Amir Khan is as tough and as strong both mentally and physically as some of the country’s greatest heavyweight rugby stars according to his new training team as they prepare him for the most crucial fight of his career in Birmingham on Saturday.
The Bolton boxer has a new fitness trainer in Dean Powell and conditioning coach in Phil Richards and himself claims he is in the best condition ever as he prepares to defend his Commonwealth Lightweight Championship title against 30-year-old Michael Gomez at the National Indoor Arena in front of a 10,000 sell-out crowd.
Richards has worked with rugby stars including Worcester Warriors’ former England captain Pat Sanderson, Leicester’s Martin Corey and Wales and British Lion star Scott Gibbs and was fitness and nutritional coach at both Swansea and Harlequins. But he believes the 22-year-old boxer is as tough as any of them in terms of his mental and physical strength.
Richards said: “I come from a rugby background and it has been pretty easy making the transition into boxing. In rugby you have got 30 guys fighting over a ball and in boxing it is two guys fighting so to get Amir strong was quite similar to what I have been doing in rugby for the last decade.
“Amir has got a phenomenal work-rate and he is undoubtedly the toughest guy I have worked with, mentally. I have tried to break him on a number of occasions without success which is a good thing. You could push Amir Khan to the edge of a cliff and he doesn’t break.”
Richards continued: “I have worked with a very special group of people and there are not many you find in life at the top level of sports who are as tough as them but Amir is up there in same group as those guys.
“The idea with his training is to take him to levels where he may be uncomfortable but the purpose of that is that one day he might need to know how to get out of those situations in a fight.”
Khan himself claims he has trained harder this time round than he ever has before as he prepares to get in the ring with Gomez in a fight which promoter Frank Warren claimed was “crucial” to the youngster’s future.
The former Olympic silver medallist said: “I am learning a lot of stuff. It is really just about polishing up. I am learning not just to reach with the jab but keep the left hand up as well. We have been putting a lot into sparring with fighters like Gary Reid and Steve Foster Jnr and I am getting a lot stronger and I feel I am in the best condition I have ever been in.
“My body fat the other day was 1.6 per cent and I have never been that before so I am putting more muscle on. I am making the weight a lot easier and I just can’t wait to get in the ring and fight now.”
Khan admitted the new training regimes were tough and that he had at times felt he might crumble. He said: “It has been that hard at times that I have just wanted to hide myself in a corner or escape in a black hole.
“When I do a tough set and it is particularly hard it is then I have to become mentally strong because I know I have another five or six sets to do.
“When the first one is so tough and then you realise you have got to repeat it five times it makes you think but it is making me stronger. The training camp I have had for this fight has been the best ever.”
Boxing coach Dean Powell said: “We have been working on the one criticism that always gets aimed at Amir – keeping his hands up and I think you will see the improvements on Saturday night.“
It has been an eye-opening experience working with Amir and the thing I have found with him these last seven weeks is just how physically strong he is. Everybody thinks he is just a stand-up boxer but I think you will see how strong he is now.
“I have told him he doesn’t need to get involved in any sort of World War Three with Gomez, but I think Gomez is going to have a big shock if he thinks he can shove Amir around the way he shoved Alex Arthur around a few years ago.”
Promoter Frank Warren said: “Michael Gomez has everything to go for and has no pressure on him whatsoever. Amir however is not the guy who turned pro three years ago – he is a different guy altogether now. He has not fought one guy or come into the ring once without being absolutely fit. He has trained hard for every fight but now he is getting stronger and, while before fighters may have tried to come in and jump on him and bully him in fights, I don’t think that is going to happen anymore.
“He is much more mature physically and mentally now. Amir has a will to win and has a fighter’s heart.”