EXCLUSIVE | Amir Khan ready to conquer the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix starting with Ariel Sexton

Amir Khan, ONE Championship

On Friday night in Singapore (Friday morning in North America), at ONE: Call to Greatness, former ONE lightweight title challenger Amir Khan will attempt to advance to the second round of the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix with a win over Costa Rican grappling ace Ariel Sexton.

Now just days away from this fight, Amir Khan says his preparations have been fruitful. He’s tailored his entire eight-week camp to combatting the unique skillset of his upcoming foe, and feels well prepared for the task at hand.

“The training has been good,” Amir Khan told BJPenn.com ahead of ONE: Call to Greatness. “We knew my opponent like eight weeks out so I can fully prepare for him. We’ve been training specifically to his style.

“We’re just going to try not to engage in the clinch so much,” he added, delving into his gameplan for the fight. “I mean obviously I’m trying to keep the fight standing because I know he has an advantage on the ground. We’ve also drilled sequences to get up safely without him getting submissions on me. We’ve just been drilling sequences that might happen. But as much as possible we’ll try to keep the fights standing. Avoid the clinch, avoid close range contact.”

While Khan is confident in his preparation for this fight with Ariel Sexton, he is certainly not underestimating the risks ahead. In fact, he considers Sexton the most dangerous grappler he’s fought thus far in his 15-fight career.

“I will say, yeah, he’s probably the best grappler I’ve ever fought.”

Ariel Sexton, ONE Championship
Ariel Sexton

Given Sexton’s world-class grappling ability, Amir Khan understands that his gameplan could be derailed by a well-timed takedown. Yet he feels prepared for that possibility too.

“I feel confident [if it hits the mat],” he said. “At Evolve MMA we have many BJJ black belts and world champions, and I’ve been training with them for so many years. I know if I can hang in there with them, if I don’t get submitted by them, Ariel Sexton will have to try really, really hard. I’ve just got to be smart and not make errors. If I make errors, he might capitalize on them, so I just need to be careful. I have to stay alert at all times.”

While he’s hoping to keep this fight standing, Amir Khan is willing to ground the action on his own terms if he sees an opportunity to do so.

“If I see an opening I will definitely go for a takedown, for control,” he said. “If I feel any threat, I’ll just get back up. But I’m planning, if he gives me the takedown, I’m doing to take him down, control him, do some damage. We’ll see how the fight goes.”

The goal, however, is to stay at range and punish his foe on the feet — ideally en route to a knockout win.

“If all goes according to plan, I’ll defend his takedowns in round one, move around, throw kicks,” he said. “Kicks and move, kicks and move. Once I feel he’s hurt a bit I’ll go in for the kill.”

If Khan is able to dispatch of Ariel Sexton, he’ll advance to the second round of the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix. In this semifinal round, he’ll meet the winner of a compelling showdown between ONE veteran Ev Ting and Turkish juggernaut Saygid Guseyn “Dagi” Arslanaliev, which also goes down this Friday in Singapore.

If he advances through that second round battle, there’s a possibility that he’ll collide with the Grand Prix’s biggest name in the finals: former UFC and Bellator lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez.

ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix bracket

The possibility of a showdown with a legend like Eddie Alvarez is one that Amir Khan relishes.

“Definitely, he’s a big fight for me,” Khan said of Alvarez. “I’d have to step up my game and I’m ready for the challenge. I went on this journey to fight the best, and I feel like he’s one of the best in the world so I’d love to compete with him.

“I match up good with him,” he added. “I’m very well rounded, and I don’t think he can dominate me in any specific area. I feel like the right game plan at that time will get me the victory.”

While the one Lightweight World Grand Prix is currently taking up all of Khan’s bandwidth, that’s certainly not where his journey ends. The ultimate prize goes to the Grand Prix winner, who will be granted a shot at the victor of the upcoming ONE lightweight title fight between champ Eduard Folayang and challenger Shinya Aoki.

Amir Khan finds himself a bit conflicted by this Folayang-Aoki title fight. He’s trained with Aoki at Evolve MMA, so he’d like to see him win. Yet he also recently gave up a decision to Folayang, and is chomping at the bit for a rematch.

“I would love to get a rematch with Folayang as soon as possible. I still feel I can beat him; I just didn’t fight the way I fight on that night,” he said. “I also train with Shinya, so I hope Shinya wins, but if Eduard Folayang wins I’m ready and I can’t wait to rematch him as soon as possible. “

In hindsight, Khan is well aware of the errors he made in his first fight with Folayang, and he’s eager to apply what he learned in a rematch with the current champ.

“I think I was chasing one shot too much,” he said. “I was a bit too wary and cautious. I think what cost me in the fight was, in the clinch position, I was too relaxed. I didn’t feel threatened initially, but that’s where he capitalized and threw a lot of elbows.

“I felt too comfortable in the clinch. I was just leaning against the cage because I knew he wouldn’t try to take me down. I was too comfortable. He got me with a couple of elbows that shook me for the fight.”

The ONE Championship lightweight title has always been the goal for Amir Khan, from the moment he first stepped into the ONE cage. That being said, he’s recently discovered some new motivation to strike gold. He’s about to become a father. His first child is due March 15, less than a month after his battle with Sexton.

“Whatever I do next, whatever happens in my career affects the quality of life I give my baby,” he said, explaining how his motivation has transformed with his first child on the way. “If I become a world champion, I have more sponsorships coming in, it gets better financially, and I can give more opportunities to my baby. I feel more focused. I’m not fighting for myself. I’m fighting for my family.”

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For Amir Khan, the journey to ONE Championship gold, and in turn a better life for his family, begins this Friday when he battles Ariel Sexton in Singapore.

He believes this a fight no MMA fan should miss.

“I’m 100% sure it’s not going to go to the judges,” he said. “He’s looking for the submission and I’m looking for the KO. Fans should be on the edge of their seats.”

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 2/18/2019.