BOXING – Former two-time light welterweight world champion British boxer Amir Khan believes that Bahrain has the potential to start bringing in big professional boxing events that could draw in tens of thousands of spectators.
Khan, 37, is in the kingdom to attend the Royal Rumble II, a charity event organised by the Bahrain Boxing Federation (BBF) in association with the Bahrain Rugby Football Club (BRFC), which will see boxers from the Bahrain Royal Guard pitted against opponents from the British Army’s Parachute Regiment at the BRFC tonight.
The black-tie affair will raise funds to support the good work carried out by the Royal Humanitarian Foundation (RHF) and is being held under the patronage of Supreme Council for Youth and Sports first deputy chairman, General Sports Authority (GSA) chairman and Bahrain Olympic Committee president Shaikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa
Nine boxers from each team were weighed in at a special ceremony at the BRFC last night where Khan, who arrived on the stage to an enthusiastic round of applause and cheers from a large audience, spoke to the GDN in an exclusive interview.
“I had a very good meeting with Shaikh Khalid,” Khan said, after all the boxers had been weighed.
“I really believe that we should start our own Bahrain committee for boxing and we should start bringing in the big professional boxing events here also.
“I know the BBF have done a lot of amateur events over the past year and a half but I think having your own commission in Bahrain could mean you start doing your own professional boxing shows and events as well.”
This is Khan’s second visit to Bahrain in three years – the first being the result of a special invitation from Shaikh Khalid and His Majesty’s representative for humanitarian work and youth affairs Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
“It was my first introduction to them,” Khan remembered.
“And we had a great time together. We went to the BRAVE Combat Federation (Brave CF) training centre; it was fabulous!”
This time, also, Khan needed no convincing when he was asked by the BBF’s technical development manager and national team coach Tony Davis if he would like to attend the Royal Rumble II.
“Tony was in the 2004 British Olympic boxing team cycle with me,” Khan explained.
“He is a dear friend, he used to take care of me when we were Olympic teammates and he’d invited me many times before to visit Bahrain, but something always came up and I couldn’t.
“But this time, it took no convincing at all. As soon as Tony said: ‘We’ve got a boxing event …’, I said: ‘No problem! Let’s roll!’ It was quite easy to be convinced,” he laughed.
And he loved being back in Bahrain, Khan added.
“It’s amazing to come to Bahrain, it’s a very chilled-out place, lovely people, no crime. I just love everything about it, the weather’s amazing now and I am really looking forward to the big event tonight.”
The big event, which will feature nine bouts (10 were originally scheduled but one had to be cancelled after one of the Bahraini boxers got injured), saw an interesting build-up at the weigh-ins where, in the classic boxing tradition, all the boxers from the different divisions would face off against each other after getting their weight registered.
Khan, who had taken the microphone off the MC, asked all nine pairs of boxers in turn about their predictions for their respective fights and some of the replies, dripping with understandably high levels of provocation, had the audience guffawing.
And Khan showed he was just at ease with being the moderator as he was in the ring in his prime, exchanging banter with the pugilists and, at one point, stepping in to push a pair of boxers apart after they butted heads – usually a precursor to actual punches being thrown at events like these.
“Boxing has been really good to me,” he told the GDN later, after spending more than half an hour amiably posing for photographs with a long line of fans who queued up patiently.
“Not only when I was in the ring, but even now that I’m out of the ring, so many people appreciate me and show me respect. That’s only because of boxing and I am so happy about that, I can only thank what boxing has done for me.
“I’m glad that I took the right path and maybe this can motivate all the other fighters out there that they can also take the boxing path and make a good living out of it.”
Khan’s affable nature is the reason he is so well-liked across the board and it was never more evident than in the manner in which he greeted every person who stepped up to take a photograph with him, smiling widely, putting his arms around their shoulders and talking to them as if he’d known them all his life.
But he is also keenly aware of how his legacy as an elite British athlete of Pakistani and Muslim descent has bestowed an added responsibility upon him.
“It’s all about motivating our younger brothers and sisters in the Muslim community – and kids from everywhere, in general – to get into boxing or get into any sport and do something positive in life; to stay motivated and do good things for your people, your community and your country.
“And it’s amazing to see that boxing is such a big sport that lots of young boys and girls around the world but especially in countries like Pakistan and Bahrain love so much.”
At an early stage in his career, Khan understood that there was more to life than just boxing and leveraged his immense popularity to campaign and fundraise for various charitable causes. Now, he runs his own charity organization, the Amir Khan Foundation which focuses on various initiatives and causes across Asia, Africa and Europe.
And, in keeping with his drive to engage and motivate the young, Khan visited St Christopher’s School early yesterday morning where he interacted with students, talked to them about the importance of sport and even sparred with a few. (See panel.)
Today, though, it will be all about the Royal Rumble II for Khan as he eagerly looks forward to the second such contest held at the BRFC in less than two years. The first one was called, simply, Royal Rumble with the Royal Guard taking on the British Army’s Royal Regiment of Fusiliers – and the Bahraini team won the nine-bout contest, 8-1.
“It’s going to be a fantastic night, full of some great fights,” Khan smiled.
“Can’t wait for it to start. Boxing is just one of the biggest sports ever and it’s great to be a part of it, in any way!”