LONDON - Your money or your life? Like the highwaymen of yore in these parts, Eddie Hearn put the pistol to Amir Khan’s head in the wee hours of a Midlands Sunday morning.
‘Your choice,’ said the promoter. ‘A fortune for a local fight with Kell Brook or global fame for braving the legend of Manny Pacquiao.’ Or words to that effect.
Gallant gentleman of the world that he is, Khan picked the fight which could define — if not exactly his very existence — his life as a boxer.
Rather than the richer purse dangling from a winnable domestic spat, our 2004 Olympic silver medalist stated his preference for a hazardous shot at a golden legacy.
Hearn spelled it out after Khan had risen from the canvas to knock down Samuel Vargas more than once en route to winning a second fight of his comeback, which proved more testing than he expected.
‘Pacquiao will be more expensive,’ said Fast Eddie. ‘Amir can make more from a bigger share of the take against Kell. But a fight against Manny comes with international recognition.’
Hearn is hoping to add Pacquiao to his Matchroom stable. That would enable him to juggle these three star welterweights into two huge fights, with the simpler equation being the winner between Khan and Brook taking on the fabled Philippines senator.
His ideal calendar would be Khan v Brook under Cardiff’s Principality Stadium roof this December followed by one of those two against Pacquiao next spring, probably in Las Vegas.
Khan would prefer a reversal of those fortunes. He said: ‘Pacquiao is my first pick. Yes, boxing is a business but Manny would be the super-fight I’ve always wanted. He would also bring me the chance to win my third world title.’
There are those who were in Arena Birmingham or watching his latest down-and-up roller coaster on television who would question the wisdom of him exposing that reverberating chin to the Pacman’s punching power.
Those concerns will fall on deaf ears. Whatever people think of him — and some of the criticisms on social media are filled with irrational hate — Khan never flinches from even the most daunting challenges.
Whether or not he should carry on doing that, at 31, he is such a natural-born fighting man that despite his rare talent and lightning speed he cannot stop himself going to war in the ring.
So it was again on Saturday night, even though Vargas proved a tougher customer than expected. The Colombia-born Canadian came back from two early knock-downs to inflict one of his own with a thunderous right hook, with Khan grateful that the bell for the end of the second round rang as he tottered to his feet.
Khan went on to treat Vargas to another trip to the canvas as he built an insurmountable points lead. But not without having to rebuff the allegations that his chin is made of glass, not bone, by riding a couple more big rights.
A kinder view of that fragility is that any boxer can be dropped if caught flush and that his real problem is that he takes too many risks. But, oh boy, there is never a dull second let alone a boring fight.
But if and when it comes to Pacquiao, and to a lesser extent Brook, Khan may have to modify his approach. Knock ’em out or, as he was by Canelo Alvarez a couple of years ago, be knocked out cold is a high-jeopardy approach to elite boxing. Although he would have notched another stoppage had Vargas not been so heroic in taking his punishment, the hearts of his supporters were in their mouths the further it went. Yet the decision was never in doubt so long as he stayed perpendicular.
Vargas, who had predicted putting an end to Khan with one good shot to the chin, landed a few but could have no argument with the landslide verdict brought down against him by the judges.
I gave him a solitary consolation round, the 11th, as Khan tired towards the end of his first full-distance escapade for a long time. A 12-round fight — and that one fright — were what he needed at this stage. That should be enough for him to heed this warning.
Vargas said: ‘Khan is a phenomenally fast world-class fighter but if Pacquiao catches him like I did he won’t recover. And even though Manny’s getting older I would still expect him to overwhelm Amir if it did go the distance.’
Not that Khan will be deterred, not one iota. So let us all sit on the edge of our seats and enjoy the thrills and spills, for as long as the ride lasts.
© Daily Mail