New Delhi: Neeraj Goyat was 12 and yet to consider boxing as a career option when Amir Khan won a silver medal in the lightweight division of the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Fast forward 15 years and Goyat is set to face the British-Pakistani two-time world champion at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
A war of words between two boxers ahead of any boxing bout is an obvious phenomenon and staying true to tradition, Amir fired the first salvo a day after Pakistan's heavy defeat to India at the World Cup. Amir tweeted: "Pakistan lost to India today #ICCWorldCup2019 come July 12th I will avenge the loss and knock out Neeraj Goyat on our upcoming fight in #SaudiArabia (sic)."
Speaking to IANS, Goyat said that Amir can keep dreaming. "Keep dreaming, you will be standing there to witness my victory," he said.
On paper, Amir, who turns 33 in December 2019, is the overwhelming favourite. He held the light-welterweight WBA title from 2009 to 2012 and won the IBF title in 2011. He was 22 at the time of winning the WBA title, thus becoming one the youngest ever British professional boxing champions.
However, his recent attempt at winning the welterweight title ended in failure when he was stopped by USA's Terence Crawford in the sixth round at New York's Madison Square Garden in April. Amir said recently that he needs to be at his best against Goyat, citing the example of former unified world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua's defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr. that led to the former losing all his championship belts in what has been described as one of the greatest upsets ever in boxing history.
Goyat comes into the bout in good touch. In the same month that Amir lost to Crawford, Goyat beat Mexico's Carlos Lopez Marmolejo at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto. He has an experience of 16 fights in the pro circuit, of which he has won 11, drawn two and lost three. He said that the only difference in his preparation for his upcoming bout is that he is going for a sparring partner that has a similar style to Amir.
"I am looking for someone who fights the way he does but apart from that there is not much difference. I am going through the same routine that I would for any other 12-round bout," he said.
Goyat admits that while getting a bout against a boxer of Amir's stature was something he had dreamt of, he is not overwhelmed by the occasion.
"It is not necessary that he will be performing on the same level that he was when he was young. He has achieved a lot in his career but he is also ageing. I have fought with Olympians and world champions before so this isn't exactly new to me. So yes, I am fighting a big name, but I am not overawed by it," he said.
However, the value of getting a bout that will draw eyeballs on both a domestic and international level is not lost on Goyat. "It is good for both professional and amateur boxing in the country that bouts like these happen. It gives Indian boxing, especially pro boxing, more exposure on an international level. In the amateur circuit the likes of Mary Kom have raised India's standing in the world, but we have not had that kind of success in the pro circuit. India used to be known as a country filled only with amateur boxers and not pros.
"That is not the case any more and getting big bouts like these will raise our name on the international stage. For example, Philippines as a country is so much smaller than India but it is known throughout the world because of Manny Pacquiao and because of that their pro boxers are getting good bouts with big prize money. So these sort of fights should keep happening not just for me but for other Indian pro boxers also," he said.