Dad, this fight is for you: Amir Khan
MMA fighter's bout on Friday could be the last with his terminally ill father in his corner
Singaporean fighter Amir Khan's ONE Championship bout on Friday is not about arresting a slump in form, nor is it about his first home fight in over seven months.
Instead, the mixed martial arts (MMA) exponent is determined to make his hero, Tajudeen Ansari, the "proudest dad in the world".
This might be one of his last few chances to do so.
Tajudeen, 61, has been told by doctors that he has only three to six months left to live, after being diagnosed with stage four brain cancer two months ago.
Amir's lightweight bout against India's Rahul Raju at the Reign of Dynasties event - to be held behind closed doors at the Singapore Indoor Stadium - could be the last time that Tajudeen will be at his son's corner.
The family first realised something was wrong when Tajudeen suffered from violent seizures. Following a series of tests and scans, the grim prognosis was confirmed, leaving Amir "lost and destroyed".
With Tajudeen opting not to undergo chemotherapy so as to live his remaining months to the fullest, Amir, 25, is bent on delivering a knockout victory over Rahul to bring a smile to dad.
"We know he might not live very long, but what is in my power is to make him the proudest dad in the world," Amir told The New Paper from the Shangri-La Hotel, where fighters and crew have been in isolation since last Saturday as part of the safe management measures in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"So, as much as possible, I try to stay positive and not think about when his last day is.
"Instead, I segment my thoughts and feelings so that I can focus on my training, which is what he wants.
"He does not want me to be distracted and out of focus, he wants me to do well in my career and produce results."
It was Tajudeen who saw the passion Amir had for MMA about 15 years ago, encouraging the then-primary school pupil, who was struggling with Tourette's Syndrome, to begin formal training.
That kick-started a life-long journey that brought Amir to Thailand and the United States, before returning to Singapore and signing on with ONE Championship in September 2014.
Throughout the ups and downs in his MMA career, there has always been one constant.
Backing Amir at every bout since his first 10 years ago, Tajudeen has always been a source of inspiration and a pillar of strength.
"My dad is my hero, I have always looked up to him and he has always been there for me. We share a very close relationship," Amir said.
He knows his time with his dad will be up soon.
"I try not to think too much, but it will definitely be different," said Amir, himself a father of an 18-month-old son.
"It is part of life and I will just have to cope with it. For me, he will always be in my corner. So, as long as he is there in spirit, everything is fine."
Tajudeen, in a poignant reminder to his son that he will continue to be by his side as he always has, said reassuringly: "I will be watching him from wherever it is. I will watch him.
"Don't think I'm not there... If you think I'm there, you will never lose, you will have nothing to worry about."
Getting a knockout win over Rahul will not only please his father, but also give Amir (win record of 12-7-0) a chance to evaluate his four-month training stint under new coach Siyar Bahadurzada.
It would also move Amir, who has eight knockout wins, one clear of Evolve teammate and reigning ONE lightweight world champion Christian Lee.
Amir, who had been focusing on fundamentals in his new training regimen, is confident in his preparation and is ready to stop a run of four defeats in five bouts.
This includes his last fight at the closed-door King of the Jungle event in February at the same venue, where he succumbed to a rear-naked choke submission from Kimihiro Eto in the first round.
Speaking about his fight with Rahul, a Singapore-based fighter whose last bout was in November 2019, Amir brushed aside any form of advantage, with his mind trained on only one outcome.
"I don't care if there is an advantage (from fighting behind closed doors) or about his feelings," he said.
"Also, I don't believe in ring rust and I don't want to focus on things I can't control. I want to focus on my game plan, on controlling my nerves and on what I'm going to do to him."
Rahul (7-4-0) was not backing down either, with the 28-year-old saying: "This match-up is very exciting because both of us are well-rounded fighters. He is a better striker and I am a better grappler.
"I am in the best shape of my life... looking forward to a dominant victory and I'm predicting a second-round submission or TKO ground and pound."
Their fight at the six-bout event may not be the headliner, but, for Amir, it could very well be the fight of his life as he looks to overcome a trying period.
While he has suffered a loss of form, the coronavirus-enforced disruption to both his training and livelihood, and the devastating news of his father's health, Amir sees this period as a "huge test".
"It is a challenge that, in future, I want to look back and say, 'That's when I grew and became the man that I am today'," he said.
And, if he succeeds in his ultimate goal of becoming an MMA world champion, that will be his way of thanking his father for always being in his corner.