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Thoughtful Khan aspires to unify titles, cultures

His goal is lofty and yet his resolve stern. He wants to be champion of all colors and nations, of all people and religious beliefs, of all political parties and social viewpoints.

"I think it is possible," Amir Khan said.

He, a Pakistani Muslim born and raised in Great Britain.

We are a society obsessed with sport to the point on Sundays we worship at the feet of whatever NFL game happens to be on our TV screen. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman deliver the weekly sermon. Pam Oliver gives updates from the choir.

The relationship between sport and religion is sometimes shamefully close, a truth that over time might define how American boxing fans view the fighter known as King Khan.

He is the world’s best 140-pounder whose fight against Zab Judah tonight at Mandalay Bay Events Center will unify the WBA and IBF junior welterweight titles.

Khan is the popular betting favorite, but whether that will translate into continued popularity with fans here isn’t as clear.

This is the third time Khan has fought in America and the second in Las Vegas. He beat Marcos Maidana at Mandalay Bay in December in a 12-round unanimous decision that some labeled "Fight of the Year." Barely 4,000 were in attendance, and many of those traveled from England. Tickets remain for tonight’s fight. Amir Khan is far from a sure thing at the box office here.

How much does public diplomacy matter when choosing which sports standouts to support? Has the memory of 9/11 left such a profound effect that many Americans would find it hard to cheer for Khan as they have another foreign talent in Manny Pacquiao?

In this particular vein, you would hope not.

Khan has said he feels more appreciated here than in his homeland, that since he signed with Golden Boy Promotions and began training out of Wildcard Boxing Club in Los Angeles with Freddie Roach, more and more Americans have shown an interest in his skill.

He is 24 and, unlike other great British fighters from the past, has made it a point to compete in America against quality people early in a career.

Could he become one Muslim all Americans cheer?

"(Kahn) has handled the situation brilliantly in England and has not only been a terrific fighter but also a fantastic ambassador for Anglo-Muslim relations," said Jeff Powell, a sports columnist for the Daily Mail in London. "Wherever he goes, fans show up. Some hold the Pakastani flag and others the Union Jack, and others have merged the flags together.

"He has always stood up and spoke out against 9/11, that it had no place in the Muslim faith. He has always disowned violence of any form. He’s a decent guy who respects everyone. We all have our individual faith, but he has never appeared to believe the world is going to be conquered by a flag from the East. He’s a good boy who has shown remarkable maturity from a young age dealing with these issues."

He is not Pacquiao, not yet in talent or roots when you consider the pound-for-pound champion’s story of humble beginnings and overcoming poverty to now sit atop the boxing world while serving as a congressman in the Philippines. It has been easy for Americans to embrace Pacquiao, to back such a rags-to-riches tale.

Khan is exciting in the ring. Fans love exciting. He has fast hands and power. Fans love fast hands and power. He probably is more suited for the 147-pound class, to a weight where names such as Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. reside. Fans love Pacquiao. Security guards despise Mayweather.

How much Khan can be marketed in the States could largely depend on how well he does tonight. Judah, at 33 and a five-time world champion, represents the most celebrated opponent on Khan’s resume, which offers a 25-1 record with 17 knockouts.

It’s a huge fight for the Pakistani Muslim from Britain trying to make a name for himself in America.

"In sport, I have always believed fans judge you by your talent and not your culture or religion," Khan said. "There are more good people than bad in the world, and I am one of the good ones.

"When I first came to train here, there was no one in the gym. Now, more and more Americans come to watch me. At my fights, the crowd has faces of all colors. Hopefully, it will be even better after I win this fight. I think I could be accepted here like (Pacquiao). Manny and I are very much alike — we train hard, we work hard, we respect all people.

"I am humble. I am loving."

He is a sportsman in a ring that has no place for intolerance.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday and Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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