LOS ANGELES (AP) - After Amir Khan lost two straight fights and all of his championship belts, the British boxer decided his career was in dire need of a reboot.
He started by firing his celebrated trainer, Freddie Roach.
“I called him myself,” Khan recalled Tuesday. “I said, `Freddie, I’m going to make a change.’ Not many people would do that, but I’m the one who called him and said I’m going to move to Virgil Hunter. He wished me all the best, and we left it at that.”
The switch was a bold move for a fighter with Khan’s Olympic pedigree and solid professional record, but the light welterweight star has never been afraid of taking risks. Hunter has refocused Khan’s energy on fighting with his head instead of his heart, a tendency that Khan (26-3, 18 KOs) blames for his knockout loss to Danny Garcia in July.
After several weeks with Hunter, the Bay Area trainer behind Andre Ward’s climb up the pound-for-pound rankings, Khan already sees a significant difference in both his body and his mental approach. He hopes to show everything he’s learning in his comeback fight against Carlos Molina on Dec. 15.
“You’ll see a new Amir Khan, for sure,” he said. “An Amir Khan who is smarter, more focused, and thinking about himself instead of the crowd. I think my style will always please the crowd, but I’m going to be smart and think about everything, instead of jumping in and making mistakes.”
Khan appeared with Molina (17-0-1, 17 KOs) at the historic Los Angeles Sports Arena on Tuesday to promote their Showtime bout.
Although Khan rose to international prominence during his four years with Roach, the veteran mastermind behind Manny Pacquiao and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., few boxing observers were surprised when they split after Garcia upset Khan with a fourth-round stoppage.
Khan lost his WBC and WBA 140-pound belts when he attempted to brawl with Garcia instead of boxing him. In hindsight, Khan decided he wasn’t getting enough attention from the busy Roach, who sometimes asked Khan to travel to the Philippines so he could train Khan and Pacquiao, the Filipino congressman.
“We all know he’s a great trainer, but I changed because I needed someone who’s going to spend 100 percent time with me,” Khan said. “I need to be more selfish. I’m in this position now when I know I can’t make any mistakes. … With Freddie, it would have been very hard right now, having Manny in his camp, also Chavez, and I think he’s training Victor Ortiz, so it’s a lot of people.”
Khan had another reason for splitting with Roach, who has Parkinson’s disease.
“Freddie’s illness, it’s very hard to see him as he’s getting older,” Khan said. “I believe that he’s getting worse, and I wish him all the best. Freddie is still, with the Parkinson’s disease, doing a great job working the mitts and working with fighters day in, day out. I just believe that I need someone who is going to work me that bit harder and get the best out of me.”
With Ward not expected to fight again until next year, Hunter is focused on Khan. Hunter was shocked to learn Khan had never done strength work on his neck muscles, and that’s not his only concern about the fighter’s previous instruction.
“Some of the conditioning coaches that have worked with him in the past have created imbalances in his body that aren’t conducive to boxing at all,” Hunter said. “If he was playing basketball or soccer or something, they might help him, but they don’t help in boxing. I think that has to do with people just tinkering with a kid who is willing to train, willing to follow instructions, and he’s been let down in a lot of areas that he shouldn’t have been let down in.”
Along with good weather and elite instruction, the West Coast also offers distance from the British tabloids’ coverage of his upcoming marriage to Faryal Makhdoom. Just two days earlier, The Sun newspaper published a story claiming Khan had been partying with other women on a recent vacation in Marbella, Spain.
Most champion boxers don’t face such swarms of attention on their personal lives _ but most champions aren’t British, Khan says with a smile.
“She’s cool. She knows the truth, because I didn’t do anything, honestly,” Khan said. “She doesn’t believe anything that the papers say anyway, because I’m honest to her. I don’t have to lie. There’s always going to be stuff said about me. It’s a distraction when you prepare, definitely. I think that’s why my fiancée and my family haven’t really spoken to me about it. They’ve just kept it with them.”
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