Amir Khan has to face a lot of pressure as one of ONE Championship’s most talented and successful lightweight contenders.
The demands on him as an athlete alone are huge, as the 23-year-old regularly steps into packed arenas around Asia to perform against the best martial artists in the world.
He also has to cope with the expectation placed on him by the Singaporean public – who look up to him and put their hopes on him as one of the country’s best homegrown athletes.
Despite all of the weight on his shoulders, the Evolve representative never fails to perform under the lights.
“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.”
Before the bout at the Baoshan Arena in Shanghai, China, on 8 September, Khan reveals his methods for staying cool and rising to the occasion – and how you can apply his lessons to your life.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Even when Kahn is not gloved up and preparing to throw down in the gym or an arena, he still has to do things that used to make him sweat.
Every top athlete needs to undertake a whole slew of media obligations to promote themselves and their contest, but many do not look forward to them. Having a camera in front of their face can take them out of their comfort zone, and it is hard to act naturally.
“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.”
Unfortunately, there was no easy way to get better. Just like his martial arts endeavors, he had to keep working on his interview skills until his attitude and answers got to where he wanted them to be.
Sometimes, you just have to throw yourself in at the deep end and learn to swim.
“It takes practice – more TV shows, more times in front of the camera. One day, I’ll be completely natural,” he explains.
“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.”
Carrying The Hopes Of A Nation
The heat is on whenever Khan prepares for a bout, but it is turned up when he is set to compete at home in Singapore.
The media attention – and opinion – increases, and more of his friends, family, fans, and training partners will watch him throw down.
“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.”
Though there is a whirlwind of activity around his every move, he has to shut it all out.
That cannot be easy when so many people want his attention, ask him for tickets, and want to know where the after-party is, but maintaining peace is key.
“I try to just be in my head and not pay attention to what’s going on out there in the media,” he says. “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.”
Getting Your Head In The Game
When it is time to face the music, the pressure reaches a fever pitch.
“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,” Khan says.
Walking into the cage to duel with another world-class martial artist in that frame of mind is not advisable.
To avoid being overcome by nerves, Khan has a routine to get his mind right. It is all part of his preparation – just like the countless hours of drilling and sparring in the gym.
“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 visualize what I want to do, and the nerves go away.
“As soon as a know I have a fight, I’m visualizing 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 visualize my emotions so when the day comes, they all seem natural, so my body is not in a shocked state.
“If you don’t visualize 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 visualization 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.”
By the time he reaches the arena, Khan is ready to go. He can go into the cage, do what he does best, and enjoy the fruits of his labor.
“Backstage, at the arena, I don’t really feel nervous – more excited. I want to get it done and fight as soon as possible, finish it, and celebrate,” he says.
It has worked 10 times so far in his career, and he expects to make that 11 against Banario in Shanghai.
Shanghai | 8 September | LIVE and FREE on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast