Amir Khan faces the hardest-hitting test of his young career when he faces Argentine mauler Marcos Maidana tomorrow night at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
There is an air of uncertainty about this bout that makes it intriguing. Can Khan stand up to a few hard shots from Maidana? Will Maidana be able to land anything significant or will he be outboxed from bell to bell? Can Maidana overcome a wide gap in skill with heart and power?
Since being steamrolled by Breidis Prescott in 2008, Khan, 23-1 (17), has been carefully matched even when compared to the cynical standards of the day. Punchers have been avoided at all costs, it seems, and only Andriy Kotelnik can be considered a topnotch fighter among those Khan has faced recently, although some might added featherfisted Paulie Malignaggi to that decidedly short shortlist.
Even so, he is obviously a gifted athlete. “I think this will be a very interesting encounter,” veteran Manchester trainer Brian Hughes–currently overseeing the career of junior featherweight hopeful Scott Quigg–told TCS. “Khan is a really good craftsman in the ring and can box and punch. However, I really do not think he has been tested, apart from when he was flattened by Breidis Prescott. He has been brought along very carefully. Hopefully he has learned a great deal while he has been in America under Freddie Roach. From a pure boxing view he does have the quality that makes a world champion.”
Now Khan, Lancashire, United Kingdom, faces a bruising fighter who, win or lose, guarantees long baths in Epsom salt for anyone who ducks through the ropes against him. Khan, floored a handful of times in his career and knocked out in a round by the nondescript Prescott, will likely be on the move to avoid taking flush shots from the lead-footed Maidana, since getting hit by Maidana, 29-1 (27), is like getting hit by one of the ringposts.
For his part, Maidana, Buenos Aires, Argentina, is coming off of a weak performance against DeMarcus Corley last June in a fight that seemed much closer than the official scores. Corley is a ringwise veteran, but he is long past his prime. Struggling with “Chop Chop” bodes ill for Maidana, who is susceptible to boxers.
In fact, cunning is hardly necessary to outmaneuver Maidana, whose clumsiness in the ring is often appalling. Every now and then Maidana, 27, gets his feet tangled in such knots that you might think his ankles were ensnared by a surujin. He is also guilty of lunging, leaning forward, neglecting his jab, and throwing wide punches from the hip. These are all flaws that a sharpshooter like Khan should be able to exploit with ease. In that case, perhaps it will be Maidana whose resiliency will be put to the test. After all, Maidana was dropped three times by Victor Ortiz and was shaken by Corley when he faded late. He was also dropped early in his career by Oscar Leon. In addition, Maidana took his share of punches from neophyte Victor Cayo last March before scoring a brutal bodyshot knockout in the sixth round that left Cayo writhing on the canvas.
It will be up to Maidana to overcome a skill deficit by applying pressure and trying to slow Khan, 24, down with a consistent body attack. On the inside, Maidana is a destructive force, and he works both hands in the clinches. Standing too close to Maidana is like standing next to a jet turbine: Bad things are going to happen. If he can get Khan–another headliner without an ounce of infighting ability–into that position a few times, he will be looking to inflict damage whose effects are intended to accumulate over time. There is a chance that Maidana can crowd Khan, cut off the ring, and claw away in close. Every second Maidana is in the ring with him means potential disaster for Khan.
Still, Khan is simply the more talented fighter. He has faster hands, quicker feet, better balance, tighter defense, and superior technique. Intangibles can win fights—and they often do—but is one-punch KO power enough to overcome a significant lag in skill? Hughes acknowledges how hard Maidana hits but seems only to hesitate about Khan because of his relatively weak quality of opposition. “But I believe that Khan will box, use his speed and win a decision,“ Hughes says. “The local television stations over here in the North West have been giving him the hype and build up all this week (like when Richard Hatton was in his pomp). For me though, there is just this doubt about him in my mind. Going all out – I pick Khan to win.”
In the end, Khan will either outclass Maidana or he will end up with smelling salts under his nose. But the variables in between those two outcomes are difficult to measure. Khan, without confidence, via decision or TKO.