Amir Khan thinks welterweight contender Conor Benn has a chance to become the next biggest star in the British boxing firmament...on the express condition that Benn will have to, at some point, ditch the has-beens for legitimate contenders.
Khan, the Bolton, England, native who managed to become one of the biggest names in British boxing of the past decade, recently announced his retirement from the sport. In his last fight in February against sworn rival Kell Brook, Khan, 35, suffered a sixth-round technical stoppage at Manchester Arena in Manchester.
In a recent press conference to talk about his career in light of his retirement, Khan told reporters that he believes the hard-punching Benn has the ability to become the next box office star in British boxing, with one caveat: Benn needs to step up the level of his competition. The 25-year-old Benn is coming off a destructive second-round knockout of Chris van Heerden, a game but ultimately shopworn veteran. Benn has looked impressive as of late, but his last few opponents – Adrian Granados, Chris Algieri, Samuel Vargas – have all been, to one degree or another, past their primes, leading to criticism from some circles that Benn is being protected.
Khan, however, does not blame Benn for his somewhat thin résumé so much as he does Eddie Hearn, the promoter of Benn, who Khan says is “holding him back.” Benn has called out a slew of welterweight contenders, such as Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, and Mikey Garcia as potential opponents. Hearn recently said that he is looking for Benn to face former 140-pound titlist Jose Ramirez in July.
“The next pay-per-view star – I think Conor Benn can make it, definitely,” Khan said. “If he gets some big [fights] – I think Eddie is holding him back a bit too much. Conor is calling out all these names he wants to fight, myself, Kell. We’re done.”
Khan’s name has been linked to Benn as a potential opponent, but serious talks never went anywhere. Moreover, Brook has been another name bandied about by Benn, but that fight never materialized either. Indeed, Brook also announced his retirement from the sport earlier this month.
Khan suggested that Benn (21-0, 14 KOs) needs to take a page from Khan’s own book and take a risk in his matchmaking. Khan pointed to the time, in 2010, when he took on the ferocious Argentine puncher Marcos Maidana and battled his way to a hard-fought 12-round unanimous decision. Khan brought up the young, hard-punching welterweight from Texas, Vergil Ortiz, as an example of the sort of fighter whom Benn should fight in order to prove his worth.
“He’s got to go and prove himself against [dangerous opposition] like when I went and fought Maidana, when no one expected me to win,” Khan said of Benn. “He needs to do the same thing. He needs to fight the Vergil Ortizes…he needs to really beat someone. When I beat Maidana, he had like 31 fights, 1 draw, and knocked 30 [opponents] out. So he needs to go and prove himself.
“I think he could be a very big pay-per-view star.”