by Peter Owen Nelson
To commemorate Amir Khan's turning 24 yesterday December 8, before his final training session at the IBA gym in Las Vegas, the fighter's mother presented her son with a massive cake, which itself appeared to outweigh a junior welterweight. While well-intentioned, it seemed a cruel gesture for a boxer unable to indulge his sweet tooth 48 hours before his weigh-in.
As Khan continues to shed his final few pounds to make his 140-lb upper limit, his birthday began with a gift from strength coach Alex Ariza: a chill desert run at dawn. Khan's jogging mates have gradually rotated throughout his camp from Manny Pacquiao, Julio Cesar Chavez, and now an invasion of British press, easily found during the day endlessly shooting B-roll of the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign south of the strip. After his run, Khan returned to his hotel to rest.
While the fighters and media are staying at the host hotel Mandalay Bay, Khan is staying in a deluxe suite at Planet Hollywood that includes a billiards tables, a 60-inch flatscreen, and, according to an unconfirmed report, a stripper pole in the shower. Khan and Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl bonded in Las Vegas not long ago, just after Manny Pacquiao knocked out Ricky Hatton in May 2009. Security guards at Mandalay Bay let Khan into the after-party and prevented Earl's entry, not recognizing him. Khan helped facilitate Earl's admittance, but not before Earl could tell the guard, "I'm going to come back here... buy this place, and shut it down."
After the light workout with trainer Freddie Roach before the media, Team Khan briefly met with Kevin Spacey for a photo-op before the Las Vegas premiere of his new film. Back in Khan's suite, the WBA titlist wound down over games of pool with his friends, as the movie 'Inception' blared in the background and his advisers dealt with the standard litany of last-minute ticket requests from friends of friends of friends. The mood was upbeat, but festivities muted.
For each of the past five years, the month of Amir Khan's birth has proven ripe for victory: apart from a ten-round unanimous decision win, Khan has knocked out the other four opponents all within two rounds. The beatings have all been meted out either a few days before or after (and even once on) Khan's birthday. On Saturday, Marcos Maidana will hope to upend any celebration and give Khan a gift he's never received: his first loss in the United States.