Right now, Amir Khan is riding a wave of momentum.
The 23-year-old Singaporean has cut through ONE Championship’s lightweight division like a hot knife through butter. He is on a six-bout win streak, having finished five consecutive opponents before going the distance to outpoint veteran Australian contender Adrian Pang at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT last November.
Khan, who holds the most stoppage victories (8) and knockouts (7) in promotional history, will try to add to that impressive streak. The Evolve MMA standout is scheduled to face Russian knockout artist Timofey Nastyukhin at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD, which emanates from the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar on Friday, 23 February.
The battle between Khan and Nastyukhin is a crucial one, as it has huge implications for the ONE Lightweight World Title picture.
Ahead of his return, Khan sits down for an exclusive interview. He discusses juggling his martial arts career with a stint in Singapore’s National Service, scouts the promotion’s lightweight division, and shares his thoughts on who he might potentially face for the lightweight title later this year.
ONE Championship: For a long time, you were juggling your martial arts career with your National Service. How challenging was that for you?
Amir Khan: I served for two years, and completed my National Service in May last year. It was a tough challenge. I was really worried before I enlisted for National Service, but somehow I knew I could find a way to still train and compete. As it turned out, I had two matches per year. I just wanted to stay active and keep improving.
The key for me for that two years was I promised myself that even if I did not get matched up, I would keep improving every day as a martial artist, so when I finished my National Service, I would be ready to go for a world title, because that is my ultimate goal.
It was tough, because I had to work 8am to 6pm, and then train afterwards. I did not really have much of a life outside of work and training, so I had to get my priorities straight. Looking back, I think it taught me a lot, and it made be a better man and a more focused person.
ONE: What was your assignment during National Service?
AK: I was doing more clerical stuff. I talked to my commander, and he let me do lighter duties so I could save my energy for training. I was thankful that I had great support from my bosses during my National Service. They were really supportive.
ONE: Have you noticed a difference since you finished your National Service?
AK: Right now, I can focus 100 percent on my career. Back then, when I was on National Service, I was always worried I was not getting enough sessions. I was not resting enough, and I did not have enough recovery time. Plus, there was the work stress of doing National Service, too.
There are so many factors that play a part when you are looking to improve as a martial artist. But now, I have finished my tenure, I am fully focused on my training and my upcoming matches, and as a result I can improve even more.
ONE: Where do you think you rank among the elite of the division?
AK: I believe lightweight is the most stacked division in ONE Championship. There is no real ranking system, so I would say I am next in line for the title shot. I would not say number one, or two, or three. I think any of the top five could compete for the title next, honestly.
ONE: Aside from your last win over Adrian Pang, which victory are you the most proud of?
AK: The win before Adrian, against Jaroslav Jartim, where I got the knockout. I was pretty proud of it. We had been training for that specific combination, and it happened. We had been drilling that combination for the last three weeks before the bout, and I was able to execute it. I was proud of my training and proud of my ability to reproduce it in the bout.
ONE: How do you see yourself defeating Timofey Nastyukhin?
AK: I feel he is a really tough martial artist. He has good attributes, but he is not as well-rounded as me. I feel I have more opportunities to win the bout with the skills I have. I see myself getting a TKO, second round.
ONE: What should come next if you are successful against him?
AK: I feel I should get a title shot. Maybe the interim title against Eduard Folayang. He was the last champion, so maybe he should also get a shot again. Or of course I would love a shot at Martin and the full world title. That is what I feel the next option should be — either one of those.
ONE: What did you think of the lightweight world title match between Eduard Folayang and Martin Nguyen?
AK: I knew if the match went the distance, Eduard would take the win, but I also knew Martin was capable of taking Eduard out because of his big overhand right. I could see it going either way, so I am not surprised. Martin is a tough guy. Credit to him for what he has done.
ONE: If you had to face either for the world title, who is your preference?
AK: Honestly, I feel Martin is the better match for me, stylistically, but I do not mind either one – I do not really care who I face next.
I feel his strengths are he has a good double-leg [takedown] and a good overhand, but I do not think his overhand will land on me. I feel his overhand would fall short every time. I feel I can keep him out of range. I am confident against Eduard, too, but if you were to ask me who was the better match, I would say Martin.