khan was motivated by wanting the children he has had with his wife, Faryal, to see him win another world title.

British boxer Amir Khan (C) celebrates after beating Ukrainian boxer Andreas Kotelnik - ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images
British boxer Amir Khan (C) celebrates after beating Ukrainian boxer Andreas Kotelnik - ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images

“I think I would be retired already if I didn’t have them," Khan told me in 2018. "I wouldn’t have anything else to gain. I’d won everything in my career. I wanted to win a world title and go to an Olympics, and I did that very early in my career. I could have retired knowing I’d achieved what I wanted to.

“My dreams, I got them. When I had kids, I wanted to give them a good life and be proud of their father. That’s why I stayed in the game longer, just to give them that opportunity to see what their father is all about. I stayed in boxing so they could get to an age where I’d be fighting for titles.”

A few years ago, Khan had revealed to me that he had intended to give up boxing long ago. “I never really put a date on it, but I always said I wanted to retire young at like 28. Honestly it’s difficult when you’re paid so well. I love the sport, it’s a great lifestyle and I’ll miss it.

“It’s hard to even think about it. I do see it as being very close to the end. In any sport, you want to achieve your goals and I’ve achieved world championships and I’m happy with that. I’ve achieved an Olympic medal. I’ve got a name in America in boxing. I’ve set myself for the future and I can relax. If I do walk away, I’ll be fine. I need to get into something, like charity work. Something to keep me busy.”

Khan has indeed set up charitable foundations, from a life in boxing best lived.

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