Alan Hubbard

Was is really almost exactly two decades ago that I sat in a draughty hall in Barnsley, a town in Yorkshire in the north of England, watching a teenage kid from across the county lines in Bolton, Lancashire, by way of Pakistan, razzle-dazzle his way too a Channel Schoolboys Championship.

His name was Amir Khan, and I had had my card marked about him by a boxing journalist friend, John Morris, later to become general secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control. "You must see this lad," he said. "He’s sensational!"

Indeed he was, fleet of foot and fast of fist, young Khan, then approaching 15, looked a ring superstar in the making.

Two years later I was again at ringside in a rather more salubrious setting in Athens as the 17-year-old, Team GB’s sole fistic representative, smoothly manoeuvred his way to the final of the 2004 Olympic Games boxing final, displaying ring craft well beyond his tender years.

He was to lose that final, returning home with a silver medal, after being narrowly defeated on points by then number one amateur in world boxing, the brilliant Cuban Mario Kindelan.

Cheered on by his father, Shah, whose Union Jack waistcoat had become a symbol of his son’s success, Khan boxed beautifully, even in defeat. There was a little doubt among we scribes that he would be a professional world champion one day.

As it happened we struck an instant rapport and remained friends for the next 20 years of his memorable career.

Amir Khan, left, won lightweight silver at the Athens 2004 Olympics, being defeated in the gold medal match by Cuban Mario Kindelan ©Getty Images
Amir Khan, left, won lightweight silver at the Athens 2004 Olympics, being defeated in the gold medal match by Cuban Mario Kindelan ©Getty Images

In Athens he had sought my advice on how to deal with a curious media. "Just be yourself," I told him. It was evident that the professional ring beckoned and he wondered which of the numerous offers he should accept.

I suggested he should talk with Frank Warren, who was Britain’s leading promoter with a sound reputation for nurturing prospective world champions.

The upshot was that he signed with Warren a year later after the promoter had arranged for him to box a sell out return with Kinderlan at Bolton, the football club Amir had supported since boyhood. This time Khan won on points, an indication of how much more he had improved on his Olympic odyssey.

The stage was set for a glittering pro career, literally full of ups and downs. While harm could hit, he could also be hit, and he was put on the floor several times which seemed to make his appearances even more watchable and exciting.

It took 21 fights for Warren to steer him to his first world title, comprehensively defeating Ukrainian lightweight Andre Kotelnik. This despite a blip along the way when he was sensationally caught cold within a few seconds by an unknown Breidis Prescott.

Such was the shape of things to come for Khan who became a unified light welter world champion with a further five defeats among his 40 bouts over 17 years.

Canelo Álvarez, Terence Crawford and Danny Garcia were amongst the top notch sluggers who made Khan take it on the chin. But it was his last loss when he was struck in six rounds by longtime rival Kell Brook in Manchester recently which prompted his decision to finally, and sensibly, call it quits last weekend. It was an overdue contest with both protagonists well past their fight-by date.

"My love for the sport is not there anymore," he admitted frankly. "My body is broken, my bones are aching. I don’t even want to train anymore. I’ve had to be honest with myself and call it a day. I have a beautiful family, a lovely home and enough money in the bank so I can sit back and relax."

True, he was no stranger to juvenile aberrations, appearing on the front pages with similar frequency to the back.

In his earlier years he trod the traditional path of superstardom, enjoying fast cars and even faster women.

However he is now a committed family man. My late wife and I attended the lavish wedding celebrations after his marriage to New Yorker Faryal Maktoum.

It is estimated he has amassed some £40 million ($49 million/€47 million) and looks forward to becoming a promoter, working with the World Boxing Council (WBC) on the burgeoning fight market in the Middle East.

What has often been overlooked is Khan’s immense contribution to community relationships and various major charity projects both in this country and Pakistan. Yet despite all his achievements as well as his Olympic exploits, he has never received an honour. Not even an MBE traditionally awarded to world champions and outstanding Olympians.

Let’s hope that will be rectified soon. Meantime thanks for the memories, the lows as well as the highs.