Amir Khan has spent the last year or so sitting in a contender’s spot in the ONE Championship lightweight division, and one more win could be enough to see him break the glass ceiling and propel him into a World Title bout.
Khan takes on former ONE Featherweight World Champion Honorio Banario at ONE: BEYOND THE HORIZON in Shanghai on 9 September in a battle of lightweight contenders at the Baoshan Arena.
The Singaporean knockout specialist is looking to halt the Filipino contender’s momentum and hand Banario his first defeat since October 2015 to position himself for a shot at the belt currently held by Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen.
The 23-year-old defeated Korean submission ace Sung Jong Lee via TKO in his last outing. It was bout that saw Khan have to employ a fair degree of patience against a dogged opponent who remained a constant threat on the ground.
“I knew he was a master in leg locks, but I didn’t expect him to be that tricky, so it threw me off a little,” says Khan.
“I adjusted after the first round, and I knew he was gassing out because he was holding onto my leg for dear life.
“I didn’t want to overcommit or be too aggressive. I just wanted to make smart choices, because when a fighter gets too excited, that can cost him the fight. I was being patient, picking shots, and I wanted to showcase my skills to all of the fans.
“I wanted to put him away cleanly. I wasn’t worried too much about a knockout. I just let the knockout come to me. Whenever I saw opportunities, I capitalised on them.”
A sign of Khan’s commitment to his improvement as a martial artist came after that contest where, instead of taking a vacation, he threw himself back into training to tighten up his leg lock defence.
However, that additional training is unlikely to be called into action in his upcoming bout, when he faces wushu striker Banario, who comes from a Team Lakay camp that is renowned for its striking prowess.
Understandably, Khan’s focus has since switched to the striking arts.
“We’ve been focusing a lot on striking and mixing up my mixed martial arts game,” says Khan.
“Every day, we’ve been working on throwing every shot with 100 percent intent, because in the last few years, I’ve been working a lot on footwork, movement, and changing my stance to different angles. Now, I’m combing both, so I’m working my power and movement together.
“I’ve been training with Eduardo Pamplona. He’s really tough. He takes me into deep waters every day, so mentally, I feel really strong.”
Banario is a familiar figure to Khan. The rising Singaporean star has looked up to “The Rock” as a young prospect joining ONE Championship. Back then, Banario was already a star, but Khan has since progressed to the same level, and now the pair will face off in Shanghai.
Khan admits that Banario is even better now than he was back when he held the ONE Featherweight World Title, and says he’ll have to be at his best to topple him.
“I’m honoured to face him at his peak,” he says.
“I want to show the world I can dominate him during his peak. That’s my goal for this fight.
“I think it’s a really good match-up, because both of us are known for having exciting fights, and I feel our styles will create an exciting fight.
“I’m not going to wait for him, and he’s not going to wait for me. We’re going to go in there, put the pressure on, and see who comes out the winner.
“I feel I’ll use my long-range kicks, and when the opportunity comes, I’ll catch him with a hook or cross. If he doesn’t fall down, I’ll take him down and soften him up a bit.
“He likes to duck his head, so when I throw combinations, I can catch him with a knee. I always see it, like when he fought Adrian Pang. He ducks his head low, so the knees will be there to catch him.”
The potential for a knockout finish is one Khan is keen to exploit. The 23-year-old surged towards the upper echelons of the ONE lightweight division on the back of a string of finishes, but now he finds himself among a group of hungry contenders who all have reputations as finishers.
He knows he has to continue to show his ability to stop his opponents inside the distance if he wants to separate himself from the pack and strengthen his claims for a title shot.
“I feel like I can’t just win,” he admits.
“I have to dominate and finish him within one or two rounds to put me up there, and show I’m ready for the top.
“I need to show the fans – like how Shinya dominated Shannon (Wiratchai). I need to have that kind of dominant performance, then I believe the fans won’t doubt me, and it will put me right there.
“That’s the goal, and that’s the mindset I’ve been working on in every session. I’ve been visualising putting him away.”
With a former World Champion standing between him and the chance of a title shot, Khan has a tough task ahead of him. With a stacked lineup of contenders all jockeying for position, he knows he has to be ready whenever the call may come – even if it is on short notice.
“I’ll be ready, 100 percent,” he says.
“I’m training for the ONE Lightweight World Championship, so I just need to show it in the Banario fight, then I’m ready, any time.”