Plus, Natasha Jonas insists she ‘will not stay at 154lbs’ even if she wins on Khan v Brook undercard after stepping up three divisions
Amir Khanwas overweight and undermotivated – but there was one man who could snap him out of his stupor: Kell Brook. “Everyone knows we’ve had that bad blood for many years,” Khan says.
Now the contest has become – albeit belatedly – a super-fight of sorts. No title on the line, just the championship of each other on Saturday night in Manchester. And everyone is talking about it: the grudge, the acrimony, the “bragging rights” between two former world champions which should have happened at least six years ago.
Now we are here, just a couple of days away. “It’s personal,” Khan insists. “A couple of months ago I put on some weight and mentally I wasn’t prepared,” the former world champion, 35, told Telegraph Sport.
“What prepared me to get back in the gym and train hard was Kell Brook. The fight’s been talked about so much and everywhere I went I would hear that name. I thought, ‘you know what, I’m going to do this fight and then I’ll give him a good beating’.
“That was my motivation. If it was another fight against somebody else it might have been a little bit different. But because it’s me and him and there’s bragging rights. It’s everything. This fight has got everything.”
Khan, indeed, has not been in the ring for 31 months, and his last fight of significance was three months earlier, in May 2019, when he was soundly beaten and stopped at Madison Square Garden, New York, by unbeaten three-weight world champion Terence Crawford.
The American, who beat Brook last year, is now here in the UK supporting Khan, with the Bolton man having been in camp with the American’s trainer Brian McIntyre. “I’m ready, the weight’s great, I feel fit, I feel strong. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in this position, a couple of years at least,” he explains.
“My last fight was in Saudi Arabia back in 2019 and it seems like a very long time ago. It’s good that I’m back in the mix and against someone everybody knows I don’t like. Everyone knows we’ve had that bad blood for many years.
“It’s a good time for me to put this thing to bed and to set the record straight. I am the better fighter and I’m going to do a job on him and prove I’m the better fighter. Everywhere I go people are like, when are you going to fight Kell Brook? I’m like, I don’t know. They say, fight Kell Brook and do a job on him. It’s just that time for me to prove I’m the better fighter.”
For Khan, he did not want to risk the chance that he would be defined by a fight that did not happen.
“I would have had people saying it to me all the time,” he says. “You didn’t fight Kell. You didn’t fight Kell. Even though I know I’m the better fighter that still doesn’t justify it not happening. So I had to make it happen and give the fans the fight they wanted.”
The time away, the reality series with his wife Faryal, the charity work, life as a father, has given him a new perspective – and a rest. “I think those breaks I had between fights did me a world of good,” he adds.
“Mentally I’m nice and chilled and sharp and I’ve never felt so good, honestly. I’m not going to say if I’m going to fight again after this, or not going to fight again after this. But I do have it in me to have a few more fights.”
The US is a familiar hunting ground, after periods with Freddie Roach in Los Angeles and Virgil Hunter in Oakland. “Training with Terence, BoMac [McIntyre] and these guys has been amazing. The way they push you but support you at the same time.
“The camp I went through there, now I know why Terence Crawford is one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world. They’ve got the altitude, the focus, the team, and the sparring partners. What else do you need?”
Then Khan adds: “But this has become personal with Kell. I wanted to shake hands, but he refused. It was business for me, but he changed that. I’m nowhere near as emotional for this fight, though, as he is.”
Then Khan turns his attention to his plan to silence the man who has pursued a fight with him for at least eight years. “If I catch him I don’t think he’s going to last,” he says.
“I might catch him in the first round, I might catch him in the 12th round. I’m just going to do a nice clinical job on him. I’m just going to box him and be sharp, put that pressure on when I need to, and hurt him. It’ll be a beating. He’ll want to give up himself.”
‘He won’t want another fight – he’ll be finished after this’
Brook, says Khan, gave much away in their press conference full of acrimony in December, in London. “In a way, he was showing himself that he had the confidence. It wasn’t that he wanted to show me. He was telling himself, I’m not scared, I’m not scared. I could see in his eyes he was scared. But he’s doing things like overreacting to show he’s not scared.
“It made it so blatant. The fight had been signed, why are you trying to show me you really want the fight or you want to hurt me? We’re going to fight, he’ll get that opportunity come Saturday night. I see that in him. It’s a bit strange. You never do that when you’re fighting.
“At the end of the day we’re prizefighters and it’s a business. With him, he’s that scared that he’s maybe he’s realised the fight is here now. There’s no turning back. Does he really want the fight? I think he was happier with all the publicity the fight used to get. But now it’s here.”
Should it be a spectacular fight, there is a rematch clause. But, Khan says: “There’ll be no rematch after this fight. He won’t want another fight. He’ll be finished after this. I might have thought twice about this question a couple of months ago when I was a bit overweight and not training. But since I’ve been in training camp I know for a fact I’m going to walk through this fight with flying colours.”
What Khan must not do, nonetheless, in spite of having said publicly that he is “levels above” his foe, is underestimate a wizened, championship campaigner like Brook. “He’s a good fighter, a very good fighter. He’s skillful, got decent power, speed. But the punishment I’m going to be giving him I don’t think he’s going to be ready for it. He won’t be able to take it.
“There’s only so much punishment you can take in a fight or in your career and this will be worrying him. In the back of his mind he’ll be thinking, another big shot on my eye socket, another knockdown. But I won’t be taking it easy on him. I’ll be going all guns blazing.”
Jonas will move back down in weight after giant leap up three divisions
Exclusive by Gareth A Davies
Natasha Jonas insists she “will not stay at 154lbs” if victorious against Uruguayan Chris Namus after making the extraordinary move to step up three weight divisions in her effort to become a world champion at the third attempt.
Jonas will move back down – to welterweight or even lightweight – should she claim the vacant WBO light-middleweight crown against Namus, who has twice as many fights in her career and has fought three times as many rounds.
Jonas meets Namus on Saturday in Manchester, on the undercard of Amir Khan vs Kell Brook, and it is not unusual for elite boxers to go hunting in higher weight divisions in both the women’s and men’s sports, but stepping up three weight classes between fights is one of boxing’s more uncommon sights.
Jonas, 37, lost two close contests at world title level in her last two outings against fellow British fighter Terri Harper – a draw – and undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor, in a close decision defeat, and Namus is a late replacement for former WBC champion Ewa Piatkowska, who has withdrawn after testing positive for Covid-19.
Having “learned from those losses”, Jonas explained that she “just hasn’t had to cut a lot” in preparation for the taller, heavier opponent she faces from South America. “It is at 154lbs but I’ll probably come in around 147 or 148 pounds,” Jonas told Telegraph Sport.
“I don’t plan to stay at light middleweight, but it was my biggest opportunity right now. All the champions were taken, Taylor-Serrano is signed, and Jessica McCaskill (the unified welterweight champion at 147lbs) didn’t want to fight me and is probably looking at the winner of Taylor-Serrano, so this was the best thing out there.
“It is a challenge, but I’m up for it, I feel stronger and I can fulfil my dream of becoming a world champion and have more bargaining power. Who knows, not doing a big weight cut for this fight might show what a difference it makes to me physically.”
Jonas has always broken new ground in the sport, including having represented Team GB at the 2012 Olympics in London, the first Games to hold women’s boxing. Moving weight classes is no mean feat, yet the likes of Claressa ‘GOAT’ Shields, who fought on the Chris Eubank Jr vs Liam Williams undercard last weekend and looks set for a mammoth bout against Savannah Marshall this summer, has already fought and won titles in three weight divisions.
Amanda Serrano, who faces Taylor in New York on April 30, is a record-breaking champion in seven weight divisions. Famously, Manny Pacquiao won titles in eight weight classes; undefeated great Floyd Mayweather Jr was a champion in five.
Jonas weighed in on the controversy created recently when nonagenarian promoter Bob Arum said that boxing fans are not interested in women’s fights. Jonas countered, saying: “We are lucky in the UK right now and riding the crest of a wave with women’s boxing here. It might look different in the United States. But from here, there are so many of the women’s fights here that are as watchable or as marketable as the men’s fights.
“Last year when Katie Taylor and I fought in Manchester, I read everywhere that it should have been the main event and that fight was chief support to the heavyweights Dereck Chisora and Joseph Parker.”
Indeed, the two women stole the show that night in a thrilling, razor tight, all-action fight. It was an extraordinary back and forth battle of the highest level.
“Our fights can draw a crowd,” added Jonas. “They are marketable. They are sellable. And as for pay-per-view events, we are almost there. There are fights out there which could be pay-per-view. We just need the broadcasters and the media to get behind that and support it.”
Come Saturday night, though, Jonas has the opportunity to claim glory for a third time, and will have to be at the top of her game if she is to defeat Namus. Fast start, clever movement from the southpaw from Liverpool could see her hands raised. Carpe Diem.
Jonas vs Namus is live on Sky Box Office on Saturday night