After weeks of discussion with various potential opponents and speculation from the media and fans, junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan on Saturday finalized his April 16 homecoming fight in Manchester, England, against European champion Paul McCloskey of Northern Ireland.
If Khan successfully defends his title for the fourth time, there's a good chance he will move on to a July 30 fight against unified titlist Timothy Bradley Jr. for 140-pound supremacy.
McCloskey has a glossy record but is unknown in the United States (where HBO is paying high six figures for the fight). McCloskey also has an awfully thin resume. But he got the fight over others who were in the discussion, including Lamont Peterson (the first choice, with whom Khan's team could not come to an agreement) and British countrymen John Murray and Junior Witter.
The one opponent Khan (24-1, 17 KOs) and his team refused to seriously consider was Colombian slugger Breidis Prescott, who blitzed Khan in 54 seconds in 2008 to hand him his only professional loss -- a devastating one at that. A rematch with a revenge angle was a natural.
Prescott lost a couple of fights after crushing Khan but has won two fights in a row. Still, Khan refused to discuss seriously the prospect of fighting him on April 16, even though it was a fight HBO would have liked a lot better than McCloskey and one that Sky Box Office, the British pay-per-view company handling the fight, also preferred.
I've been a vocal critic of Khan ignoring Prescott, who, regardless of anything else he has or hasn't accomplished, owns one thing nobody else does: a crushing knockout of Khan.
But I'm not accusing Khan of ducking Prescott -- or anyone else for that matter -- because in December he stepped up to the plate and fought probably the most dangerous opponent he could face in powerful Marcos Maidana. It was a tremendous fight, and Khan won it despite nearly being knocked out in the 10th round.
He has earned the right to select his next opponent however he sees fit. But I was still curious why he wouldn't entertain Prescott, who has been calling him out for the past couple of months.
"I'd love to fight Prescott again and it's a fight the fans want to see as well," Khan told me. "I promise you that the fight will definitely happen. It's unfinished business for me. But this is about what makes sense for me for this fight. There's been talk about Prescott. Some say, 'You should fight him again [in April].' Some say, 'You shouldn't.' I think you give Prescott another one or two wins, and when I beat him I don't want excuses from his team. I think it will happen after I fight Bradley."
Khan said he isn't afraid of the rematch. He pointed to the fact that when he lost to all-time great Cuban amateur Mario Kindelan in the 2004 Olympic final, he fought him again in a specially arranged fight that would mark the end of their amateur careers. Kindelan (who also won a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics) would retire after the bout and Khan would turn pro. In that much-anticipated amateur finale, Khan avenged the Olympics loss. That fight with Kindelan was an immediate rematch, however. Khan said even though he didn't fight Prescott in an immediate rematch after the loss and still hasn't, it will eventually happen.
"The longer the fight waits, the bigger the fight will be. That's how I see it," Khan said. "As soon as I unify the division, the Prescott fight can happen. There are people I want to fight and beat. After I beat Bradley, there will be nobody left [at 140]. Then I will fight Prescott again and move up to 147."
Khan hopes to take care of McCloskey and then move on to Bradley.
"My next goal is to unify the division and beat Bradley," Khan said. "I'm happy to fight him in America. I'd like to fight him in England because I want to bring them big fights over here. But I will fight him wherever. Definitely, in the summertime, he's the guy I want. I'm going to fight April 16 and win, and then after a short break, it will be right back into training."
Khan got a good look at Bradley in his 10th-round technical decision unification victory against Devon Alexander on Jan. 29. The fight was televised on Sky in England, and Khan was a guest commentator in the studio that night watching the fight.
While Khan gave Bradley credit for the hard-fought victory, he wasn't so nice to Alexander, who retired after being shaken up by an accidental head-butt in the 10th round. Many have accused Alexander of quitting. Khan was one of them.
"I was really shocked the way Alexander in a way scared away," Khan said. "He couldn't get his game plan going. He wanted to pull out. That's how it seemed to me. His heart went, his bottle went. Alexander was a very nice, quiet guy, and then the way he acted during the promotion, he got cocky and he couldn't match his words. He couldn't back up his words. He quit in the fight like a baby, complained every time he got head-butted. I blame both of them for the head-butts, but Alexander, he's a quitter."
The fight with McCloskey (22-0, 12 KOs) is the last of a three-fight deal with Golden Boy, which hopes to re-sign him to at least a two-fight extension. This would replace the final fight on his existing promotional contract and also include the July fight, whomever it's against.
Khan wasn't interested in talking about the deal details.
"I will leave that to my management," he said. "I have one fight left with Golden Boy, and then we'll sit down and talk about what's going to happen."