Amir Khan vs Billy Dib: Brit hoping Saudi sojourn can earn him one final world title shot
Exclusive interview: The contest has been dismissed in some circles as something between a simple cash grab and an exhibition bout but Khan’s exhaustive preparation this week at a sweltering Jeddah gym suggests he is not taking it lightly
Amir Khan slides into the back seat of a black SUV and shuts the door behind him. With his ongoing cut to the 147lb welterweight limit reaching its unenviable climax he immediately closes off the air con outlet blowing down onto his face and gazes out across Jeddah’s baking Red Sea coastline.
“It’s over 10 years since my first trip to Saudi Arabia,” he says. “Imust have been about 18 or 19 then. It has changed so much in that time.”
So too has Khan himself. From the unheralded teenage prodigy who captured the hearts of the British public via his silver medal at the 2004 Olympic to his current position as one of the elder statesmen of British boxing. And, 15 years on from his Athenian summer, Khan is still fighting.
His latest contest will take place here in Saudi Arabia at the King Abdullah Sports City as part of Jeddah Season. The country’s General Sport Authority understands the significance of luring the former unified light-welterweight world champion to the region and he will be well paid for taking on late replacement Billy Dib just before midnight on Friday.
The contest has been dismissed in some circles as something between a simple cash grab and an exhibition bout but Khan’s exhaustive preparation this week at a sweltering Jeddah gym suggests he is not taking his Saudi sojourn lightly. At least not now fight week is upon him.
He hopes victory will set up a November clash with Filipino senator Manny Pacquiao back here in Jeddah and believes he can secure one last shot at a world title before he retires. It is why, he says, he insisted on this bout being made at championship weight and not an ounce over.
“I want a world title shot again and that's the reason the fight is at 147lbs,” he says as his vehicle speeds towards the gym. “It's for the international title which will put me in the rankings quite high.
“I could have given myself a few extra pounds but I thought 'forget that' I still want to fight at welterweight, I feel like a welterweight fighter. I want to still give myself a crack.
“There's no point me being in boxing if I didn't have that goal. There are end goals for everything in life and I want to reach them. Mine is another world title.”
Khan has been the main event numerous times before but he has never carried an entire promotion quite like he has here on the Red Sea. The 32-year-old, whose parents are Pakistani, has often spoken about boxing in this part of the world although Dubai has always been seen as the most likely destination.
But Saudi has emerged as an unlikely boxing hotspot over the past 12 months with Callum Smith and George Groves meeting in the final of the World Boxing Super Series at the same venue back in September. There are more fights, Khan-Pacquiao being one of them, already being discussed by the powers that be.
“When I first came here it was a lot more strict,” he adds.
“As the years have gone on it has become modern.
“I've heard they want to make Jeddah and Riyadh into more commercial cities. This fight is part of that goal of course.
“But all the pressure is on me – I'm the one promoting it, selling it and everything else. With that comes more pressure than usual but I've done it all before. I just treat it like a normal fight.
“These are new avenues I'm touching, avenues no other British fighter has been before. From Prince Naseem Hamed, or any other huge names. I've done everything I ever wanted to and even more in boxing.”
It is for that reason that many have questioned Khan's reasons for continuing in a sport to which he has dedicated the past two decades. He has a wife and two young daughters and his scarred, damaged hands have acquired money on which to live comfortably for generations to come.
Even pint-sized Dib, a featherweight by trade, believes he will upset Khan because the Bolton man has only come to Saudi for the money and nothing else.
“It’s just that I don't want to be regretting things later,” Khan says. “I'd rather do it all now so when I hang my gloves up I will know I've done everything I wanted to.
“Sometimes I think 'maybe I'll chill a bit' because my body is getting older. But I have to beat it before it gets to that point. I have to do all this before I'm too old and I can't move anymore.
“I've had a mad life. It has been crazy these last couple of years. It has been really non-stop, it has been difficult but I've taken it as it comes. It has not been easy.
“I've got my wife and my youngest daughter here for this one and that helps take my mind off it a little bit. At times you do get tired and you just want to see your family and stuff like that. I'm glad they're here, it's nice they're around and they're supporting me.
“It is the last chapter of my career. I want to have these last couple of fights and I'm glad there is still some small part of them team left that want to stay with me to the end.”
Khan has endured a number of high profile feuds with his family and you sense they have taken a toll. Close friends, too, have come and gone.
“I'm doing new things now,” Khan says, wiping sweat from his brow. “I'm the boss and I've taken control of everything. My whole camp, getting things sorted out and things like media commitments. I've never had that voice before, I've always been told what to do, but I've found it now.
“I've always tried to be generous and I know for a fact that people have been well looked after. What happens is, you really feel as if you have to do things for people. I always feel that because I'm going into a fight where anything can happen, where one punch can change my whole life, that I need to be extra nice to everybody.
“It's not just about being good to everyone, I want to be extra good to everybody because I want everyone's blessings, I need everyone's prayers when I step into the ring. I feel that.”
Having suffered three devastating inside-distance losses during his 38-fight career to date, Khan is also acutely aware of the danger he is putting himself in by boxing on. He was stung by accusations that he ‘quit’ against Terence Crawford in April and insists he would rather die than give in.
“I'm just a bit crazy like that,” he says, smiling. “I would give my life away in the ring if I had to. I'd fight until the very end. That's the type of guy I am.
“It's crazy, it does scare me a little but when I realise that. I'm a trained fighter and basically I would give up everything when I'm in that boxing ring. We don't think 'there's another day, there'll be another fight'.
“Friday night is another risk but I know how to deal with it, I've trained hard. I won't let Billy beat me. I will fight until I'm gone.”
Amir Khan vs Billy Dib is exclusively live on Channel 5, with the undercard from 8pm on 5Spike, this Friday.