Roach was summoned on the call and he gave his opening remarks regarding the fight.
“Amir is in great shape,” began Roach. “I think this is the best training camp we ever had. We had some great southpaw sparring and I think we are going to shine on Saturday. I think Zab bit off more than he can chew for this one.”
In Khan’s last fight, a tune-up in the UK against a herky-jerky Irish southpaw journeyman named Paul “Dudey” McCloskey. For the first time, Khan was without strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza, due to a financial dispute that resulted in Ariza’s services being terminated for the bout. It was not a good outing. Khan looked flat and unable to land anything worth talking about against McCloskey. During an exchange following the first good punches Khan had landed, the two men crashed heads together and McCloskey suffered a cut over his left eyebrow. The fight was stopped in the sixth and Khan won a shutout on the cards.
“He had a running style,” said Khan of McCloskey. “He just did not want to fight and didn’t want to get involved. He was boring. I was doing almost everything. I was doing all the pressure fighting. I was doing everything.”
Beyond the style, Khan just didn’t look right. He wasn’t the sharpshooter that dealt with the elusive Paulie Malignaggi or the one who dropped and was shutting out Maidana until the tenth round. Something was wrong.
“I thought the way the training camp went, I was conditioned well and I was fit and everything because that’s the way I push myself,” Khan said of the McCloskey camp, “but I think I should have kept it the way things were. I was happy with the way things were before so that’s the reason we got back with Alex.”
Khan expounded on Ariza and his abilities as a strength coach, “I really think he is one of the best strength-and-conditioners. We have a winning team. He is good at what he does. He knows how to get me in shape and make me strong and he is the best man to do it, so that’s why I got back with him because I know he pushes me hard. He tells me what to do and what not to do. That’s what I need for this fight. Someone who is going to get me prepared and get me in the best condition.”
On the tactical end is Roach, who is known for endlessly breaking down tape. He studies the opponent for openings, tells, anything that can give his fighter an edge. Normally, he will pick out a few moments or rounds and show them to his fighter. Khan will need to understand everything Zab has brought in the past but also be able to anticipate any new wrinkles Judah may have added under trainer Pernell Whitaker. Unlike McCloskey, Judah has not only an awkward, defensive-minded style but speed and power to go with it.
“I normally watch a lot of tapes when I am fighting,” explained Khan. “The reason is so we know what we are expecting going into the fight. We can’t focus too much on tape because you know styles make different fights. We’ve just been watching certain things that [Judah] does and seeing how he makes mistakes. So when I go into the fight, I know exactly what his style is like. I’m not a fan of watching hours and hours of boring tape so I only watch maybe a few rounds and leave it to my trainer here to go over the game plan.”
Part of that plan has to be to avoid the uppercut, which is a weakness for Khan and a strength of Zab’s. At this stage, having faced the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey, Cory Spinks, and Kostya Tszyu, to name a few, there won’t be much Khan can show Judah that he has not seen. Judah, on the other hand, is going to have wrinkles, traps and more to show Khan.
“He is a smart fighter,” Roach said of Judah. “He has experience. We know he sets traps. We’ve got most of his traps down. We can see how he sets traps. He likes to lure guys in and he punches. Of course, when he was losing to Mayweather, he fouled him on purpose to try and get him out of his game plan and a fight broke out. We are ready for all that. It’s nothing. It’s a part of fighting and we are well prepared for it.”
One reporter questioned if this is too soon of a step-up for Khan. Is he ready for a full-fledged veteran who is not fading but actually rising in the back end of his career?
“I’m ready for this fight. That’s why I am taking this fight on,” said Khan. “We’re going into the fight the favorite. I have been training very hard for this fight and he can say whatever he wants. Have him come forward. I am more than ready for this fight. I know exactly what to do. He can do whatever he wants to do. I have an answer for it.”
Khan was supposed to be fighting WBC and WBO titleholder Tim Bradley. For his reasons that deserve their own article [see Steve Kim’s Bradley Speaks: http://www.maxboxing.com/news/max-boxing-news/bradley-speaks], Bradley backed out of sweet 50/50 deal with a guaranteed fight on HBO, win or lose. Judah, a recent winner of the vacant IBF title via a seventh round TKO of Kaiser Mabuza, stepped in minus the 50/50, guaranteed date and any of percentage of the UK TV/PPV rights.
“Things happen for a reason. I think we ended up with a better fight,” said Khan. “It’s a tougher fight. In my eyes, I see it as a bigger fight. Things happen for a reason and maybe even for the best.”
Khan dismissed the idea that this is an easy win for him or some kind of letdown from the Bradley fight.
“I think, first of all, I think [Judah] is up there with one of the best fighters I have been facing,” said Khan. “That’s why we have been training very hard. We’re not taking anything away from him. We’re going to be ready for him and whatever he brings to the table. I love challenges. This gives me a good challenge.”
A reporter asked Khan how high he could go in weight.
“Moving up, I think I can go to 147,” said Khan. “Even 154 maybe. I’ve got the height for that but maybe all in good time. Slowly. Just see how 140 goes. I am still only 24. Maybe I will finish off my career at 154 but I just think I will just let my body just naturally go.”
At this point in the conference call, a bit of Hell broke loose. A UK writer asked Judah a question, to which Judah’s promoter, Main Events’ Kathy Duva, informed the UK press on the call that since Judah won’t get any part of the UK money this fight will generate, he would not take one question from a UK writer.
“I promise we will have a press conference after the fight,” Duva said, “when we win.”
Khan himself was quiet regarding the move but Khan Promotions spokesman, Asif Vali had plenty to say, including, “I think it is wrong for him not to be involved in the media work. Amir Khan is one of them guys who gets involved in promoting the fight since the day they announced it, since the day we were in discussions. He has done every interview. Whatever it was, [Khan] has done interviews all over the world. Why is Zab not involved? I have no idea. Why is he refusing to speak? I have no idea. I haven’t got a clue.”
There was an inaudible section as this call was a bad reception festival and then Vali said, “Promote the fight. It’s not a one-way promotion. It’s a two-way promotion. Amir did everything. He has been on the radio three times. He has done an open workout. We’re very grateful to HBO for giving him the opportunity and to Prime Time for giving him the opportunity.”
Finally Vali concluded with “I am very disappointed. They should promote the fight.”
“He is involved in the promotion because he is on the call today,” countered Duva. “He is not involved in the promotion in England because he is not involved in the revenue from England, so that is what we found to be wrong. And again, you got your way.”
The Khans played hardball and learned it ain’t cricket.
Moving back to the fight, Khan waxed on why Judah won’t be able to handle him.
“I don’t think he will be able to take the pressure, the speed and the power,” Khan surmised. “He fought the likes of Mabuza and them guys and they troubled him. I think he won’t take the pressure in a long fight. He can say what he wants but he knows deep down, he took the wrong fight and we will see. I let my fists do the talking.”
For this fight, Khan sparred Filipino Top Rank prospect and southpaw Mercito Gesta, among others. One recent observer noted Khan had a bit of trouble with Gesta, who was able to slip the jab and trouble Khan with the right hook, a Judah weapon of choice.
However, Khan pointed to that other southpaw he has been sparring for the last few years.
“I’ve been sparring Manny Pacquiao in his previous camps and training with him,” said Khan. “As far as power, I think [Zab] is the most powerful southpaw in our division. We’ve brought in some great sparring partners to frustrate me. We are ready for whatever he brings to the table. We have a great game plan. Maybe we can come back from the first round and it’s over because the way we are ready for this fight. Who knows?”
A lot has been said about Khan fighting Floyd Mayweather next or maybe welterweight titlist Victor Ortiz, if he wins. Some of the talk has been from Khan. I asked him if that was because he was simply being asked about it or because he was looking forward to it without regard for Zab.
“I’ve got a tough fight ahead of me. I’ve got Zab Judah to deal with first,” acknowledged Khan. “I mean yeah, every fight I’ve got a goal and my goal is to get the best of Zab. I want to fight the likes of Floyd Mayweather one day but at the moment, I want to take things one step at a time. I think it is strength more than anything. I just want to beat Zab, hopefully, and then sit down with my team and plan out what my future is.”
Considering where Judah is at this stage of his career, returning to the 140-pound division and picking up a title after beating a solid contender in Lucas Matthysse, an impressive win over Judah can take Khan to the next level. With Khan’s popularity growing in the UK, the likes of Floyd Mayweather could come calling for a fighter who brings his own draw. But that is the future and a whole division away. For Khan, it better be a lifetime away in his mind because while it’s been three years and eight fights since he last lost. Look how long it took him to get back here. Windows only stay open so long.
“I will probably go to 147 for bigger challenges,” said Khan. “If a great fight for me to move to a different division to fight a big name comes, there are a lot of big names to fight. And it is a motivation. That is the reason I cannot afford to get beat at this level because there are some huge fights out there.”
You can email Gabriel at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.