Amir Khan (9-3) closed out 2017 with style.
The Singaporean lightweight set the record for most knockout victories in ONE Championship history at seven, defeated highly-regarded veteran Adrian “The Hunter” Pang, and found himself entering 2018 on a six-bout win streak.
Despite that tremendous success, he has not been able to replicate it in the new year.
In February, he took a step up in competition, and faced Russian contender Timofey Nastyukhin. Throughout three rounds, Nastyukhin dictated the pace, applied constant pressure, and out-struck him en route to a unanimous decision victory.
“I was just passive, and did not engage. The real Amir Khan was not there to perform that night,” the 23-year-old Singaporean admits.
“The whole match, I was just waiting for the right moment to capitalize, which I never got the opportunity to. I feel like I was just waiting too long. It was a wrong game plan, and you learn from it.”
Although it was a tough loss for Khan, it made him realize there were same necessary changes he needed to make to his training regime in order to climb the lightweight ranks.
He placed a higher emphasis on his elite striking, which is his strength considering he is a Singaporean Muay Thai Champion.
In addition to training with his regular world champion training partners at Evolve MMA, he even brought in a few well-admired Japanese mixed martial artists to give him some more looks.
“Obviously, I learned not to think too much in the fight,” Khan explains.
“Also, for this, I kind of changed my training routine. I am going back to my roots, and training my Muay Thai skills more. I am also mixing it up. I got some more sparring partners this time.”
“Every session, every sparring, I take it really seriously, and I push myself in every way. Whether I am feeling tired, or fresh, I push through with every session.”
Now, equipped with more knowledge and a better understanding of his needs, Khan (9-3) will begin his road back to title contention on Friday, 18 May. He meets South Korea’s Sung Jong Lee (4-1) at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS in his native Singapore.
Lee is a NAGA No-Gi Grappling Champion who trains out of 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu Seoul. The 32-year-old South Korean is also a proven finisher, as all four of his victories have come via stoppage. He is riding a three-bout win streak, and won all three of those bouts via leg lock.
Even though there is not too much video of the South Korean grappler, Khan is more concerned fine-tuning his own skill set, and imposing his will on Lee.
“I cannot really get much footage of him, but he finishes matches early with foot locks. I am very wary of that. Just in case I get caught in that situation, I know what to do, and I will not panic,” he explains.
“I think I can take the fight anywhere I go. I do not think he will be a match for me, but I am going to keep my focus, and focus on myself. I just need to perform the way I can.”
For Khan, he views this bout with Lee as a necessary first step back into title contention.
The roaring lion is concentrated on the task at hand right now, but he has thought about the future, and what it will take to get him closer to the ONE Lightweight World Championship.
An impressive win over the South Korean will get the ball rolling again, but he knows challenging the athletes in the upper echelon of the division will help catapult him towards his goal much quicker.
“After that I feel like I will be ready for a title shot. I still feel like I can face the champion, but I think I need to beat the right people. It is not how many wins I get – five-win streak, 10-win streak – it is who I beat.”