England’s Amir Khan has fought multiple times in the United States since 2010, and he believes the sacrifices fighting overseas requires are worth it.
And Khan will do it again, when he challenges WBO world champion Terence Crawford at New York’s Madison Square Garden on April 20 — live on PPV — after declining the opportunity to face longtime domestic rival Kell Brook on home soil instead.
Khan is already a familiar face to U.S. audiences: 10 of his past 14 fights have taken place in the States and he says sacrificing home advantages, sometimes for a lower purse, has been worth it.
“You make a name for yourself in the U.K. and when you want to fight the big names, when you are ready, you have to come to America because that’s where they are all based,” Khan told ESPN from California, where he is preparing for Crawford.
“It makes you a bigger name fighting in the States. I got a lot more fans by fighting in the U.S. The whole world watches fights in the U.S. U.S. TV is seen in a lot of countries all over the world and when I’m in different countries people come up to me because they have seen me fighting.
“This fight against Crawford might be a bit less money than the fight versus Brook, but I’m doing it for my legacy and the chance to become world champion again.
“I had a style that American boxing fans liked, so you have to take that risk in life. For my first fight in the U.S. against Paulie Malignaggi I was making half the money I was making in England, but I still took that risk and fought in the U.S.
“Imagine if I had lost that fight versus Malignaggi. I took the pay cut to come to U.S. to establish myself initially, then I started making good money after my second fight there against Marcos Maidana [in December 2010] because I had captured the viewers.
“You have to take risks and not fight in front of your fans all the time. I might be retired by now if I had stayed in England. It [fighting in the U.S.] gave me a new goal.”
And Khan is not alone in chasing an American dream.
Increasing numbers of Britain’s best boxers are opting to box across the Atlantic rather than at home due to the lucrative deals on offer, made possible by U.S. media companies.
“You have to take risks and not fight in front of your fans all the time. I might be retired by now if I had stayed in England. It [fighting in the U.S.] gave me a new goal.” Amir Khan
Promoter Eddie Hearn’s stable is shown on DAZN in the U.S., and Hearn’s British rival Frank Warren’s shows have recently been streamed on ESPN+ in the States. Also, former world champions Tyson Fury and Carl Frampton have recently signed contracts to be promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank and shown on ESPN and ESPN+.
The trend of U.K. boxers fighting in the U.S. is a pivot from what British audiences have grown used to in recent years: big matchups at big venues, with record numbers … and in the U.K.
The biggest fight in the U.K. so far in 2019 was the super middleweight clash between former champion James DeGale and Chris Eubank Jr. — and no world title was even on the line.
The British boxing schedule has been affected by the retirement of fighters like DeGale, George Groves, Tony Bellew and David Haye within the past year. Other potential matchups on British soil — Khan-Brook, DeGale-Groves, Anthony Joshua-Deontay Wilder, Joshua-Fury, Joshua-Dillian Whyte — have also failed to materialize.
Now the biggest names in U.K. boxing are choosing to box in the States this year.
Fury’s decision to sign with Arum means he will have a second successive fight in the States when he faces Germany’s Tom Schwarz in Las Vegas on June 15.
Joshua, the WBA-IBF-WBO world heavyweight champion, will make his U.S. debut against Jarrell Miller in New York on June 1 after his past four fights at Wembley Stadium in London and the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, attracted a combined gate of more than 300,000 fans. Wembley Stadium was booked for Joshua on April 13, but it was scratched so he could instead make his U.S. debut.
Khan reckons the heavyweights are right to focus on cracking the U.S. market.
“These guys — Fury, Joshua, Frampton, Anthony Crolla — have to travel because the big money is in the U.S. You have to get out of your comfort zone,” Khan told ESPN.
“Some fighters don’t leave their comfort zone. People like Carl Froch didn’t want to come to America.”
Britain also has fewer world champions than it did a few years ago — 13 world titleholders in 2016, compared with five now (Joshua, Callum Smith, Josh Warrington, Kal Yafai and Charlie Edwards), which means British — and Irish — fighters have to travel for their opportunities. In recent months, the likes of Luke Campbell, Scott Quigg, Liam Smith, Callum Johnson, Katie Taylor, Jono Carroll and Michael Conlan have all boxed in the States.
It is a situation that is affecting challengers and champions alike: Crolla, of Manchester, challenges WBA-WBO world lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko in Los Angeles on April 12, while Yafai defends his WBA junior bantamweight title against Norbelto Jimenez on the same New York bill as Joshua’s next heavyweight title fight.
In addition to boxing in the States, Khan also bases himself there for much of the year.
After having two fights in the U.K., Khan is back in the U.S., where he has been training at coach Virgil Hunter’s gym in Oakland, California, for nearly three months.
Khan admits he will have to improve massively from his last performance, which contained some shaky moments and a knockdown early in a unanimous points win over Samuel Vargas in September.
“It’s peaceful here [in California],” Khan told ESPN.
“[Virgil has] known me for a long time, so it’s always better to be with someone who knows you and your fighting style. As you get older it gets harder. When you go to a new trainer, it can be hard to adapt to their ideas. Joe Goossen did a great job with two warm-up fights, but I’ve decided to go back to Virgil.
“There were a lot of wobbly moments in my last fight and I should have stopped him [Vargas] or knocked him out — he should never have been in the same ring as me. Luis Collazo just beat him and that shows you — I beat Collazo quite comfortably five years ago.
“But it was because of a change of trainer and a change of style and everything happened so quickly. That’s when I realized I should go back to training under Virgil.”