Amir Khan’s first venture into Saudi Arabia must end with a convincing victory over Australian Billy Dib on Friday, for more than just his own own credibility.
The 32-year-old former world champion wants to be the catalyst “to make Saudi Arabia a big fight capital just like Las Vegas, New York and London”.
As Khan’s career slows to its end, the moneymen in the Middle East are looking for a show-stopping, sand-shifting mega-event, and Khan says a potential fight with eight-weight world champion Manny Pacquiaio, now 40, would fit the bill.
But if he is to draw Pacquiao to the Middle East, and away from his duties as a senator in his homeland of the Philippines, Khan needs to dazzle in Jeddah. He has promised a “special show” at the King Abdullah Sport City stadium, where he takes on underdog Dib for the vacant World Boxing Council International welterweight championship.
This ought to be a free pickings for Khan against a heavily under-matched opponent. The Australian lost a world title fight with Tevin Farmer 11 months ago at 130lbs, three divisions below Khan.
Dib replaces original challenger Neeraj Goyat, the Indian fighter who was injured in a car crash three weeks ago. Even Dib revealed he thought he had been pranked when he got the call to face the former Olympic gold medalist.
“When they called me I thought it was a joke to be quite honest at the start,” he said. “Me and Khan have been friends, but then when they said they were serious, I was like, ‘of course I’d jump at the opportunity’.”
Khan returns to the ring just 12 weeks after peeing blood from body shots and being stopped by a punch to the groin in the sixth round at the hands of undefeated three-weight world champion Terence Crawford at Madison Square Garden, New York, in a bid for the World Boxing Organisation crown.
Khan said of Friday’s ‘Red Sea Fight Night’ extravaganza, which has the support of the region’s Saudi General Sports Authority: “This is a very exciting time for boxing in the Middle East. My partner Bill Dosanjh and I are pioneering in the region, and my fight with Dib is breaking new ground.
“Putting on live shows for the public is just the start of our plans. We intend to make Saudi Arabia a big-fight capital just like Las Vegas, New York and London and in time I believe that it will be just as big as those cities.”
He added: “Through our Super Boxing League teams the Jeddah Sharks and Tigers we aim to discover and develop the first stars of Saudi boxing. The dream would be to help discover the first Saudi boxing World Champion or help to take the first Saudi boxer to Olympic gold. That is our aim and this is just the beginning.”
As for the potential Pacquiao fight, Khan said of his former sparring partner: “There’s always been talk about the Pacquiao fight, but it’s never materialised. I think this is the closest we’ve ever got to it.
“If I was to take the Manny Pacquiao fight, I want to have one or two fights before that to make sure that I’m going to be back in the game again. I’d love that fight, but it’s up to Manny’s team to sign that dotted line.”
Pacquiao, meanwhile, will attempt to unify the regular World Boxing Association welterweight bauble when he takes on WBA Super Champion Keith Thurman in Las Vegas on 20 July. The American has claimed he will end the Filipino’s career in his 71st bout.\
Pacquiao thinks otherwise, of course. “We picked this fight against Thurman because we believed we could give great action to the fans and I know I’ll be ready to deliver on my end,” he said. “The more Thurman talks, the more it will help me. His words are motivating me and encouraging me to work even harder day after day.
“Boxing is about throwing punches, not who has the bigger body. My speed and power will speak for itself. He may underestimate me now, but he’ll talk differently once he’s in the ring with me.
“Thurman reminds me the most of Ricky Hatton, of fighters that I’ve faced. Will it be the same result? You never know.”
Back in Jeddah, on Friday’s undercard former world title challenger Hughie Fury, the cousin of heavyweight Tyson Fury, meets Nigerian Samuel Peter, the former WBC heavyweight champion – now 38 – who fought and lost to both Klitschko brothers.
I expect Khan to stop Dib inside six rounds, and Fury to win comfortably by decision or by late stoppage.