Bolton's WBA light-welterweight champion is in confident, witty mood ahead of his clash with the dangerous Argentinian
Kevin Mitchell in Las Vegas
To watch Freddie Roach taking the pads with Amir Khan is to witness a teacher passing on to his young world champion, with Zen-like calm, knowledge gathered the best and the hardest way, on the end of a glove.
Roach was a good fighter, with an even better trainer – Eddie Futch. He did not always listen to the wise old man, though, and took too many blows towards the end of a career that fell short of its full potential. His Parkinson's Disease may or may not be related to the punishment he soaked up then but, a lean 50, he is in good shape – and still alert enough to help Khan avoid the mistakes that derailed his own career.
Khan will need all of Roach's savvy at the Mandalay Bay when he defends his WBA light-welterweight title for the third time in probably his toughest fight to date, against the dynamite puncher from Buenos Aires, Marcos Maidana. The Argentinian is a quiet, polite soul – "I'm a man of few words – in any language," he said through an interpreter – but his downbeat demeanour and slim physique disguise chilling power.
He has stopped 27 of 30 opponents, 10 of those in the first round, and looked tidy and relaxed in a light session on the pads this week, although he is not the most dynamic mover. He left their shared gym on the edge of town just as the champion arrived for his workout, with his entourage and a birthday cake (Khan was 24 on Wednesday). It was a civilised encounter, each fighter avoiding the other's gaze.
Khan then positively lit up the gym with his lightning combinations. If you hear applause when a fighter is merely going through rehearsed moves it is a sure sign the old gym rats have seen something special. The locals were impressed.
What stood out, also, was the respect and understanding between Khan and Roach. The boy from Bolton has been in a hurry since he won Olympic silver at 17 – and, six-and-a-half years later, he is no less patient for more glory and belts – but he has matured noticeably in the two years he has been with Roach.
"He's definitely grown up a lot," the trainer said, "but we have a lot of fun in training camp and he's still got a great sense of humour. Then, when it comes down to business, he's 100% there.
"He's going maybe from a kid to a man now. He's matured very much, and the maturity shows in the ring also. It carries over. It's great for me, of course. We understand each other completely. We're on the same page. We know exactly what to do in any situation."
The third man in the partnership also happens to be one of the sport's phenomenal talents, Manny Pacquiao. Sometimes Roach can hardly believe his luck. He's got the best fighter in boxing and, potentially, his successor.
"We've all got a very, very solid partnership," Roach says. "Amir has a lot of similarities with Pacquiao, not just in natural ability; they actually emulate each other a little bit. They copy each other – the moves of the other guy that they know work for themselves also.
"It's great to have two talented guys in the same training camp. It brings the level way, way up. Even when they run together, every sprint is a race. They both have pride and they both want to be the winner. It works out very well for both guys.
"Manny went through this. He also went from a young kid to a man when he was with me. So, it's great to see it happening again."
Khan is unrecognisable from the shy teenager who mumbled in front of the media at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. He had total confidence inside the ring but was dazzled away from his work place. Now he is still knocking people out but cutting million-pound deals and jet-setting in and out of Vegas as if it were just down the road from Bolton.
There are faint traces of impatience, though. "The last week before a fight always goes really slow," he said. "I always feel like this before a fight. I'll wake up next week and it will all be finished. Right now, I can't wait. I've never trained so hard. I kill myself when I train. I think I'm one of the hardest training fighters in the world. Alex [Ariza, his conditioning coach and nutritionist] really pushes me.
"Even Manny takes a short cut sometimes, but I've never said no to anything that Alex tells me to do. Manny might say to him: 'No, I'm not going to do that,' but I just stick to instructions.
"I'll have no excuses. I don't want to walk into a fight thinking I should have listened to Alex or Freddie about certain things. Maybe that could have helped, especially towards the end, with a few rounds left."
There are those who don't want to hear any of this. Khan, inexplicably, still has haters who bombard blogs with obscene tirades about him. Much of it is ignorant racism. Some of it is pure envy.
It used to bother him. Not now. The kid really is growing up. At the press conference here this week, his was the one address among many that contained even a strain of wit. We should enjoy him while we can, because he might just be about to take his career to another level.