Khan, Canelo Take Questions from Media and Shots at Trump

Photos: Will Hart

By Kieran Mulvaney

Amir Khan and Canelo Alvarez have this much in common: they both looked a million bucks at the final press conference on Wednesday for their May 7 middleweight clash. Appropriately suited for the occasion, each man said his piece to those assembled at the MGM Grand’s KA Theatre, and each took his turn talking beforehand with media members; but both at the dais and the preceding round tables, the differences between the two were clear.

Those differences in personality are reflected in their respective fighting styles. Alvarez is deliberate in the ring, throwing relatively few punches and keen to make sure that as many as possible of those he does throw land with maximum effect; Khan, in contrast, is a frenzy of activity, throwing flurries of punches before shifting position and starting again. Similarly, Canelo deals with questions from the press efficiently, respectfully, but without betraying emotion or stepping out of line, as if each response is calculated to avoid making a mistake. Khan, on the other hand, is an open book: willingly sharing whatever thought comes to mind, sometimes to his detriment, in much the same way that he is sometimes guilty of standing in the pocket just a second too long and throwing maybe just one punch too many, when perhaps evasion might be a better tactic than valor.

Asked about his never-changing demeanor, Alvarez allowed himself a slight smile. “It’s a virtue,” he acknowledged, his calmness the result of “confidence in the hard work I have done.” At the age of just 25, he will on Saturday be competing in his 50th professional bout, an achievement made possible by turning pro in Mexico fully ten years previously. “At age 25, I’ve had a good career,” he reflected, “but I can tell you the best years are yet to come. I want the next 10 years of my career to be better than the last 10 years.”

That next stage will begin with his encounter with Khan, but it is mention of another fighter, one Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin, that comes closest to sparking the most slightly temperamental of responses. While Canelo is the lineal middleweight champion, courtesy of his November defeat of Miguel Cotto – who beat Sergio Martinez, who beat Kelly Pavlik, who defeated Jermain Taylor, who dethroned Bernard Hopkins – Golovkin is recognized by the public as the champion-in-waiting, and demand for the two men to meet in the ring will only grow louder should Alvarez dispatch Khan on Saturday. But the Mexican is dismissive of the Kazakh’s record and his string of knockout victories.

“He is the one who has to elevate himself,” he said. “Fighting guys like the other week [a two-round demolition of hapless Dominic Wade] isn’t going to help make it happen. Look at my last 10 opponents versus his last 10. He has to fight someone with skills. Yes, he has knockouts, but who has he fought?”

It is in large part because of that knockout power that Golovkin would likely start as favorite against Alvarez. Khan, in contrast, is the underdog, and understandably so given that he turned pro at lightweight, won world titles at junior welterweight – and was knocked out in both weight classes – and has fought his last few fights at welterweight, never even coming close to the middleweight division. It is, says the Briton, the first time he has been the underdog, and he is inspired by the label rather than bothered by it.

“I’m not supposed to win,” he acknowledged. “I’m a guy who’s supposed to walk in and get beaten. But I’m not going to let that happen.”

Perhaps perversely, he argued that the extra power that Alvarez would bring to bear made it less likely that Khan would be knocked out, as he was by Breidis Prescott and Danny Garcia.

“I haven’t respected guys who’ve knocked me down or knocked me out before,” he said. “But I have to respect this guy. When you know you can be hurt, you’re more on edge. There have been times before when I’ve lost focus. But I can’t lose focus for a bit in this fight. He’s a big, strong guy. He’s a superstar.”

The ever-honest Khan fully admitted the one clear disadvantage he would likely face in the ring against a naturally bigger man, a disadvantage that he has noticed against similarly-sized sparring partners.

“Normally, I can hit my guys and back them up. But against bigger guys, they’re not moving,” he confessed. “I think that might happen in this fight. I might hit him and he won’t feel it. But this fight is going to be won on skill.”

It’s also a fight that pits a Mexican against a Muslim, and as much as boxing operates within its own bubble, the outside world occasionally finds its way in. On this day, with the withdrawal of the last of his rivals, the nomination of Donald Trump – whose campaign has included vilification of both groups – as the Republican standard bearer was all but confirmed. Canelo was asked whether he had any thoughts on the matter, and his natural instinct was to demur, to argue that, “I don’t like to talk politics.” But then he swiftly pivoted and allowed his opinion to be heard.

“It hurts,” he said of Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants. “It offends. When I’m out there running, I see a lot of my countrymen, working hard in the fields. Not everyone comes here to rob. A lot of people want to come and work hard.”

Taking his turn at the dais, Khan didn’t wait to be asked, and addressed the issue in looser fashion.

“You never know,” he smiled, “this could be the last fight for me and Canelo here, if Donald Trump becomes president.”

Behind him, promoter Oscar De La Hoya burst out laughing. The Golden Boy said afterward that Trump would be in attendance – although not, he said, ringside. If he is, he will witness two men, each proud of their heritage, and each in his own way an outstanding ambassador for this most brutal and demanding of sports.

Watch: Canelo vs. Khan Fight Overview

HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney sets the stage for Saturday's HBO PPV fight between Canelo Alvarez and Amir Khan. 

Watch Live: Canelo-Khan Press Conference

Watch LIVE! Canelo Alvarez-Amir Khan final press conference. Canelo vs. Khan happens Saturday, May 7 live on pay-per-view beginning at 9pm ET/6pm PT.

Episode 115: Canelo-Khan Fight Week Podcast #3 - Mailbag

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney are answering emails and giving away signed gloves in the third podcast leading up to this weekend's HBO PPV bout between Canelo Alvarez and Amir Khan.

View from Abroad: What England Thinks of Amir Khan's Chances

Photo: Tom Hogan-HoganPhotos/Golden Boy Promotions

Photo: Tom Hogan-HoganPhotos/Golden Boy Promotions

By Oli Goldstein

Amir Khan finally gets the Vegas headliner he’s spent the past half-decade pursuing when he fights Canelo Alvarez on HBO PPV this Saturday. Having eschewed the typical stay-at-home career path favored by young British fighters when he headed over to Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in 2008, Khan yet finds himself in the all-too British position of plucky underdog against Alvarez: last weekend’s Sunday Times described the fight as “a suicide mission.”

Khan, of course, would loathe being described as an underdog (even if he’d agree with plucky), and historically he’s rarely been regarded as one: as Matt Christie pointed out in this week’s Boxing News, “each of Khan’s losses were a surprise”. This might explain in part why he’s such a polarizing figure in Britain. As Danny Flexen, also of Boxing News, told Inside HBO Boxing, “Khan’s supporters will point to a history of exciting performances and a raft of charity work, but just as many naysayers will criticize a perceived level of arrogance and feelings of superiority. Moving to the US so early in his career has made it difficult to build a reliable localized fan-base, though I’m certain he attracts significant viewing figures on TV.”

So this new role as underdog, quintessentially British and understated, might suit Khan in building support in his native country. Indeed in the same Sunday Times piece quoted earlier, Khan was also praised for his “bravery in agreeing to such a daunting, apparently reckless, assignment,” and hailed for his “sometimes excessive courage.” Like his sometime nemesis, sometime friend Carl Froch, Khan is frequently willing to put his money where his mouth is.

Moreover, like Ricky Hatton before him, Khan has also been content to cross the Atlantic to pursue the biggest fights available. Of course while Hatton lost to Mayweather and Pacquiao on his two previous jaunts to Vegas, he’d already earned a win that would define his career against Kostya Tzsyu in 2005. Khan has beaten plenty of good fighters— Andriy Kotelnik, Marcos Maidana, Paulie Malignaggi, Zab Judah, and Devon Alexander standing out most on his record—but still lacks that defining name on his ledger.

As such Canelo Alvarez, already so significantly bigger and stronger than Khan before the first bell, provides that opportunity for him. “Khan has been around boxing a long time,” Kevin Mitchell wrote in The Guardian this week. “He knows the whims and changing winds of the business but he deserves better than a walk-on part. Finally, he’s got it. His name is properly up in lights at last, in the town where it matters.”

His chances of winning, though, are still perceived as slim. Boxing News, while rating the bout outstanding, predicted a Canelo knockout in the seventh. Still, Flexen suggested to Inside HBO Boxing that people will warm to Khan the closer to the bout it gets: never mind “suicide mission,” Flexen insisted that “more pundits and fighters are affording Khan a chance”, and that by the opening bell, “even the majority of US boxing fans, notoriously demanding, will be on the edge of their seats.”

Ultimately the final word goes to Khan, who wrote this week in Boxing News about his preparations for the fight of his life. “It’s hard to say where a win for me would rank in history,” Khan noted; “there have obviously been a lot of great British wins, but for me to put this fight up there would be amazing.

“People are saying it would be the best ever win and that’s just amazing. It’s not me saying it; it’s other fighters, and that’s such a big confidence boost, giving me great motivation to win this fight. I always said I’m going to do something special in boxing and this is my time now. I’m going to do it.”

Episode 114: Canelo-Khan Fight Week #2 - Official Fight Preview

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney make their official picks for this week's mega-fight between Canelo Alvarez and Amir Khan on HBO PPV.

Canelo-Khan Grand Arrivals

Photos: Will Hart

Canelo Alvarez and Amir Khan greeted fans Tuesday afternoon during their grand arrivals at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Canelo-Khan happens Saturday, May 7, at 9 PM ET, 6 PM PT on HBO PPV.