Despite being relatively young, Amir Khan has a wealth of experience in ONE Championship’s talent-filled lightweight division.
The 23-year-old Singaporean contender has competed on the global stage for martial arts, turning in spectacular performances as he has risen from hot prospect to legitimate World Title contender.
Such a swift rise to the top could be too much to handle for some young athletes, but not Khan, who has taken everything in his stride so far.
“Honestly, the pressure does not bother me. I chose this path and chose to have this pressure on me, so I have learned to embrace it. I take that as motivation instead, rather than feeling the weight on my shoulders,” he says.
“I embrace the pressure to motivate me to do my best. I believe when I’m at my best, I can achieve great things, so I don’t feel the pressure. I just need to learn how to take it the right way.”
Khan’s next matchup sees him share the cage with Team Lakay’s former ONE Featherweight World Champion Honorio “The Rock” Banario at ONE: BEYOND THE HORIZON on 8 September in Shanghai, China.
It is yet another high-profile bout for the Singaporean striker, and one in which he will need to call on all the experience he has accrued so far in his mixed martial arts career.
One aspect of being a high-profile figure is the fact that you have to deal with the increased media attention. Khan admits it is something he has had to work on during his career.
“Initially, [the learning curve] was really steep, I sounded really weird, and I didn’t like the way I saw myself in the media,” Khan says.
“I feel like when the camera’s on you, you kind of stiffen up your shoulders and you get a weird feeling because people are watching, so you can’t mess it up. I have to worry about my choice of words too, so, obviously, I have to think about what I say before it comes out of my mouth.
“It takes practice – more TV shows, more times in front of the camera. One day, I’ll be completely natural.
“Just keep at it with whatever you do – in sport or in life. If you suck at something, keep doing it until you succeed. If you give up, that’s when you really fail.”
Khan hails from Singapore, the home of ONE Championship, and trains out of the country’s leading gym, Evolve MMA. That, coupled with his impressive career record, means the expectation levels are high whenever he steps into the cage to compete.
“When we fight in Singapore, everyone expects you to kick butt,” he explains.
“They say: ‘Okay, Amir’s going to dominate the guy and it’ll be easy for him.’ There’s a lot of pressure on me for that, because I cannot lose in front of my home crowd. No one likes to lose in front of their home crowd, because it’s a big embarrassment.
“I try to just be in my head and not pay attention to what’s going on out there in the media. I keep my head down and focus on my opponent. I focus on my job.
“I do what I can control. Whatever comes up, it was meant to be. I can’t change if I win or lose.
“If I think of other factors like what my friends think if I don’t perform or I don’t knock him out – it’s just additional stress I don’t want in fight week.”
Khan admits to suffering from nerves ahead of his bouts, when the hard work of dealing with media obligations are over, and the focus turns solely to the contest ahead.
“The week of the fight, the nerves start kicking in – maybe one or two days before. On fight day, when I wake up, I feel the most nervous of all,” he says.
To better cope with the pre-bout butterflies, Khan has put in place a regular routine to help him get into the right frame of mind before making his walk to the cage.
“I get a workout in the morning – kind of a shakeout – get a shower, have a nap, then when I wake up I shower again, and I’m ready to go. I visualise what I want to do, and the nerves go away,” he explains.
“As soon as a know I have a fight, I’m visualising the movements every day – how I will feel on fight day, how I will feel in the ring or cage, how my emotions will be. I visualise my emotions so when the day comes, they all seem natural, so my body is not in a shocked state.
“If you don’t visualise all the emotions – the pain and the fear – on fight day your body will get a shock. ‘What is this feeling?’ You will be really uncomfortable. I go deep into my visualisation of the fear, the nervousness, the anxiety – every single detail.
“I try not to miss anything out so when it finally comes, it feels completely natural and all these are normal for me.”
When he is backstage and warmed up, Khan says the nerves start to fall away as his excitement level builds ahead of the contest.
“Backstage, at the arena, I don’t really feel nervous – more excited,” he says.
“I want to get it done and fight as soon as possible, finish it, and celebrate.”
That preparation has helped propel him to 10 wins so far in his impressive young career. Victory number 11 could come against Banario in Shanghai, and could push him closer to his ultimate dream – the ONE Lightweight World Title.