England's Amir Khan opened training camp at Freddie Roach's Wild Card gym in Hollywood, Calif., last week. He is preparing for a July 23 junior welterweight title defense -- the second on his four-fight HBO contract -- yet still does not know who he will fight. Still, Khan runs at 6 a.m., works the pads with Roach at 3 p.m. and rests on Sundays not knowing who he is preparing for.
It's an odd situation to be in for one of the top fighters in the world.
"It's difficult to train when you don't know who you're fighting," Khan told me over the phone the other night. "It seems like it's harder to make the fights. The easier thing is to get into the ring and fight."
I didn't ask Khan exactly why he had called, but it was clear he was frustrated with not having a deal done for his next fight.
As anyone who follows boxing knows, he was supposed to face Timothy Bradley Jr. in a unification fight. The plan was all laid out. Khan defeated Marcos Maidana in a terrific fight in December. Then Bradley beat Devon Alexander in their January unification match. Khan stayed sharp by beating Paul McCloskey in April. July 23 was supposed to be Khan against Bradley to determine 140-pound supremacy.
Bradley, however, turned it down. Even after Khan offered him a straight 50-50 deal -- including offering him half of his British television rights to sweeten the pot in an unheard of show of generosity -- Bradley still bailed. Bradley, who isn't a ticket seller even in his hometown and whose TV ratings are tepid, turned his back on a minimum $1.4 million purse -- by far the biggest of his career -- and likely more depending on the show profits.
Khan was bitterly disappointed that Bradley, who called him out in the first place, simply walked away with nothing specific lined up.
"We tried to get the Bradley fight. He was offered half of everything, even of the U.K. revenue," Khan said, the frustration in his voice evident. "It shows you how much I wanted the fight.
"Bradley is the one who called me out. I was in America getting ready for McCloskey, and I met him at the [Saul] 'Canelo' Alvarez-Matthew Hatton fight [on March 5]. He shook my hand and we took pictures together. Tim said, 'Good luck in your fight and then let's get it done. You and me, that's a fight people want to see.' It was No. 1 versus No. 2. There was so much for the winner to achieve in that fight."
Khan now sounded more ticked off than frustrated.
"I offered him the 50 percent of the U.K. money, but that won't be there next time," Khan said. "One day we will meet, but I won't give him the 50 percent. That was a one-time offer. He will never hear that deal again. I really think he's scared, business aside. He would have made the most money he ever made in his career. He didn't want the fight. He lost a lot of respect, in my eyes. He pulled out and we never expected that from Tim Bradley. I really think he knows he will get beat. When that happens, he will be an average fighter and won't get the chance to fight a guy like Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao, because he knows when he got beat by me, he could forget about those guys.
"Even Freddie lost respect for him. Everyone in the U.K. has lost respect for him. Even his own promoter, Gary Shaw, who I want to thank for trying to make the fight, couldn't believe he just didn't want it. Gary was trying his best to get it on, but Tim wouldn't take it. Tim needs to man up if he wants to be known as one of the best fighters. If he really thinks he could beat me, he would take the fight, but he just knows he'll get beat."
Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, Khan's promoter, then offered the fight to former three-division champ Erik Morales, who had a career resurgence in April even though he lost a close decision in a terrific fight to Maidana, the heavy favorite. But Morales turned down $1.5 million, according to Schaefer and Khan. (That was probably a smart move, because Khan would run Morales out of the ring.)
"First Bradley didn't want the fight. Then Morales didn't want the fight," Khan said. "He was offered a great deal, a lot of money. Morales could have tried to become the first four-weight champion from Mexico. It would have been a big fight."
A rematch with Maidana has been discussed and eventually could happen because he is Khan's mandatory, but it won't be next. The July target is now Zab Judah, by far the biggest available name. He has been in major fights and won a piece of the 140-pound title for the third time in March.
Khan and Judah have had an ongoing (and quite entertaining) war of words on Twitter, and Khan said he's ready to take it to the ring.
"Zab's a good fighter. He's strong, he's fit," Khan said. "All the stuff on Twitter is fun, but we're both professionals. It's just spicing things up. He was undisputed champion at 147 and now he's a champion at 140. Hopefully, Zab and his team can get this deal ironed out. If it is Zab, I think it will be a good fight.
"If Bradley don't want me, I'm happy to take Judah on and beat him. Let's just make the fight. I want the fight."
Schaefer and Main Events' Kathy Duva, Judah's promoter, are negotiating. I've talked to both sides and, in a nutshell, here's how it has gone: Khan's side wanted a 60-40 split in their favor. Judah's side wanted 50-50, minus the U.K. money, which Judah said Khan can keep. Golden Boy agreed to go 55-45 in its favor, but insists the fight be in Las Vegas. Duva wants to explore the option of going to Atlantic City, N.J., which wants the fight and where it obviously would generate more money. That's Judah's home region and it's a lot closer for Khan's British fans to travel to -- not to mention that Khan could draw from the area's greater Muslim and Pakistani populations. Golden Boy has so far not budged, although Khan told me he's open to fighting in New Jersey.
"I like fighting in different places and giving fans something new to see," he said. "I'll leave it to Richard, but I am happy to fight anywhere, including Atlantic City."
The other name being kicked around as a possible opponent for Khan is lightweight contender Robert Guerrero, a former two-division titlist who is also with Golden Boy and would love the fight, even though he'd have to move up in weight.
"Robert is a very nice lad. I've not got a bad word to say about him, but the thing is, there's nothing to gain in that fight for me," Khan said. "I'd just get criticism because I'm a bigger guy. I want to fight people who have big names like Bradley or Judah. Maybe once Robert makes his name at 140, we could fight in the future."
Khan also touched on a couple of other subjects during our half-hour conversation:
• He confirmed his reunion with strength coach Alex Ariza, who works with many of Roach's fighters, including Pacquiao. Ariza got a lot of credit for getting Khan in supreme condition to withstand the hurt Maidana put on him, but they had a falling out over various things, including money, before Khan fought McCloskey.
Khan said when he was in Pacquiao's camp in the Philippines before his May 7 fight with Shane Mosley, he would see Ariza and he was "always nice to me. He missed working with me and I missed working with him. He's a great trainer. Things blew out too much."
When they were in Las Vegas for Pacquiao-Mosley, they met and subsequently worked out a new arrangement.
"We sat down and we had a conversation," Khan said. "My dad arranged a meeting and the first thing Alex said was, 'Sorry, let's put everything behind us.' We shook hands. He gets me in great shape. I'm happy to be back with Alex. We apologized to each other and sorted everything out."
• Khan said although he planned to move up to welterweight in the next few fights, he would never fight Pacquiao, with whom he has become good friends. They share Roach as a trainer and have trained together for recent fights.
"I know it's a big fight, but that fight will never happen," Khan said. "We train together and Manny has done a lot for me. I have so much respect for him. And I would never put Freddie in that position."
• He would like to fight welterweight titlist Victor Ortiz someday. That would likely be an easy fight to make, too, because they both are promoted by Golden Boy. (I love this fight, by the way.)
"Victor and I are friends, but we can both put that aside for the fight," Khan said.