LAS VEGAS - It seems Amir Khan has been waiting forever to get back into the ring, although it has really been only a year. Twelve months can be a lifetime in boxing as fortunes rise and fall depending upon who a boxer meets in the ring and how he does.
Khan has not met anyone of significance since he lost to Danny Garcia in a junior welterweight title unification match on July 14, 2012. He turned down a fight against Devon Alexander for a welterweight title because he believed he was in line for a match against Floyd Mayweather.
But Mayweather jilted Khan in favor of Marcos Maidana, whom Mayweather will meet in a 12-round welterweight championship match at the MGM Grand on Showtime Pay Per View on Saturday night.
As an olive branch Mayweather offered Khan a spot on the card as the co-feature. Khan will meet Luis Collazo in a 12-round welterweight match. And though there has been talk that the winner will get the next shot at Mayweather, there are no guarantees. Mayweather ultimately will decide whom he fights and the way he chooses opponents is as mysterious as the election of the Pope.
In a strange twist Khan defeated Maidana, dropping him in the first round with a body shot on the way a 12-round decision and retaining the WBA junior welterweight championship in 2010.
Mayweather sweepstakes or not, Khan’s match against Collazo will determine his future in boxing. A victory will put him squarely in the middle of the welterweight championship conversation. A loss plunges him into also-ran status. The 27-year-old former junior welterweight champion from Bolton, England is excited about the prospects.
“I’m looking forward to the big fight against Luis Collazo. It’s my first fight at 147,’’ he said. “I really believe that I belong in the welterweight division. It’s going to be my division for my future career.’’
Khan said the long layoff has been a good thing for him.
“I really believe that I needed a long break off, and taking that time off sometimes makes you metaphysically and mentally a better fighter,’’ he said. “I expect time will tell. We’ll see how much I’ve become a better fighter on the night of the fight.’’
Khan (28-3, 19 KOs) had built himself into a force in boxing and had become one of its rising stars. Between 2010 and 2012 Khan fought five of six matches against world champions or former world champions – Paul Malignaggi, Marcos Maidana, Zab Judah, Lamont Peterson and Danny Garcia. But things slowed to a crawl as he waited on Mayweather for most of 2013.
Even so life went on for Khan. In the last year Khan’s life has changed inside and outside the ring. He has abandoned the single life and is now a married man. His wife Faryal is set to deliver their first child later this month. He dropped trainer Freddie Roach and has been working with Virgil Hunter, the trainer for Andre Ward, the super middleweight champion and member of boxing’s Pound-for-Pound best list.
Khan has been training and working out in Hayward, California where Hill has his gym setup in preparation for the Collazo match. Hunter has been trying to remake Khan into a full-fledged welterweight, because he knows there is a major difference in punching power between 140 and 147 pounds. Mainly Hill has been building on Khan’s strengths as a boxer.
“We’ve been working on just being patient, being smart, using the feet and the hands at the right time, using the defense and the offense at the right time, and my trainer Virgil Hunter has been changing me up. He’s making me understand the sport of boxing,’’ Khan said.
Khan will need the total package – physical and mental – to defeat Collazo, who has experienced a rebirth of his fallow boxing career after knocking out Victor Ortiz. Collazo (35-5, 18 KOs) is a slick southpaw, who showed surprising KO power in sending Ortiz down for the count in the second round of a match before his hometown Brooklyn fans at the Barclays Center in January.
“Collazo’s a one-of-a-kind fighter. He has his own style,’’ Khan said. “I respect the way he fights and he always causes big problems to his opponents, and he does really well in the ring. I’m not going to compare him to any opponent I’ve faced before.’’
Khan vows that everyone will see a different boxer when he steps in against Collazo. And he knows what he has to do to enter the welterweight championship conversation.
“It’s all about putting a great performance on, putting a great fight on and giving the crowd what they want,’’ he said. “The fans want to see a good fight, the fans want to see an exciting fight, and I think us two, the two styles we have will make this fight very exciting, and very good to watch.’’