Amir Khan’s love for most things Indian, including rival boxer Vijender Singh
Amir Khan became Britain’s youngest Olympic boxing medallist at age 17. Now 30, he continues to make news for being competitive, controversial and a social media superstarbrunch Updated: Jun 18, 2017 08:01 IST
A sport without sportsmanship is a fight, but when a sportsperson of Pakistani origin challenges one of our own, it’s almost war. Still, the boxer who recently ‘warned’ Vijender Singh that he’d destroy his career is not some random person, and he did not mean any harm. Because this is Dangal-watching, Delhi-loving Amir Khan, a rock star beyond boxing, a man with speed, attitude and a lot more than the game that made his name.
If you’re not a fan of boxing, you won’t know who he is. But one search engine query will give you almost too much information. Amir is confident about his game, and not afraid of flaunting it. His speed in updating his fans about himself on social media is like his speed in the ring – fast and on point. He has been in the news for personal reasons as well: a leaked sex tape, a family feud. You’d think he has an attitude problem, but actually, he says, “I’m a normal guy. I have no airs.”
“Two of us (Vijender and I) fighting will be a grudge match. The India vs Pak thing won’t affect me much, but it might affect Vijender; he’s less experienced than me!”
His recent statement that he would “destroy Vijender’s career” if they were to fight each other kind of belies Amir’s ‘normal guy’ remark, though Amir does have great things to say about the Indian boxer. However, he stands by his belief that he could beat Vijender hollow.
Amir knows that a match between the two of them would mean more than just two boxers facing off: it would mean a fight between two nations. “I’m calm and collected as a fighter. I’ve been in this game long enough to become like that,” says Amir. “But the two of us fighting will be a grudge match. If we do fight, I don’t think the India vs Pakistan thing will affect me much. It might affect Vijender; he’s less experienced than me. I’ve done what Vijender wants to do; his dream is to achieve what I have achieved. He is a good fighter, but he is junior to me. He has a long way to go before he fights me.”
Amir and Vijender have met at Amir’s gym in the UK and outside the ring too. “I respect and support him; he is hard-working,” says Amir. “I want to see him give India a good name. Whenever we meet, we talk and it’s all good. Outside of boxing, we are friends. I supported him during the Commonwealth Games; I went to meet him after his fights. In fact, I’ll always be there for him.”
Amir has been to India only once, but his roots make him feel a strong connection with the country. Though he was born in the UK, he’s a Pakistani through and through and he’s aware that his parents are Punjabi Rajputs hailing from Agra.
“I think this whole India-and-Pakistan-don’t-get-along thing is nonsense. I believe someone like me can break the negativity, since I have so many fans in India. I didn’t even know people in India knew me so well,” says Amir. “You’ll find many shrines belonging to Indians in places such as Lahore. After all, both countries were one before Independence. We should try to unite instead of fighting each other. People in Pakistan love Bollywood and people in India love Pakistani cricket and TV dramas. It’s a matter of expression.”
- Current world ranking: 4
- Fights fought till date: 36
- Best title: Unification champion (2009-2017)
- Best fight: Fought and defeated Zab Judah for the undisputed unification title (2012)
Amir visited India for Harbhajan Singh’s wedding (2015). “People in India are genuinely nice, they gave me so much time and I loved it here. I visited Ajmer Sharif, met Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, and was amazed by my fan following,” he says. “Someone from India once said to me, ‘You are from England and you’re Pakistani, but we in India love you like you’re one of our own fighters.’ This was really nice, coming from an Indian.”
Though Amir was born in the UK, his parents were born in Pakistan and he hates the image Pakistan has in the world. “With all the bombings and so on, Pakistan is going through a tough time,” he says. “I want to give a clean message about Pakistan. I want to be a role model, a representative of the country. People should look at me and remember Pakistan. I want to be the world champion for them. I want people to see Pakistanis and Muslims as good people.”
Perhaps the respect Amir has won in India was easier to come by because he shares his name with one of Bollywood’s biggest actors, Aamir Khan. “There must be some good connection there,” he laughs. “All the (Bollywood) Khans are so well-known in the world.” Aamir’s Dangal is one of his favourite films. “It shows how you can achieve anything with determination and hard work,” explains Amir.
“When I met Shah Rukh Khan for the first time, he stood up and said, ‘Oh, you are the real king!’ This is because my twitter handle is @amirkingkhan.”
He describes his meeting with Shah Rukh Khan as ‘interesting’. “When I met him for the first time, he stood up and said, ‘Oh, you are the real king!’ This is because my twitter handle is @amirkingkhan. He shook my hand and hugged me,” smiles Amir. “Amitabh Bachchan recognised me on a plane and tweeted a picture. These actors have done so well and it’s great to see them recognise me.”
He co-owns the Super Fight League, a platform dedicated to giving amateurs a chance to fight in a professional cage. “I want to help Indians get into Mixed Martial Arts and boxing. Many Indian actors such as Arjun Rampal, Ajay Devgn and Sohail Khan are associated with it.”
Lord of the ring
“Vijender is a good fighter, but he’s junior to me. His dream is to achieve what I have achieved!”
Amir was introduced to boxing to help him burn off his excess energy. “My teachers used to complain that I’m naughty and that I’d keep fighting with people, so my dad took me to the boxing club to get me to focus, and it totally changed my attitude,” he explains.
At the age of eight, when children usually spend time on the playground, he was busy training in the gym. “Back then, people didn’t really take boxing seriously. I was probably the only boxer who was Muslim, of Pakistani descent. I never saw any Indian or Chinese boxers either,” he says. “But boxing taught me discipline, and it taught me to listen to people. It is not a violent sport.”
His first major medal was a silver at the Olympics when he was just 17 (2004), and then his life changed. “That’s when people started recognising me,” he says.
But with celebrity status comes great responsibility. Amir had to live up to his reputation as a role model, and he took that very seriously. Training hard, he’s now one of the fastest boxers in the ring. “I’m the fastest boxer in the world because I believe I’m the fastest,” he says. “It’s all in the mind. With speed, it’s about believing in yourself. You cannot train for speed, you have to believe it.”
He has one million Instagram followers and nearly two million Twitter followers. His Snapchat has several videos of him talking to his fans, showing off his workouts or chilling at home. He uses his Instagram handle like most of us: he shares pictures of his meals and of wishing his wife, Faryal Makhdoom, on Valentine’s Day, among other things.
“I enjoy social media interaction,” Amir says. “They are my fans and I am where I am because of them. I should give them my time because they support me, pray for me. I like engaging with them. And Indian fans say things like ‘come to India and fight’, some have even asked me to act in a Bollywood film!” he laughs.
The Better Half
Meet Farya Makhdoom, Amir Khan’s stunning wife and an Instagram star herself. Making heads turn may not be a tough job for Faryal but, as it turns out, making headlines is not alien to her either, case in point: her public spat with husband Amir’s family, which turned out to be a full-blown Indian soap, resulting in the couple skipping Amir’s brother’s wedding reception.
Faryal has accused her in-laws of bullying and according to tabloids, Amir has been trying to keep the warring parties at bay, amid dealing with his own controversies.
A model, Faryal owns a make-up brand and is a DDLJ buff who grew up fangirling over SRK (because who didnt!). Like her hubby, she loves India! In fact, her wedding and reception lehngas were designed by renowned couturier Tarun Tahiliani. “He paid a lot of attention to my trousseau and was very nice to me,” she says.
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From HT Brunch, April 16, 2017
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First Published: Apr 15, 2017 21:36 IST