In boxing, everything is cyclical. Fighters come, fighters go. The Dream remains the same.
Saturday night in Las Vegas, an ending will be written for either an aging champion or a young contender. Half a world away, the sport will have a new beginning. The cycle renews itself.
On the same night 40-year-old undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins will risk the waning months of his boxing career against a fast-rising 26-year-old former Olympian named Jermain Taylor on HBO pay-per-view, Olympic sensation Amir Khan will begin his professional career at the Bolton (England) Arena not far from his home in a four-round fight his promoter believes will be watched by more than 6 million Brits. Hopkins and Taylor are the present in boxing. Khan is its future.
Just barely 18, Khan decided two months ago to forgo a chance at Olympic gold in 2008 after defeating his longtime nemesis, 33-year-old two-time Olympic champion Mario Kindelan of Cuba in what would be the final amateur fight for both. Last August, it had been the old champion who emerged victorious for the lightweight gold medal in Athens.
Initially, Khan considered remaining an amateur, but dreams of Olympic gold weren't enough to postpone his pursuit of real gold.
''I would have loved to stay for the next Olympics but it's a long way off and boxing is a short career," Khan said recently while sitting ringside at the MEN Arena in Manchester, England, waiting to be introduced to 22,000 British fans who have adopted him as their next great hope. ''There was nothing left once I beat Kindelan. It was a good way to finish the amateurs off.
''I knew I could beat Kindelan. Every day I watched the [Olympic] fight. I went through his mistakes and mine. In Athens, I got too excited. This time I kept focused and didn't let anything get to my head."
Khan was the only British boxer to qualify for Athens, instantly making him the country's hope even though the British Board of Boxing Control initially said he would not be allowed to compete because he was under age for senior amateur competition in England. When Khan threatened to represent Pakistan, his father's native country, the BBBC changed its rules and an unexpected star was born when he won match after Olympic match in brilliant fashion.
English amateur boxing officials tried to convince him to remain an amateur, offering a yearly stipend of around $100,000, but in the end he did what Hopkins, Taylor, and so many others had before him.
''Money was a big issue," said Khan, who will fight lefthander David Bailey (3-4). ''I didn't expect all the attention [spawned by his Olympic performance]. It's been mad."
So mad that when his mother first sent him to the store for milk after the Olympics, as she still does, she would often ask what took so long. She no longer has to ask. Not after seeing her son meet Prime Minister Tony Blair, or after gazing at his likeness on huge posters in the center of town, or reading how an estimated 6.3 million viewers saw his final fight with Kindelan in May, or watching the reaction of people when they spy the boy she and her husband, Shah, first sent to the gym at the age of 8 to burn off some energy.
''He was a very hyper kid," Shah Khan said. ''At first, sending him to the gym was just to divert his energy. I thought he'd get over it. He didn't. He enjoyed it."
He also excelled at it, becoming a British champion before coming within eight points (30-22) of Olympic gold. Nearly half Kindelan's age that day in Athens, Amir Khan did not have a clue what was happening back home. Or how it would change his life.
''I've not let it get to my head," Khan said. ''I still hang around with the same mates. I don't want to act cocky. Before the Olympics, I'd been a champion so many times and never got noticed. Two weeks in Athens and it's totally different. So many people want to have their picture taken with me or want to stop me. People just come up to our house to see if I'm home. It's mad isn't it?"
Shah Khan, a car mechanic by trade, now helps manage his son's affairs. Frank Warren, England's top promoter, guides Khan's career, insisting ''He's not going to be rushed."
Perhaps but there's a difference now from how it began. Today the notoriety that landed Khan a lucrative contract comes with something he didn't face in Athens -- expectations to be in that arena in Las Vegas.
''We'll never forget the Olympic experience we had in Athens," Shah Khan said. ''Nobody expected Amir to bring a medal back. But after his first fight even the Greeks were following him. I was nervous at his first fight. I'll be nervous at his last fight."
Khan is already a star half a world away from where a proud old champion will be trying to beat back a kid just like Amir Khan. A kid who carries the same things they all carry into battle from Khan to Hopkins -- a dream and the willingness to fight for it.
World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko continues to duck anyone resembling a challenge. Klitschko has pulled out of fighting mandatory No. 1 challenger Hasim Rahman three times (claiming injuries), finally forcing Rahman to fight Monte Barrett Aug. 13. With Rahman-Barrett set, Klitschko is ready to fight Sept. 24, six weeks after Rahman's fight. Klitschko tried to get HBO to OK a match with Oleg Maskaev, but even the network refused to let him get away with that one. Now Klitschko is making noise about facing Calvin Brock, a rising prospect, although he's not ready to fight for the heavyweight title. WBC president Jose Sulaiman has said Klitschko should fight the Rahman-Barrett winner. WBC rules require a mandatory defense, which Klitschko hasn't done in the 15 months he's held the title. For a guy who's claim to fame is getting beaten up by an out of shape Lennox Lewis, Klitschko has a lot of nerve petitioning the WBC for an exception to the mandatory rule. He might well beat Rahman, World Boxing Association champion John Ruiz, or International Boxing Federation titleholder Chris Byrd if he had the nerve. Two thigh injuries and a bad back have left him unable to fight Rahman, but he's fit to fight Brock? Stripping a fighter is never the best choice but Klitschko is begging for it. There are four heavyweight champions and nobody knows if any of them are good enough to beat the others. The only thing that's sure is Klitschko has no interest in trying . . . While the WBC heavyweight champion looks for ways to avoid Rahman, younger brother Wladimir, the former World Boxing Organization champion, was on the losing end of a lawsuit yesterday. A judge in New Jersey ruled against Klitschko in his attempt to be named mandatory challenger to Byrd. Klitschko was dropped from third to fourth with DaVarryl Williamson leapfrogging him when Klitschko decided to fight an unranked opponent. Williamson knocked out Derrick Jefferson, a top-15 heavyweight, while Klitschko was avoiding ranked opposition . . . Former welterweight champion Vernon Forrest, fighting at 154 pounds and coming off a two-year layoff, is on the undercard of Hopkins-Taylor. Forrest (35-2, 26 KOs) will face Sergio Rios (6-1, 4 KOs). ''Don't call it a comeback," Forrest said. ''I've been here for years. I just wanted to say it's a pleasure to be back. It's been a long time coming and a lot of up and downs and a lot of disappointments in trying to get back." Forrest is hopeful he will return to the welterweight division, where he won and lost the title in spectacular fashion, beating up Shane Mosley and getting beaten down by Ricardo Mayorga. ''I have some unfinished business in the welterweight division," Forrest said.
Around and around
One of the best young fighters in the world, IBF junior middleweight champion Kassim Ouma, defends his 154-pound title against Roman Karmazin on HBO's Spanish-language network tomorrow night . . . WBO heavyweight champion Lamon Brewster faces Luan Krasniqi Oct. 1 in Germany in a mandatory defense and Ruiz continues to try to make a match with Mike Tyson conqueror Kevin McBride. Ruiz got a small break this month when the WBC ranked McBride No. 21 . . . Undefeated middleweight John Duddy (10-0, 9 KOs) faces veteran Patrick Coleman (29-11, 20 KOs) July 20 in the eight-round main event of a Bobby Hitz-promoted show in Chicago. The Ireland native, who fights out of Queens, is coming off an eight-round unanimous decision against Patrick Thompson June 11 . . . As part of the hype for Saturday night's middleweight showdown, HBO will rebroadcast Hopkins's victory against Oscar De La Hoya and Taylor's pounding of Daniel Edouard Friday night at 10:30 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m. on HBO2. HBO will also telecast a half-hour documentary-style film on the fighters in what may be Hopkins's last appearance as a middleweight after 20 successful defenses. It will be shown after the rebroadcasts. The HBO pay-per-view card begins at 9 Saturday night and includes Irish favorite Wayne McCullough in a rematch with Oscar Larios for the WBC 122-pound title . . . Mayorga is set to face Michele Piccirillo for the WBC super welterweight championship on the undercard of Rahman-Barrett Aug. 13 in Chicago, with the winner mandated to face the winner of the Fernando Vargas-Javier Castillejo fight the following weekend . . . De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions is trying to put together an all unification title fight card Sept. 17 on HBO pay-per-view with Marco Antonio Barrera facing Robbie Peden, the Larios-McCullough winner vs. IBF super bantamweight champion Israel Vasquez in a rubber match, and WBO junior bantamweight champion Fernando Montiel vs. Luiz Perez, assuming Montiel gets by Evert Briceno this weekend . . . On July 21, Vassiliy Jirov (35-3, 30 KOs) squares off with 39-year-old Orlin Norris (57-9, 31 KOs), who lost his last fight by majority decision to Albert Sosnowski . . . The Camachos did not impress last weekend in Arizona despite Hector the father and Hector the son winning. Each was roundly booed in Tucson although Sr.'s win over Raul Munoz seemed clear to the three judges, who had him a 97-92 winner. A postfight scuffle broke out between Camacho and Munoz that nearly caused a riot in the stands. Asked if he'd ever been involved in anything like that, the elder Camacho said, ''What haven't I been into?" . . . New Jersey promoter Diane Lee Fischer was happy enough with the first outdoor boxing show on the beach in Atlantic City last month to be planning another this month and perhaps two in August.
Providence amateur champion Demetrius Andrade will be part of a 13-man US team competing in the 2005 World Cup in Moscow July 12-17. Twelve countries from four continents will compete in the international amateur event, including fighters from Cuba, Russia, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Australia, and Mexico. Among those joining Andrade will be 2004 flyweight Olympian Rau'Shee Warren of Cincinnati. Andrade, one of the youngest team members at 17, is the country's No. 1-ranked welterweight after winning the gold medal at the US Championships and the silver at the National Golden Gloves. In early May, Andrade competed in a dual meet against Hungary and won both his bouts. Undefeated light welterweight contender Paulie Malignaggi (19-0, 5 KOs) reports his surgically repaired right hand is ready to be tested. Now fighting for Sal LoNano, who guided Micky Ward in the lucrative final four years of his career, Malignaggi plans to return to the ring this summer for the first time since Dec. 4. ''The hand feels fine but I've been a one-handed fighter most of my career so we'll have to see how it holds up," Malignaggi said. Malignaggi has been working with strength and conditioning guru Mike Boyle, who was strength and conditioning coach for the Bruins and the BU hockey team . . . Rhode Island promoter Jimmy Burchfield's next card will be Aug. 26 at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Undefeated cruiserweight Matt Godfrey (8-0, 5 KOs) and 2004 US Olympian Jason Estrada (3-0, 1 KO) are on the card. For ticket information, call 401-724-2253.