Hollywood or bust
"One mistake and Barrera will knock him out." Adam Smith talks high stakes with Team Khan in California.
Last Updated: 05/03/09 10:07am
Hollywood has long been a place where dreams have been made and broken. Millions of wannabees have come and gone; so few are remembered by the infamous stars on the boulevard.
Amir Khan has seen Muhammad Ali's star, and he also witnessed the recent influx of British film talent being rewarded on Oscar night, just minutes from his home away from home. This seriously committed young sporting hope craves his own success. In fact it burns deep inside.
At the crack of dawn every morning, Amir Khan is awake - as he continues his intense mind and body preparation towards the biggest challenge of his boxing life.
Bolton's former Boy wonder has long had pressure on his shoulders - from unfair expectations as a teenager during the Athens Olympics, to professional scrutiny, and stinging criticism at any stumbling block. Khan's been pilloried for a supposed glass jaw, and even dismissed as a failure, despite only losing one professional fight in four years.
Khan seems to have always been a target, part of the good old British system where we build them up, only to knock them down again. Are most folk out there just wishing this intriguing journey will end in tears?
Whether it does or not may be decided sooner rather than later, as Team Khan have taken a serious gamble. Rather than gently and safely re-building from that stunning setback against Breidis Prescott, they have accepted a match against a true great of the sport.
Any mention of Marco Antonio Barrera in the boxing world is met with enormous appreciation; his name alone brings a certain menace; his face a cold, calculating harshness.
Yet Amir Khan has been fighting battles all of his life; his parents nearly lost him as a baby and again as a child. Then he chose boxing, and now at 22, he craves more of the unexpected and the unknown. Amir's amiable, approachable and some say even sweet in nature; but don't underestimate the steely resolve and natural strength of this frighteningly dedicated athlete.
Khan looks sensational in his training headquarters on the edge of Vine and Hollywood. He is about to finish his intense six-week session in and around Freddie Roach's Wildcard Gym, before completing the run-up to March 14th's Manchester mega-match, back in his native North West.
His tight-knit family and huge support system surround him as always. Father Shah is an ever present; Mum Falleck prepares the meals, brother Haroon -himself a talented amateur has been out here for quality sparring - one of the very reasons Amir chose LA. His best friend Saj, uncle Taz and manager Asif have worked tirelessly alongside; even his little sister Mariyah has been around, brightening the scene with her cheeky charm.
This second camp has seen the crucial boxing team become more like family too. Freddie Roach, the most sought-after trainer anywhere, of course spearheads it. Freddie lives for the sport, for polishing gems and making real stars. Showing us his basic apartment that backs on to the walls of his gym, you get the sense that Freddie would do all this for free.
He is woken every morning by the sound of the pads. Hundreds of fighters have come from around the globe to make their boxing fame and fortune, and Freddie Roach ignores the ravages of Parkinson's disease, to work his magic with each one of them daily.
Freddie was doing exactly that on Christmas Day. He had just had the perfect double present, after his new charge Amir Khan returned superbly against Oisin Fagan, and his tour de force - Manny Pacquiao - stunned Oscar De La Hoya. Roach told me exactly what was going to happen to the Golden Boy; and even though it was Freddie, I still didn't believe him.
He is now telling me that Khan will not just shine against Barrera, but will go on to become a brilliant world champion. Maybe this time I should take note. He certainly wouldn't have thrown Amir into rounds and rounds of sparring with Manny if he didn't think he could handle the heat.
Roach told me: "Amir is the quickest lightweight I have ever seen. Quicker than Manny. He's unbelievable."
Khan's conditioning coach Alex Ariza added: "He's the best athlete I have worked with since the late, great Diego Corrales. The kid is just exceptional."
Amir has been put through savage tests; the most fierce being two sets of 200 vertical steps set hundreds of yards apart up the cliffs of Santa Monica. I was encouraged to try the sprint out once, safe to say my legs were in complete agony for the remainder of my stay! Amir does this routine 10 times. Pacquiao can only manage five or six.
Ariza has re-structured the Khan frame, thickening the legs to help punch resistance and he's removed bulk from the upper body, to free Amir's arms for the fast combinations the team believes he needs to dismantle Barrera.
All of this prepares Khan for lengthy afternoon sessions in the Wildcard. He's been sparring with unbeaten Russians, aggressive Filipinos, and once more with hardened Irish-American prospect Dean Byrne.
Dean has worked all over the world with grizzled former champions like Lovemore N'Dou, to established stars like Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez and Oscar De La Hoya, to the bright young things of tomorrow such as the remarkably talented Yuriokis Gamboa. He is utterly convinced Khan will become a World Champion.
Hours are being spent on tactics: Roach knows that Khan needs tremendous speed of foot, ring movement and intelligence to win this big fight.
Freddie knows Barrera well - he trained Pacquiao to deal with the Mexican twice. He says that it was his decision to take the Barrera fight at this time.
Freddie has brought in a familiar face to add knowledge and experience. The maverick former world heavyweight champion Michael Moorer has had tough times, but Freddie has given him a way back - a serious gym role, and a sofa to sleep on.
Moorer has always given it straight, and he is working specifically on how Khan moves in and out of range. Michael told me: "There's still a way to go. He is over-eager, but he listens. And he's one hell of a fast fighter."
You keep hearing the same message: speed kills - and Khan has it in abundance. He says he feels quicker and better than ever - and is utterly convinced that he will come through this moment of truth.
"The critics have tried to destroy me. I will prove to them - and even some of my own friends who worry about this match - that I will beat Barrera," Khan told me.
Amir doesn't care if he wins on points, or by stoppage; Alex says the fight won't last six rounds. Yet Freddie, more the realist, told me he was still a little uneasy. Confident yes, but wary that one lapse in concentration will mean the end.
"One mistake - just one," Freddie said. "And Barrera will knock him out."
It's that dangerous. After a few relaxing games of pool, which seemed to give Amir more trouble than any round he'd completed in sparring. Lights went off at 9.30pm. I left with a sense of excitement. Is another British star set to rise out of Hollywood? For an exclusive look into Amir Khan's camp, tune into Sky Sports 1, this Friday Fight Night.
It's a packed one as the Beijing Olympic Bronze medallist Tony Jeffries begins his professional journey, on a terrific card topped by Rendall Munroe's fascinating re-match with Spanish puncher Kiko Martinez.
It's a big weekend for us, as we move from Barnsley to Birmingham on Saturday, for an eagerly awaited show, headed by Matt Skelton's heavyweight clash with Martin Rogan. It's the night when three of our finest recent amateurs all turn over; Billy Joe Saunders, Frankie Gavin and Olympic Gold medallist James DeGale, are hoping to really set British boxing alight.
So to conclude, the word from LA is that Team Khan are vowing a star performance when they get home. Next week I'll report from the Mexican base of Khan's most fearsome opponent yet, the outstanding Marco Antonio Barrera.
Can Freddie Roach master another win over Marco Antonio Barrera? Just how much influence will he have on events on March 14? Let us know by filling in the feedback form below...