By John Wight: The night of December 11 2010 will go down as the night in which Britain’s Amir Khan gave a stunning riposte to the legion of doubters who were firm in their belief that he had a marshmallow for a chin after being so brutally KO’d by Breidis Prescott back in 2008.
The doubts over the former Olympic silver medallist’s ability to take a shot were so pervasive they’d taken on the status of a received truth. Notable victories against the likes of Antonio Barrera, Andreas Kotelnik and Paulie Malignaggi were typically acknowledged by the naysayers with the admonition that regardless of his victory his chin remained suspect and the jury would remain out until it had been rigorously tested.
Well, last Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, not only was Khan’s chin tested, so was every ounce of determination, courage and fortitude he possessed as he took on and defeated Argentina’s Marcus Maidana. One of the hardest pound for pound punchers in the sport, Maidana came to the ring with a frightening record of 27 KOs in 31 fights and only one defeat, which was in the shape of controversial split decision against Andreas Kotelnik at the beginning of 2009 and whom Khan subsequently defeated by unanimous decision a few months later to claim the WBA light welterweight crown..
Entering the ring accompanied by a banner upon which the words ‘Las Malvinas Sol Argentinas’ were inscribed, reference to the disputed islands of the coast of Argentina over which Britain and Argentina went to war back in 1982, Maidana was making a statement that not only a world title but also national pride was on the line in this fight.
Leading up to the fight Freddie Roach was confidently predicting a late round stoppage in favour of his man, citing the huge improvements he’d made in the two years he’d been making Roach’s much venerated Wildcard Gym in Hollywood his base. Indeed, Roach had stated just a week prior to the fight that the last time Khan sparred with Manny Pacquiao, in the lead up to the Pacman’s epic contest against Antonio Margarito only a month earlier, it was Khan who’d come out on top. Those of a more cynical mind may have been tempted to place such high praise in the box marked mind games, but nonetheless it did succeed in adding excitement to a contest that had already required none of the marketing contortions the sport has sadly grown accustomed to over a recent history of nights in which expectation has given way to anticlimax.
On this night, not only were expectations met, they were exceeded by a country mile.
The fight began in the time honoured fashion of the classic boxer versus brawler contest, with Khan as boxer staying on the outside utilising his superior reach, speed and movement to keep Maidana off balance, moving in with stunning combinations to which the Argentinean seemingly had no answer. Yet despite the exemplary demonstration of speed, skill and movement Khan was putting on, the question just wouldn’t go away: What will happen if and when Maidana manages to close the distance and connects with his chin?
This question was answered for the first time midway through the third, when Maidana caught the champion against the ropes with a stiff right hand. Khan, momentarily stunned, retreated out of trouble before his opponent could follow up, while Maidana, sensing an opportunity, attempted to cut the ring off for the remainder of the round. Khan though was able to stay out of trouble until the bell and the danger passed. Nonetheless, Maidana had declared his intent. This was going to be a night that Amir Khan would not soon forget.
The rest of the fight served up a classic encounter, with both fighters living up to their prefight reputations and more. Khan’s use of the ring and his whip fast combinations were a joy to behold, while Maidana stuck to the task of attempting to cut off the ring with the determination of a pit bull.
The challenger’s persistence paid off in a tenth round that will surely go down as one of the most exciting rounds of boxing witnessed in recent years. Khan, unable to maintain the ferocious pace at which he’d fought the preceding rounds, finally began to tire, allowing Maidana to close the distance. With a minute still left to the bell it looked as though the title was on its way to Argentina. Khan, trapped on the ropes, found himself on the receiving end of a brutal barrage, taking the kind of punishment that not only loses titles but ends careers.
Yet the man from Bolton was able to hang on to the bell, walking back to his stool as a stunned crowd struggled to believe what they’d just witnessed. Not only was the most important round that Khan has ever fought in his entire career, it will probably remain so for the remainder of it.
Khan’s eventual victory, a deserved unanimous decision, was marred somewhat by the insistence of the referee, Joe Cortez, in involving himself in the action. The point deducted from Maidana in the fifth was uncalled for, and no doubt many of the British fans watching would have recalled the night when Cortez refereed Ricky Hatton’s fight against Floyd Mayweather in 2007 and continually refused to allow Hatton to get too close and personal. He also drew critcism when he disqualified Humberto Soto during his fight against Francisco Lorenzo in 2008, after Soto hit Lorenzo when he was down on the canvas. Soto was well ahead on the scorecards at the time and most observers felt it was a harsh decision. When he finally retires, Joe Cortez should not be surprised if his departure isn’t missed.
Immediately after Khan’s victory, Floyd Mayweather’s name as a future opponent was on everybody’s lips. It is a fight which before this fight seemed ridiculous to even contemplate. Not now. Now with Khan’s reputation in the US more than cemented, it is very much on the cards, made more so with the breakdown in negotiations over the much anticipated contest between Pacquiao and Mayweather earlier in the year. Khan with this performance may have stepped into the breach.
There does, however, remain a question mark over Mayweather’s plans. Currently, the future Hall of Famer is preparing to face a far more formidable opponent in the shape of the US justice system in January, when he’s scheduled to appear in court to answer assault charges and the possibility of a spell in prison.
But such considerations belong in the future. No matter where Khan’s career goes from here, right now he deserves to enjoy this victory as he’s enjoyed no other.
The question has been answered. Amir Khan is the real deal.