Ever since Amir Khan started his career in ONE Championship, he's aimed to reach the very top. Not only for himself but also for his late father, Tajudeen, who was always there to guide the young charge – until one day, he wasn't.
This showdown will be the first time Khan enters the ONE circle in 15 months.
Last year, he underwent surgery for a torn ACL, and although his physical recovery went as planned, the Singaporean star needed time to heal the emotional wounds from losing his father to stage IV brain cancer. Ahead of his return at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, Khan has been reflecting on the essential role his father played in his career.
"Let's say, for a moment, there's always some kind of good in bad situations," Khan said. "For a while, I tried to find what was good about [my father's passing], and I found nothing.
"But then, after a few months, I realized because we had such a close relationship, he was always really protective over me. With a lot of decisions, even though I was an adult, my father would make decisions for me, and I always consulted him for everything."
And by "everything," Khan means everything.
When the 25-year-old Singaporean needed help fixing something around the house, he'd ask his father. When he had questions about training, he'd ask his father. And when any situation felt overwhelming, he'd ask his father.
As a result, Khan became dependent on his dad – perhaps too much – but that also allowed him to focus solely on mixed martial arts, with incredible results. The Evolve MMA athlete amassed 11 stoppage victories in 13 wins, and before many of those performances, Tajudeen led his son toward the ONE Circle.
"It was good that he was helping me, but it created a habit of me not being able to do things on my own," Khan said. "I remember before I walked to the ring, I'd look at him, and he'd look at me, and then I'd think, 'OK, now I can go.'"
While he misses his father greatly, Khan has now gone through a period of self-development. These days, he doesn't need the go-ahead from anyone, and though he may have lost Tajudeen, he'll never let go of the pact he made with the man who ushered him into battle.
In fact, Khan makes it clear that he'll stop at nothing to see his mission through:
"I can actually think on my own and make a lot of decisions on my own," Khan said. "I feel like it's a good thing (developing this confidence), as much as I don't wish for losing my dad to have happened.
"When I feel like something isn't right with my training, I'm not scared to tell my coach that I need to rest, where in the past I used to go to my dad, and I was afraid that I would disappoint him because I had that kind of complex – I needed to ask permission for everything.
"He always wished for me to be a world champion. He talked about it every single day. He talked to all his friends about it. I see that this is the only way I can honor him. I have to go out there and do it."
Are Khan's ACL troubles now behind him?
Months after his father was diagnosed with brain cancer, Khan stepped into the ONE circle to face Rahul "The Kerala Krusher" Raju and stopped the Indian athlete by knockout in the first round. With that victory, it appeared that he was on his way to ONE lightweight world title contention.
However, he couldn't carry that momentum forward. Just days after his father passed away, the Singaporean succumbed to Dae Sung Park in a razor-close split decision.
What followed, however, was even more detrimental. While training, Khan tore his ACL and underwent surgery in April 2021. He returned to the mats at Evolve MMA five months later – but had to ease in gradually.
"As much as I wanted to train, I had to pull back and be smart with it," Khan said. "I went through rehab through the early stages and tried to heal and get better during the time of injury, as well."
Fortunately, the extra downtime gave Khan a chance to regroup and set new goals. Ultimately, he decided that moving down to a more natural weight class would be better for his future.
"At featherweight, I don't think anyone will physically be stronger than me," Khan said. "At lightweight, I was 10 percent body fat. At featherweight, I'll be 5 percent to 6 percent body fat, so I'll be much stronger."
Khan predicts KO of Takahashi, calls out top-ranked featherweights
Khan is now focused on making an impact in the featherweight division – and he's hoping to start with Takahashi, a man with 10 knockouts in 14 career victories. With a track record like that, the Japanese athlete will undoubtedly try to throw hands with the Singaporean knockout artist.
When he does, Khan will be ready to oblige, and he predicts only one outcome.
"This matchup makes it entertaining for the fans," Khan said. "Because of the way he fights, he'll bring out the best in me. He'll have to step into the danger zone, which will be my firing range. I feel like he has the courage to do that."
"He won't last for more than two rounds. He'll fade off after two rounds – after I put in consistent attacks on him."
With all that said, Khan isn't looking past Takahashi, but he does have big plans for 2022. Ahead of his first appearance in a new division, he's already calling out some of its biggest names.
"This is the story for me to come back, just off the injury – first fight," Khan said. "But once I get through Ryogo, I want either Tang Kai, Kim Jae Woong, or Martin Nguyen," Khan said. "(Nguyen) would be a good fight.
"Give me one of the top five. After that, once I get them, then I'll want whoever the champion is at the time."
This story first published at ONEFC.com.