At 1.8 metres tall and with over 70kg of chiselled muscle, professional muay thai fighter Amir Khan cuts an intimidating figure, a persona that’s only furthered by the fact that the 26-year-old also holds claim to the most knockouts in the ONE Championship.
Khan’s backstory is not unlike that of many other gawky adolescents. As a child, Khan describes himself as skinny and awkward. His slightness and the tics brought on by his Tourette’s syndrome sometimes invited bullies to pick on him.
“Growing up, I was awkward in school, I didn’t really fit in,” says Khan. He had taken up muay thai not just because it was a sport that was primarily about self defence — a good way to ward off bullies — but ostensibly because it was the “in” thing at the time.
But in muay thai, Khan found something larger than a means to fend off potential tormentors: He found a sense of community.
“After my first muay thai class, I realised I had never connected so deeply to something before,” says Khan. “It was like I discovered a new passion for life. And every day when I woke up, I just looked forward to going to the gym — I just wanted to get through school and go to the gym.”
There, Khan said he found a support system that encompassed members from vastly different walks of life, all united by a singular goal: To get better at their shared sport.
His passion for the sport was evident to his trainers and peers, and soon, he was experiencing something he says was entirely new to him — respect.
“That respect was not because I could actually beat anyone else at the time,” Khan says, laughing. “I was the smallest guy, the weakest guy in the gym — but I was the first one in, and the last one to leave. And that was new to me, I didn’t know that you could show respect in that way.”
Serendipitously, muay thai also provided Khan with a way to deal with his tics; “With Tourette’s, you shake your head a lot and your eyes tend to look in another direction. You’ll get punched if you do that in a fight — so I had to stay focused.”
As Khan says, martial arts “moulded” him as a person. It helped him to gain self-confidence and believe in himself. Eventually, Khan says, he wanted to drop out of school at 17 and turn it into a full-time career, much to the consternation of his mother.
It was his father who purchased his plane ticket to Shreveport, Louisiana and enrolled him into a local school. There, Khan spent close to four years, training, andcompeting in amateur competitions — and, at the behest of his father — completing his high school diploma. In 2014, he returned to Singapore, joining the vaunted Evolve Fight Team and signing up for the ONE Championship.
Beyond the cage, Khan is also a proud father to a two-year-old son. As a new father, Khan acknowledges that most of his parenting skills have come about from trial and error (he jokes: “I’m still young, what do I know?”), though he does have one key principle.
“Being a dad hasn’t changed my perspective on life entirely — instead, I started taking every little detail of my life more seriously,” he says. “How I believe parents instil good habits in their children is by adopting these habits themselves.”
Khan has his late father to thank for that. He credits him for being an overwhelmingly positive and supportive presence in his life: It was his father, after all, who got him started in martial arts.
Khan admits that he had fallen in with bad company when he was younger, and had taken to fighting under HDB blocks because he wanted to “fit in.”`
“When [my father] found out I was fighting at void decks, he said, ‘If you’re really interested in fighting, why don’t you learn it properly?’ That’s when he signed me up for muay thai.”
Khan’s father passed away last December, just days before his bout with Park Dae-sung at the ONE Championship’s Collision Course II event.
“He was always a good presence in my life,” says Khan wistfully. “Every time I was with him, I felt good, no matter what was happening outside of the house. I had many heart-to-heart talks with my dad, and he never scolded me, never shouted — he always just talked to me.”
It’s the same sense of intimacy and closeness that he wants to foster with his own son. While Khan acknowledges that traditional parenting — especially for Asian families — tends toward the emotionally distant, he wants to ensure that his son can feel at ease around him.
“Whenever I came home, I felt like I could be myself with my dad. I want to give my son that same freedom,” says Khan. “And I want to teach him that while life might be tough, I’m here to guide him — for as long as I can.”
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