IN the interests of a peaceful afternoon the last thing you want to do when you have an orthodox Jew and a Muslim sitting in the same room preparing for battle is to toss a few stereotypes around.
Thankfully, Gaza, Jewish settlement and Hezbollah retaliation were not on the agenda. Although, in boxing terms, questioning the strength of Amir Khan’s chin is a touchy subject which can quickly turn into an explosive issue.
Ever since the young Britain was dumped on his backside by Bredis Prescott last September – defeated in just 54 seconds by the big punching Columbian – Khan’s chin has been a popular topic among the boxing fraternity.
The Olympic silver medalist has since recovered from that shock to win the world title he was expected to ever since he burst on to the international stage in Athens five years earlier.
But the damage – he had also been knocked down by lesser opponents in earlier professional fights – had been done and Dimitry Salita did not need long to throw a predictable hand grenade.
“I’m from an old school gym and back in the day they didn’t really have tapes so people would go to fights and they would judge a fighter on his physical characteristics,” said Salita, a Ukrainian New Yorker, who turned up for the pre-fight Press conference in a suit, shirt and skull cap. “The stereotype is that if a guy has a pointy chin it means he has a weak chin.
“Amir is a good fighter, but we will take care of business on Saturday. I should have fought Andreas Kotelnik, but Amir got that chance and that was the business of boxing.
“It was frustrating for me and I believe I would have been World Champion because I would have beat him, but Amir got in front of me and took the title. Now I’ll take it off him. I’ve seen weaknesses and I will exploit them.”
Khan responded with a shrug of the shoulders and a brief flicker of irritation: “The dodgy chin is just something I have to live with because I’ve made some mistakes in my career.
“He says I’ve got a pointy chin, but if I knock him out on Saturday night does that mean he has got a weak chin? The only thing people have got on me is I’ve been knocked down before, but time will tell.”
Instead, it was left to his coach, Freddie Roach (pictured right), to take the verbal bout to Salita, a relationship complicated by the fact the two had been on the verge of working together before Khan’s people sensibly lured the American into their camp.
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” snorted Roach. “That’s why we have films nowadays and if he is going to start that then I’ve got to say, guys with beards can’t fight.
“Dimitry is a very nice man, he is a gentleman. He came to my gym for a while. He’s a good fighter, a good solid boxer. He’s such a nice guy so it’s hard to say bad things about him, but guys with beards can’t fight.
“We have a great game plan. I can’t see it going the distance, Amir will knock him out at some point. I have a lot of confidence in Amir, he is looking great and he is punching better than ever.”
Khan sat between them exuding the confidence of a champion fighter who is convinced he will have little trouble beating the opponent put in front of him as the WBA’s mandatory challenger.
Salita, though, was riled. He thought Roach was, if not a friend, at least a respected acquaintance. Irritated by the constant chatter from Khan’s camp about what he plans to do after disposing of the American, Salita began to swing wildly.
“Freddie Roach has been telling Amir Khan fairytales,” he said. “His people keep talking about who he is going to be fighting after he beats me, about fighting in America and all their future plans. It’s all fairytales, but it will be me who puts him to sleep on Saturday night. Freddie is doing what he’s supposed to do, talk up his fighter. Someone asked me if I have fought someone as Amir. I haven’t, but has he fought someone as good as me? I think they are worried.
“That is not Freddie’s nature and I think it’s probably to make up for something. I think it’s a smoke screen. I think they are worried. Aggression means they are not comfortable with things.”
And, with that in mind, the 27-year-old questioned Khan’s relationship with his coach, who only turned his full attention to this defence after his star fighter, Manny Pacquiao, had beaten Paulo Cotto last month. “I don’t think the conditioning has gone right for him (Khan). Freddie is a great trainer, he has proved that, but you can’t dance at two weddings. The focus has been on Manny, they haven’t given their time to Amir.”
It was a comment designed to hurt Khan, who did not show a flicker of a response.