After defeating Rajinder Singh Meena in 90 seconds at ONE Championship: Dynasty of Heroes in May, Amir Khan took to the microphone and said: “Mark my words, I’ll be the first male Singaporean world champion.”
Hearing one of the most talented up-and-coming prospects in ONE Championship announce his intentions with confidence was one of the most memorable moments in recent organizational history. It was the turning of the tides for Amir Khan and his purpose was clear.
He’s not here to take part; he’s here to take over.
One step closer
Amir Khan's earlier proclamation required tempered expectations. Because, as exciting as it was, Khan still needed to pave his way to a shot at the ONE Lightweight World Championship. But when Khan spectacularly knocked out Jaroslav Jartim in the first round at ONE Championship: Shanghai in September, we're now at the point of wondering just how long ONE Championship can wait before giving Amir Khan a shot at the top talent in their lightweight division. After the knockout, Khan said to the fans in Shanghai and all of those watching:
I’m coming for the [ONE Lightweight World Championship] belt. Give me (Eduard) Folayang or Ev Ting.
Khan's victory in Shanghai was his fifth consecutive finish, and he extended the ONE Championship record for most knockouts (7) and finishes (8) in the history of the organization. With these organizational records and a professional record of 8-2, you would be surprised to discover that Amir Khan is just 22-years-old.
Warriors of the World
Considering Khan's impressive run of victories and dominant performances, Khan's request could realistically have been granted by ONE Championship. Instead, Amir Khan will need to wait longer for his opportunity to strap ONE Championship gold around his waist.
It was announced last week that ONE Championship: Warriors of the World would be headlined by a ONE Lightweight World Championship title eliminator between Shannon Wiratchai and Rasul Yakhyaev. Warriors of the World is the organizations return to Bangkok, Thailand and will feature both Shannon Wiratchai and Rika Ishige, two of Thailand's MMA superstars on December 9.
Unfortunately for Amir Khan, he'll be forced to sit and wait while the title eliminator takes place and the winner eventually challenges Eduard Folayang early in 2018. When asked about his thoughts on the title eliminator, Khan commented:
It’s not something I care about. I’m still young, it’s not like I’m going to retire any time soon. I will just take this opportunity to improve as much as I can.
It seems that more than anything, the announcement of the ONE Lightweight World Championship title eliminator has presented a clear pathway and timeframe for Amir Khan to reach the top:
By the first half of 2018, I should get the title. I should be fighting for the belt. It doesn’t really change my plan, there’s still time.
Here's a message for the rest of the ONE Championship lightweight division: when your opponent is just 22-years-old, time is your greatest enemy.
The evolution of Amir Khan
Amir Khan's growth as a mixed martial artist is unmatched by many 22-year-old athletes in the sport. While a majority of this can be attributed to Evolve MMA and the ability to train with many world champions from different aspects of martial arts, there's also a sense that Amir Khan is evolving and discovering his own unique style.
There's a dramatic change in how Amir Khan operates inside the ONE Championship cage now. Previously, he would stand and unload vicious kicks and punches toward his opponent - similar to the Muay Thai learnings of his younger days. Now, though, Amir Khan is seeking perfect fluidity in his striking techniques:
When I first came to ONE FC, I was already considered a striker. But now, I strike totally different.
I don’t really put anything into my shots. I try to be fluid. I try not to hit hard, I just focus on being fluent with my shots. My mentality and approach to the fight is totally different.
Despite claiming he tries not to hit hard, Amir Khan's recent knockout victories surely prove that he still packs enough power in there to knock anybody unconscious in the first few minutes of a contest. We asked Khan about his fast stoppages and whether he still has elements to his game we haven't seen because of his tendency to finish fights early:
Last fight, I got to show some parts of my style – just some. I finished the guy in the first round, so I wasn’t able to show much.
Intrigued by Amir Khan's suggestion he wasn't able to show much, we asked what exactly we might see from him next time he competes for ONE Championship:
I got a lot of weapons now that I haven’t shown to everyone yet. In the fights to come, I’m sure you’ll see more. It might be the left hand now. The next fight, it might be the right hand.
Khan's style, as creative and unique as it has become, inspired me to delve deeper into why Muhammad Ali was one of his idols. As predicted, Amir Khan commented:
I like Ali's style. He is very free and doesn’t care about what people think. People say don’t put your hands down, but he doesn’t care. He does his own thing. He expresses himself in the ring, rather than doing what everyone else thinks is right.
What's next for Amir Khan?
Despite the uncertainty who he may challenge when the time comes, Amir Khan's road to the ONE Lightweight Championship has never been clearer. We asked Amir what's next for him in 2017:
I will most likely be on the Singapore card. I think it makes sense for ONE Championship (to put me on the Singapore card) because I’m Singaporean. It makes sense for the market over here. Nothing has been announced yet, but I hope to be on that card.
Like many of the athletes at Evolve MMA, Amir Khan loves competing in front of the fans in Singapore. Amir stated that "it's fun to fight in Singapore" and explained that all of his fans and family are there when he is competing. Now, after completing National Service for Singapore just recently, Amir Khan feels like he has can focus all of his time and energy on training. When asked what to expect from him if he competes at ONE Championship: Immortal Pursuit in November, he replied:
You can expect another finish because I usually finish all my fights.
Amir Khan is the real deal and we are certain he'll be challenging for the lightweight championship next year.
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