What goes through the head of a boxer as he prepares to knock out his opponent? How does it feel to coldcock someone? Amir Khan briefly looks away, clenching his fists while trying to describe the sensation: “Flooring someone is the best feeling ever. When you hit someone clean, you feel the power line go through your arm. You can feel it, your body just knows it.”
Khan, one of Britain’s most successful boxers, is talking to Ponystep about fighting another human being until one of them is down on the mattress, knocked out. “I might be nervous before the bell goes but once I’m in the ring, only me and my opponent exist. The crowd is screaming and shouting, but I can only hear the referee. And I can only see the other fighter. I look into his eyes, that’s how you read him. If I focus on his hands, I will get hit.”
But, sitting in Somerset House’s Fernandez & Wells restaurant during London Fashion Week’s Menswear day, the 25-year old professional boxer admits to the occasional feeling of guilt: “Afterwards, you do feel sorry for them, but it depends a bit on who the boxer is. On the other hand it’s my job to win, and if I don’t hit them, they will do it to me!”
I’m a practising Muslim, but I keep my religion very private to myself. It’s something that helps me when I’m fighting. It gives me focus and discipline, everything that a boxer needs. It keeps my feet on the ground. Success can easily go to the head.
With his broad Lancashire accent and big brown friendly eyes, Khan is unlike many other professional boxers. Sure, his neck is wide from years of training and his guns are loaded and dangerous, but there’s no visible scars or signs of a broken nose. Instead, his face, framed by perfectly trimmed black hair, exudes charisma; he’s nice to talk to, he’s pleasant to be around – even though you know what he’s capable of doing to you in a 5m x 5m boxing ring. Given Khan’s track record, young age and solid reputation within the sport, it’s no wonder that he is the much needed poster boy for boxing in general, and UK fighters specifically.
Few sports rely on such heavy-handed action, directly causing the opponent as much bodily harm in as short time as possible through thought-out technique and superior skills. But in the last few months, boxers have also found a way of taking the fight out of the ring and in to, for example, press conferences, as seen in the ugly and violent outbreak between fighters Dereck Chisora and David Haye in Munich. But in many ways there are more differences than similarities between Khan and heavyweight Haye, who last year told a reporter his next fight would be “as one-sided as a gang rape”. Instead, Khan seems more interested in cultivating another, more peaceful and insightful, image of himself.
Khan himself puts this level-headed attitude down to his faith. “I’m a practising Muslim, but I keep my religion very private to myself. It’s something that helps me when I’m fighting. It gives me focus and discipline, everything that a boxer needs. It keeps my feet on the ground. Success can easily go to the head.” And even though the match might seem odd to some – Muslims can’t drink alcohol but are allowed to knock someone out in the boxing ring? – for Khan religion and his sport of choice go down well together: “The bad things I’m not allowed to do in life because of my religion, I’m not allowed to do in boxing anyway, if you are a proper sportsman. And if I feel nervous before a fight, I pray and I feel I get strength from my God.”
Amir Khan was born in Bolton, northwest England, in 1986. Aged eight, his dad introduced him to boxing, and Khan hasn’t looked back since. “I was very hyperactive when I was young. I had lots of energy and was kind of naughty at home and in school. So my Dad took me to a gym to burn energy and learn discipline”. It worked; Khan went straight to bed after a session, exhausted and tired. But it also worked out on another, more professional level. Today, Amir Khan is one of Britain’s most well known boxers, with an Olympic silver medal from Athens 2004 and a July 2009 World Light Welterweight Champion title to his name. ”It’s the Olympic medal that I’m most proud of… it put me on the map and gave me the recognition I needed”, he says of his career highlight so far.
But just as the highs are easy to pinpoint, so are the lows. “You win some and you lose some. The lowest point was probably losing the world title – but sometimes losing can make you better. You need that to improve yourself and to come back stronger than ever”. In the infamous title fight last year against Lamont Peterson, Khan controversially lost on points. The rematch is in May this year, in Las Vegas, and Khan knows what he has to do. “I want to win the title back. I know what I did wrong last time and it won’t happen again!” For the first time in our chat, Khan becomes deadly serious. For him, this isn’t anything to joke about. As soon he’s done with London Fashion Week, Khan is heading back to Bolton and his family, and then over to the Philippines where he will train alongside Manny Pacquiao in preparation for the fight: “It takes just over two months to get ready, I need to acclimatise since the fight is in Las Vegas. I have given my body a good rest and now I need to slowly build it up again, you can’t just jump into it.”
The fact that he goes back to Bolton and his family to relax, and not a swanky bachelor pad in Shoreditch, is an important component in Khan’s character and personality. “I’m a family man and I still live in Bolton”, he says. “It’s home for me, everyone knows me there, I can go anywhere and not get bothered, I can be normal. It’s mad here in London, I just get a headache and want to chill out.” And it’s even worse when he goes back to Pakistan’s Punjab region, where his parents originate from. There, Khan finds it difficult to move around anonymously. “It’s definitely worse in Pakistan – I can’t even walk the streets. They love boxing, and because the cricket team isn’t doing that well at the moment, I get even more attention.” But not all attention is unwelcome. Last year, while in New York for a Prada shoot, Khan met and started dating Faryal Makhdoom, his fiancée since January this year. “It was time to settle down, I’m 25 now and I’ve always said I want to start early with a family, this is a first step”.
I get punched for a living but have kept my looks a little bit and can get away with coming to these fashion shows. I’ve always been interested in fashion even though boxers traditionally don’t bother with such things.
And so a new side to Amir Khan emerges. Outside the boxing ring, when not fighting for the World Light Welterweight Champion title, Khan is a stable and loving son, fiancée and dad-to-be one day. No wonder then that he effortlessly fits in on the cover of Ponystep, casually turns up at London Fashion Week, promotes British fashion brands and, generally speaking, takes a great interest in what he wears – in the ring as well as outside of it . “I get punched for a living but have kept my looks a little bit and can get away with coming to these fashion shows. I’ve always been interested in fashion even though boxers traditionally don’t bother with such things.” And you can tell. During the last day of London Fashion Week, when all the menswear designers show, Amir Khan blended in – as much as a fit and muscular boxer can fit in with among a fashion crowd – on the front rows, wearing his brand of smart and sleek formal wear. In an E. Tautz suit and Mr. Hare shoes, Khan not only looked good but also flew the flag for British labels. “I have a good body, I should make use of it… I like wearing slim suits and tight trousers. But it needs to be in dark and subtle colours”. And colour matching isn’t something Khan takes lightly, it’s even one of his sartorial pet hates when it comes to fellow boxers.
“Other fighters can’t match colours. They might be good boxers but sometimes the shorts are too long or too short, and in horrible colour combinations”.
He would even go as far as calling himself a trendsetter. “The days are gone when I used to hang around in track suit bottoms. I want to show to the world that not all fighters dress badly. I’m opening doors. For example, at post-match press conferences, everyone used to wear hoodies and tracksuits. Since I started wearing three-piece suits and ties, everyone’s now dressing formal. They’re following what I do, you get me?
Yes, we do get you, Amir Khan. We get your humble view on who you are, where home truly is and what people around you actually matter; family, friends and your fiancée. We like that, even though you’re a mean, lean fighting machine in the boxing ring with a trunk full of medals and trophies, you have a heart of gold, rock suave suits, care about colour matching, and belief that only British fashion is good enough for you. Lamont Peterson, you better up both your game and your wardrobe. Amir Khan is coming to get you.
Hair by Ali Pirzadeh using Bumble & Bumble,
Make up Adrien Pinault,
Photographic assistance Benjamin Madgwick and Tom Moran,
Fashion assistance Omar Romanini and Ian Luka,
Special thanks to Minnie Copping, Ross Garrity, Mary Harding, Andrew Davis, Sarah Clements, Kenny
Burns and ProVision