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Amir Khan: Looking beyond the fight game

Entrepreneurs 04-05-2016
Amir Khan

Amir Khan’s in training. And not just for his next bout. The Bolton boxer is ramping up his business interests, ensuring he has a long lasting legacy outside, as well as inside, the ring. Joe Minihane went to meet him.

The walls adorned with signed photos, shirts and messages from famous well-wishers, Amir Khan’s Bolton gym feels as much a home for sports memorabilia as it does a place for Britain’s most famous boxer to foster hot new fighting talent and pursue his business interests. But this unprepossessing building, tucked away behind an Aldi supermarket and a five minute drive from the centre of town, is where this world champion is plotting his legacy. Not only to develop business interests that stretch from property to boxing promotion, but to also create a better community in the town he still loves to call home.

“I’ve always said that I won’t move from Bolton,” says Amir, sitting underneath a portrait of Mohammed Ali in his office, a simple room at the top of a warren-like corridor. “A lot of people expected me to after winning world titles, that I’d move to London and live down there. But I always said to myself that I’m a Boltonian and I’m going to stay and follow my roots. I want to build businesses up here, because one day when my kids grow up, they can see the businesses that I have. I’ve been loyal to my town, I love it here.” In an area where there is such a strong Asian community, with deep family ties, it’s perhaps no surprise he doesn’t want to leave.

Amir Khan became a house-hold name overnight as a British Asian boxing sensation in 2004, bursting onto the scene as an amateur at the Athens Olympics, winning a silver medal in the lightweight category. Turning professional in 2005, he won his first world title in 2009 and has since arguably become the biggest British boxing draw in the world. But, at the age of just 26, his attention is already turning to his life after the fight game. Planning is important, he says, especially for a boxer.

“I know that once the income from my fighting stops I need another income,” he says. “I can’t rely on boxing to make me the money I need to survive and keep me happy [after I’ve retired]. I’ve seen fighters make mistakes and once their boxing stops, the money stops coming in. Before you know it, it’s all gone. I never want to be in that position. I always said I want to be one step ahead of that – I never want to be in that position where I might need to come back and take one more fight because I’m short of cash. One more fight and it ruins a career. Look at Mike Tyson and other fighters who have been legends and come back and messed their whole legacy up.”

This means that despite no plans to hang up his gloves for at least another four years, Amir has already started investing in property. “I’ve got a lot of houses in this area, Bolton, Manchester and Liverpool, but not really gone anywhere further off. I’ve stayed around this area because I can maintain and manage them myself. In the future I’m going to start looking further, like London.”

With understandable concerns about ensuring he has a regular income once his time in the ring is up; Amir sees property as a logical business step. “My properties are like a pension to me, which is going to support me after my career. It’s going to keep me going,” he says. “I live a normal life, but it’s there for my family and my kids one day, to have a good life, an easy life. That’s the reason I got into the property business. At the moment I’m at the peak of my career and I think this is the time to invest in the right businesses and speak to the right people. That’s why I got into it. You can’t really go wrong with property either. It’s always going to be there and people are always going to need houses. It’s a wise move.”

Amir has been investing in property for around six years, which is impressive considering he’s only been professional for eight. And it’s something he’s clearly passionate about, enthusing especially about plans to build a wedding and conference venue in Bolton, aimed specifically at the Asian community. “It’s in an area where we have a lot of Asian people and the community living in that area … there’s so many weddings happening. The Asian community likes to make it a five day thing, they want somewhere nice and normally we have to travel all the way to Manchester for that. I want there to be a nice restaurant, an established restaurant, there as well, one that people know about. The thing about Bolton is it doesn’t have that. That’s what I really want to build.” He’s also keen to build better football provision in Bolton, talking excitedly about plans to create new indoor courts and astroturf pitches around town that he hopes will encourage kids to not only do more sport, but also stay out of trouble.

The biggest upside of the property business, says Amir, is the fact that he can leave the running of it with his family while he prepares for fights and focuses on his last few years in boxing. “All the business side, I have my team here in this office,” he says. “I like things to be organised that way. Having your family involved in it makes a massive difference, because they’re not going to rip you off, they’re not going try to steal from you, they’re going to do everything from the heart. I know that I’ve got a team around me so that when I’m in that training camp, I don’t have to worry about it. I just focus on that training session, because they’re doing everything.”

But while his property portfolio is something that Amir is happy to keep ticking over in the background, boxing promotion is where he’s looking to make waves in the public eye. He believes that his years of experience, from training as an 11-year-old through to amateur bouts and run ins with promoters as a pro, mean he’s well placed to make this his main, public-facing business in the coming years.

“I always said I wanted to give something back to boxing. Giving something back to boxing is me having my own promotion team and bringing up young fighters from the grass roots,” he explains. “I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I did. I want them to become world champions and maximise their boxing ability while getting treated fairly, getting paid well and getting paid on time, because a lot of promoters don’t look after their fighters. I don’t want to be one of them. That’s why I’ve always wanted to get into promotion. Hopefully we’ll be like Oscar De La Hoya.”

De La Hoya is boxing’s business maverick. The head of Golden Boy Promotions, he promotes the biggest fights in the US, including Amir’s most recent bouts across the pond. He has turned to his friend Amir to become the face of Golden Boy UK, which looks set to change the face of professional boxing in this country for the better. “Oscar’s been a huge influence and huge help in the promotion business. We talk a lot. He’s my promoter at the moment, alongside Khan Promotions, which is my own promotion team. I always spoke to him about me having my own promotion team in the UK. Now it’s time. We’re nearly there, getting everything signed off and soon we’re going to have Golden Boy UK. Amir thinks the business will have a “massive” impact in the UK boxing scene.

But while Golden Boy UK will be all about getting top billing for the very best British talent that Amir and Oscar De La Hoya can find, the 26-year-old world champion’s own promotional interests stretch beyond business and into community work. The gym where we meet isn’t just the base for his office and property business. It’s a fully equipped facility that helps to not only train some of Britain’s hottest new young fighters, but also give something to kids from the area that Amir fears could end up taking the wrong path in life.

Boxing did a lot for me. If I hadn’t done boxing, maybe I would have taken that wrong path in life. Maybe I would have been on the streets, maybe had a job in a supermarket, could have been a naughty kid. You never know, I could have been in prison. Boxing kept me out of trouble, kept me safe, kept me on the right path, really,” Amir surmises. His father, Shah, took his hyperactive eight-year-old son to the gym to burn off some of the pent up energy he had, and to stop him fighting in the house. “I started burning my energy into something positive, boxing, and I haven’t looked back since.

“That’s why I wanted to build my own gym, because I know what boxing has done for me. When I built this gym, I said I wanted to give something back to the community. This is a very deprived community. There’s a lot of trouble, a lot of bad kids, naughty kids and I wanted to take them off the streets, give them something to do instead of hanging around street corners and the park, where they set fires and mess around. All that’s kind of stopped. We get a lot of the naughty kids now, coming into this gym from different areas, who never used to get on with each other, but now they’re in the gym together, working together, training together. “

Boxing teaches discipline. I’ve had school teachers come to me, parents, mosque teachers, saying, ‘Wow our kids are so different because they’re coming to your boxing gym’. People think that boxing teaches you to fight and it’s a violent sport but it’s not, it’s the opposite. It teaches you not to fight on the streets, to only fight in the boxing ring, and to fight in a certain manner where you have to think about every move you make. I was amazed when head teachers would come up to me and say ‘That kid used to be naughty in school but he’s totally changed’. Even if these kids don’t make it in boxing, at least it’s set them up for the future where they know not to mess around. It gives them good discipline,” he says.

It isn’t just local kids who use Amir’s gym, however. It has become the focus for a string of community services, with the local police force and fire brigade both using it to train, and even universities in the area taking advantage of the facilities. Young offenders are also brought to the gym, where Amir sometimes helps train and spar with them.

The London Olympics too, have been a huge boost to Amir’s gym business, especially by attracting women to boxing for the fi rst time. The gym now accommodates approximately 40 women per week. Aside from the legacy impact on his Bolton gym, London 2012 was also a big deal for Amir in terms of his media work. Having won a medal at Athens 2004, Amir was understandably the ‘go to guy’ for the BBC when it needed a respected expert to offer opinions on the success of Team GB’s boxers, as well as get his thoughts on the wider success of Britain’s Olympians. It’s a role in which Amir revelled.

“I came across well, I thought. I had a lot of Twitter messages coming through saying I was good on TV,” he says.

Amir believes a media career is something he’d be able to handle alongside his property and promotion businesses. “Being a boxing pundit or boxing presenter?” he asks when quizzed about his future TV plans. “Defi nitely. I love doing stuff like that. [I’d like to] keep my foot in because it’s one of those businesses where you’ll always be out there. You’ll still have fans after the end of your career, so they’ll still want to see you. I look at someone like Gary Lineker, who after his career has gone into presenting and he’s brilliant at it. So I’d love to go that route as well, that’s something I’m looking at alongside the property and promotion as well. The promotion side will be big and the property side will be something the family can look after. But I’ll be pushing myself to get out there, presenting, doing TV work and doing the promo side.”

While business and community work at his impressive gym are clearly key concerns for Amir, boxing is evidently the thing he still remains 100% focused on. “I’m only 26 and I’m already a two time world champion. I want to achieve numerous more world titles and move up and down different weight categories and fi ght some big names. I want to fight a bit more in England because my last few fights have been in America. I only fight twice a year, so I think that way I can push myself to the age of 30, instead of 28. That was my initial plan and the reason was because I used to fight three times a year. Now I fight twice a year because Ramadan falls in the middle, so I take that off. That gives me another two more years. And you never know, by 30 I might be in the best condition ever.” It seems that while he’s keen to keep his property portfolio ticking over and his promotion business starts to ramp up, it’ll be a good few years yet before Amir Khan introduces himself as a businessman rather than a boxer. For now, the gloves are staying well and truly on.

Photographs by Richard Grassie

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