Junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan, perhaps one fight away from the biggest fight in the 140-pound division against unified titleholder Timothy Bradley Jr., will fight in his native England for the first time in more than a year when he meets Paul McCloskey at the MEN Arena in Manchester on April 16.
"I am delighted that this fight has finally been put together following some tough negotiations," Khan said in a statement Saturday. "This is a matchup the British public want to see and will be a fantastic fight between two of the best light welterweights in the country."
Khan and Bradley, who defeated Devon Alexander on Jan. 29 to unify two of the major belts, could meet for division supremacy on July 30. Discussions for that HBO fight are in its infancy, but Khan needs to defeat McCloskey, the European champion, if it is to happen.
HBO will televise Khan-McCloskey on same-day tape in the United States while Sky Box Office will carry it live on pay-per-view in Britain. HBO plans to pair the fight with live coverage of Andre Berto's welterweight defense against Victor Ortiz, who would move up from junior welterweight, from a site to be determined in the U.S. Berto-Ortiz is close to being finalized.
"Amir is back. The 'King' is back. It's his homecoming, his first fight at home in over 12 months," said Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, Khan's promoter. "He is excited to take on an undefeated fighter in Paul McCloskey. He is looking forward to the showdown. I am still working with [Berto promoter] Lou DiBella to finalize the live fight from the U.S., Berto-Ortiz. It will be a great night of boxing."
Khan (24-1, 17 KOs) will be returning to the arena where he won his world title on a near-shutout decision against Andriy Kotelnik in July 2009.
After a first-round knockout of Dmitriy Salita in his first title defense in December 2009, the 24-year-old Khan came to the United States for both of his fights in 2010. He fought Paulie Malignaggi in his hometown of New York and stopped him in the 11th round of a one-sided fight in May. In December, Khan won a decision against Marcos Maidana in a dramatic fight that that was voted fight of the year by the Boxing Writers Association of America. Khan dropped Maidana in the first round, was nearly knocked out in the 10th round and hung on for the decision.
McCloskey, 31, of Northern Ireland, won the vacant European title by stopping Daniel Rasilla in the ninth round in November 2009. He has made two defenses, stopping Giuseppe Lauri in the 11th round in June and Barry Morrison in the seventh round in October.
Khan represents a massive step up in the level his competition. McCloskey's record lacks any notable opponents. The most notable name McCloskey (22-0, 12 KOs) has faced is long-faded former lightweight titlist Cesar Bazan, whom he shut out in a 2008 decision.
"McCloskey is European champion and he has been calling out Amir," Schaefer said. "Amir had other fighters on his mind, but for his homecoming, to fight a guy from Northern Ireland who is undefeated, it makes sense. It's an important showdown for the British fight fans and for Sky. McCloskey has yet to taste defeat. That makes him dangerous and motivated because he doesn't know how to lose. McCloskey is licking his chops to get his hands on Amir.
"I heard that he wants to go and finish what Maidana started. Of course, Amir will have something to say bout that."
Khan announced that he plans to leave for trainer Freddie Roach's Wild Card gym in Hollywood, Calif., on Feb. 9 following news conferences announcing the fight with McCloskey in Manchester and Belfast.
Khan sorted through numerous potential opponents before settling on McCloskey. American Lamont Peterson, who fought to a draw with Ortiz on the Khan-Maidana undercard, was the main target but they could not come to terms after Peterson turned down $300,000. England's John Murray, among others, was also prominently discussed.
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.