“If I win, my legacy will be cemented and I could walk away from the sport as a hero, as a legend.”
Amir Khan has no doubt about the magnitude of his fight against WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford at Madison Square Garden this weekend.
But, no matter what the result, the legacy he speaks of extends beyond his exploits in the ring.
Khan announced himself to the British public at the 2004 Olympics, where he was Great Britain’s only boxer.
A British Asian just as proud of his Bolton roots as of his Muslim and Pakistani heritage, Khan won silver and became a poster boy for the sport.
But, almost 15 years on, what influence has he had on the next generation? And what is it about the sport which resonates in communities like the one he grew up in?
‘If Amir can make it, then why can’t I?’
Khan was beaten by Cuban great Mario Kindelan in the lightweight final at Athens 2004 – a defeat he later avenged.
And he says it was only when he returned home that he realised “how big of a name” he had become.
“I saw my picture on the front page of newspapers and had people wanting my autograph,” Khan told BBC Get Inspired as he took a break from training in San Francisco. “I couldn’t believe it at the time; it was all new.”
Among those watching with interest was Qais Ashfaq, an 11-year-old from Leeds.
Now 26, Ashfaq is unbeaten in five professional fights after a successful amateur career.
“I was in the gym and my coach had Boxing News and opened to the page where there was a big picture of the Olympians and Amir,” he said.
“I remember my coach saying, ‘This kid is from Bolton, about an hour from here. If he can do it, why can’t you?’
“To this day, that has always stuck in my head. He was right. Amir’s story motivated me because there weren’t many Asians who had made it in sport.”
Londoner Hamzah Sheeraz, who has won his first seven fights as a professional, also remembers seeing Khan at a time when there were “no Asian role models on television”.
“Amir is the biggest reason why young Asians are now getting into the sport,” said the 19-year-old super-welterweight.
Khan – a role model with celebrity status
Khan, 32, is in the final stages of preparing for his 38th fight, and looking to win a fourth world title.
After starting his career with 18 successive victories, he suffered a shock first-round defeat by Colombian Breidis Prescott in 2008.
“That was the hardest defeat,” Khan said.
“The media turned against me, people turned against me. The criticism I got was crazy. People labelled me a hype job, that I’m washed away. They said I’d never be a world champion.”
But within a year he was, beating Ukraine’s Andriy Kotelnik on points to take the WBA world super-lightweight title after rebuilding his career in the United States.
Khan has lost a further three times, and after he was knocked down during his win over Samuel Vargas in September, BBC Radio 5 live boxing analyst Steve Bunce asked if now needed “protecting from himself”.
But Khan has been applauded for his resilience and willingness to fight the best, including stepping up two divisions to meet Mexican middleweight star Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in 2016.
“I never let things get to me,” Khan said. “When people are putting me down, I just rise up from it and take on bigger challenge.”
Ashfaq, a promising super-bantamweight, said: “He is a strong role model and shows that people should never give up.”
‘You’re two different people’
Sport England figures show a bigger percentage increase in those from South Asian backgrounds taking up boxing compared to those from white British and Afro-Caribbean backgrounds.
Khan believes the discipline involved with boxing and the emphasis on showing respect in the gym aligns to the cultural values in South Asian households.
He draws parallels between his journey into the sport with the way he was brought up by Pakistani parents.
“I had to show respect to my them and to show respect in the mosque, so when I started boxing it gave me that extra edge,” he said.
“You know when not to mess around. You listen to your trainers. They become like a father figure. They tell you what to do, what not to do. They yell at you.”
Ashfaq agrees that his upbringing “made it easier to focus” on his boxing.
“When you’re at home and when you’re not at home, you’re two different people – this is the way Asian people are brought up,” he said.
“Some kids rebel and live a second life outside of their home. But boxing didn’t allow me to do that. For those kids who are rebelling and getting into trouble, boxing can remind them of the discipline.”
Sheeraz says some Asian parents may not want their children mixing in team sports associated to “partying and drinking”, but fight day is party day in his house.
“You’d think it was my wedding or something,” he said. “It’s an open invite at my house for all the extended family – there’s loads of them.”
The blueprint, a legacy, job done
From winning Olympic silver at 17 to becoming unified world champion at 25, Khan has had a huge impact on British boxing.
Sheeraz believes he “set the blueprint” for him, and Ashfaq says it will be “job done” if he himself “can influence one kid to get off their backside and get healthy and pursue a career they are passionate in”.
Khan, meanwhile, says victory this weekend will make sure “people talk about me in the history books”.
But he has already achieved more than he ever thought he would – and takes pride in his legacy.
“I love boxing and it’s changed my life,” Khan said. “When I leave the sport, I want to leave a great name behind.
“To hear about the influence I’ve had on fighters like Qais and Hamzah shows I’ve done something right and I’m helping young people make a career.”
|Terence Crawford v Amir Khan on the BBC|
|Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York Date: Saturday 20 April Time: 04:00 BST (Sunday morning)|
|Coverage: Follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app|