By Jake Donovan
There was a reason Amir Khan was eager to get back into the ring just three months after suffering a stoppage loss, and it wasn’t just the payday or the opportunity to return to the win column.
It’s what potentially lies ahead.
First up for the 2004 Olympic Silver medalist and former 140-pound titlist is his first career fight in the Middle East, as he faces India’s Neeraj Goyat on July 12 in King Abduilah Sports City in Jeddah, South Africa.
The event will mark the first ever clash between boxers of Pakistani and Indian descent. Despite that backdrop, the one matchup that seemed to arouse the greatest interest among those on hand for his media workout in his Bolton, England hometown on Wednesday was a return to the Middle East for a showdown with former eight-division titlist Manny Pacquiao.
“I’d love to do that fight. It’s one of the reasons I’ve take the fight as I know there’s a bigger picture,” Khan told the assembled media ahead of his final workout in England before departing to Saudi Arabia where he will spend the rest of his training camp. “There’s always talk about Manny and there has been more talk about it lately.”
Both have business in front of them before thinking about such a fight, assuming it has even at all crossed Pacquiao’s mind.
Khan returns to the ring for the first time since a 6th round stoppage at the hand of unbeaten three-division titlist and pound-for-pound entrant Terence Crawford this past April at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He finds a much simpler challenge in Goyat (11-3-2, 2KOs), a former amateur standout in India but whose pro career has never amounted to much prior to landing this lucrative assignment.
One week after their culturally historic bout, will come Pacquiao’s toughest challenge in years as he faces unbeaten welterweight titlist Keith Thurman in Las Vegas, Nevada. The bout will mark the second for Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39KOs) under the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) banner, with whom he signed late last year.
Khan was once aligned with PBC, but long before that served as a training stablemate of Pacquiao when both trained under Freddie Roach in Hollywood, Calif. Their names have remained intertwined for the better part of the decade, although with little consideration of a head-on collision.
Pacquiao has even less incentive to look towards such a fight, given the depth of welterweight talent just within PBC. But Khan is nothing if an eternal optimist when it comes to hunting big game.
It’s what kept him chasing Floyd Mayweather for years. It’s why he fought well beyond his welterweight comfort zone in a 155-pound catchweight bout versus World middleweight champ Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. It’s also why he chose the far more dangerous assignment versus Crawford when there was more money to be made in a domestic grudge match versus former welterweight titlist Kell Brook.
With his next fight coming just before Pacquiao’s clash with Thurman, hope is restored for that one final superfight before calling it career.
“Lets hope he wins against Thurman, I win against Goyat and we can move forward front there,” states Khan of what he envisions as his ultimate end game. “I have this fight and then it could be Manny, that would be a great way to finish.
“I’m not taking my eye off Goyat though, I know that I can’t be complacent and I need to beat him.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox