by David P. Greisman
He was derided, disparaged and doubted, even though he was favored to win.
“Weak chin,” they said of Amir Khan. And they were right.
He had not only been knocked down twice and knocked out in less than a minute against Breidis Prescott, but he’d also been put down on the canvas by lesser fighters in Willie Limond and Michael Gomez.
“If Marcos Maidana catches him clean, Khan’s going to get hurt,” they said. And they were right.
A little more than a minute into the 10th round of their fight, Maidana countered over Khan’s left jab with a looping right hand, catching him directly on the chin. Khan’s right leg splayed away from him. And as Maidana continued to attack, Khan attempted to retreat with all the grace of a wounded gazelle trying to outrun a lion.
“If Maidana hurts him, the fight will be over, and it will prove that Khan has been protected, that he doesn’t belong among the best in his division,” they said.
And they were wrong.
There were three possible storylines that Khan-Maidana could follow. Khan could beat Maidana without ever having his chin tested. Khan could have his chin tested but still beat Maidana. Or Khan could have his chin tested and lose.
Khan undoubtedly would have preferred the first option, preferred that his skills and speed made for an easy night. But rare is the athlete who is so good that he never has to overcome bad moments.
The moments Khan had Saturday were about as bad as could be without being completely catastrophic. But those bad moments on one night were all the better for what is yet to come in his career.
Those moments gave Khan confirmation that he can survive when in with the best in the junior-welterweight division. And those moments will give Khan the confidence he needs if he is to thrive among the rest of the best.
Khan proved more to himself and to his detractors by going all 12 rounds than he would have had he won the fight in the first round – which he nearly did.
Khan has advantages in size and speed and a style that demands he use those advantages.
At a lanky 5-foot-10, he sends out fast, long jabs and right crosses, working from a distance that is close enough for him to land when he’s throwing but far enough away that defense often merely requires a quick step backward. And this positioning is made even more necessary because the way Khan uses his length makes him less effective when he is in close, where his chin also makes him more vulnerable.
Maidana, meanwhile, is 5-foot-7, shorter and slower, with power put into a plodding package. Against Maidana, Khan would look even faster than he normally does. Against Khan, Maidana would look even slower.
Khan exploited his advantages in hand and foot speed in the first round, using blinding jabs to set up right hands, then moving away from an opponent who would then have to follow and set his feet to throw. Maidana tried to compensate with timing, sending wide right-hand counters around Khan’s jabs.
But as Maidana was trying to see if he could crack the glass supposedly in Khan’s chin, Khan would attempt to snuff out the fire in Maidana’s belly.
Khan followed a jab to Maidana’s head with a left hook that didn’t have much force behind it. That hook served to distract Maidana upstairs from what was to come below – a right hook to the body and then a left hook to the liver. Maidana closed his eyes and opened his mouth and fell to the canvas.
A year before, another fighter had to overcome his demons and others’ doubts about whether he could handle the pressure and power of an opponent who couldn’t match his ability or athleticism.
Lucian Bute had been moments away from a knockout loss in the final round of his first fight with Librado Andrade, surviving for the victory. In their November 2009 rematch, however, Bute would encounter no such strife, digging a left to Andrade’s liver and putting him down for the count.
Maidana would get up from Khan’s body shot, though.
Khan’s speed was the telling factor in the first half of the fight. Rather than Khan being cautious of a single powerful punch from Maidana, it was Maidana who had to be cautious of the fusillade that would come from Khan.
Khan landed 162 punches in those first six rounds to Maidana’s 62. Of those, Khan landed 114 power shots, compared to 41 from Maidana. The difference was most telling in those first two rounds, when Khan landed 63 punches, including 45 power punches, while Maidana landed only 10 punches, including just four power punches.
But as Khan saw that Maidana wouldn’t go away, he began to pace himself. And that gave Maidana more opportunities go give Khan problems.
What Maidana lacked in technique, he made up for in tenacity.
While Khan has fast feet, he does not always show the best footwork, the ability to maneuver out of bad situations and into better locations. Sometimes when he finishes working, he ducks shots and shuffles away. But on other occasions he rests and covers up, passively defending himself instead of proactively doing so.
Maidana seized the opportunity when Khan stopped punching, getting in close, squaring up and sending uppercuts between Khan’s gloves and hooks around them. In the seventh round, Maidana landed nearly as many punches as Khan, with 17 to Khan’s 18, but he landed more power shots, with 14 to Khan’s 11.
Khan took the momentum back in the eighth, while Maidana seemed to be losing steam. Khan used uppercuts to stifle Maidana’s advances, and he landing 24 punches in that round while Maidana could only land four. Maidana appeared to limp back to his corner after that round ended, and his trainer could be heard telling him, “If you want, I’ll stop the fight.”
The ninth round followed the pattern of the one preceding it. Khan landed 34 punches this time, including 21 power shots, while Maidana had eight and four.
Khan had control. But Maidana still only needed to land a single shot to change that.
That the looping Maidana right in the 10th hurt Khan was bad enough for Khan. What made it worse for him was that he would not hold Maidana and could not keep him away. Maidana teed off with 23 power punches in the 10th to Khan’s seven.
And as with Lucian Bute’s first win over Librado Andrade, Amir Khan was able to survive Marcos Maidana’s onslaught because of some controversial refereeing. In the case of Bute-Andrade 1, it had been a long count from Marlon Wright that gave Bute extra time to recover. With Khan-Maidana, Joe Cortez seemed to step between the fighters at moments that were unnecessary and, for Maidana, inopportune.
None of those 23 punches sent Khan down, however. As Khan made it through two tough minutes, he appeared dazed but not discombobulated.
Maidana would be revitalized, however, out-landing Khan 39 to 23 in those final two rounds, including 36 power shots to Khan’s 17. Still, while Khan endured being hurt again in those final six minutes, he was not hurt as badly he was before.
Khan took the first half of the fight, Maidana the second – not the best method for sending a message of superiority. Khan won enough rounds early to give him the decision, taking the fight by scores of 114-111 from two judges and 113-112 from the third.
Normally that kind of outcome means that there are more questions about a fighter than answers.
Not in this case.
The first question entering the fight had been if Maidana could hit him, not whether Maidana could hurt him. One would dictate the other. The second question entering the fight had been whether, if Khan were hurt, he could withstand it.
Maidana hit him and hurt him. He withstood it.
Against lesser punches and lesser fighters, the knockdowns Khan had suffered had raised valid questions about his chin. And against Breidis Prescott, the one-minute drubbing Khan had suffered had raised valid questions about his composure.
Marcos Maidana had entered his fight with Khan having scored 27 knockouts in his 29 victories. Khan stood in the ring for 12 rounds with a vaunted puncher. His chin cracked, but he never crumpled.
He was doubted, disparaged and derided. He would not be defeated.
As with other flawed fighters, Khan will need to continue to compensate for his weaknesses by playing to his strengths. He now knows he can handle being hurt by a big puncher.
He also knows he should not put himself in a position to prove that again.
The 10 Count
1. Say something enough and people will think it’s true.
Larry Merchant, just before the first round of Khan-Maidana began: “Amir Khan personally picked Maidana for his opponent tonight to erase the nightmare of that knockout.”
Merchant, in the 11th round: “This, remember, is what he asked for. This is the fight he wanted.”
Jim Lampley, adding on to Merchant’s comments in the 11th round: “He wanted the chance to prove he could get through this.”
Merchant, in his post-fight interview with Amir Khan: “You picked Maidana because you wanted to show that you could fight against the strongest puncher in the division and erase the memory of your knockout.”
Except Marcos Maidana, who had been the World Boxing Association’s interim 140-pound beltholder since June 2009, had a mandatory shot at Khan, who’s held the WBA’s “regular” 140-pound title since July 2009.
Did Khan want this fight? Sure. But there was some sense of obligation – he either had to make it happen or he’d have had to drop his belt.
2. One quick post-fight question from Larry Merchant to Amir Khan was followed by two quick questions from Merchant to Marcos Maidana, which was followed by Jim Lampley quickly wrapping up and throwing to a preview of HBO’s 24/7 series about the upcoming outdoor hockey game between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“We leave you now with some of the most memorable moments we’ve covered on HBO in 2010,” Lampley said to close the telecast. Those moments, an annual highlight, never showed.
Was HBO in THAT much of a rush to get to its presentation of “Lombardi”?
3. HBO’s card delivered the big storylines and the noteworthy names for the casual fans:
Could Amir Khan’s chin hold up to Marcos Maidana’s power? Would the winner make a statement that he deserves to face the winner of January’s bout between Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander? Who deserved a second chance in the junior welterweight division: Victor Ortiz or Lamont Peterson?
Showtime’s card, which aired at about the same time, also delivered precisely what it promised – in this case, good fights featuring names in a division that’s pretty much only followed closely by the most hardcore of boxing fans.
The first round of Showtime’s single-elimination bantamweight tournament saw Abner Mares beat Vic Darchinyan by split decision and Joseph Agbeko unanimously outpoint Yonnhy Perez.
All the better: The tournament finale (Agbeko vs. Mares) and consolation bout (Darchinyan vs. Perez) will bring fresh match-ups, both of which also promise action.
We could’ve wound up with two additional rematches – Saturday’s bout between Agbeko and Perez was actually the follow-up to an October 2009 tilt. Agbeko and Darchinyan had faced each other in July 2009. Mares and Perez went to war in a draw in May 2010.
4. Boxers Behaving Badly, part one: Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been charged with misdemeanor battery, accused of poking a security guard’s face multiple times one day in November, according to the Associated Press. The security guard had apparently left parking tickets on one of Mayweather’s vehicles.
TMZ has pictures of the security guard’s face. If no one told you to look for a little bit of redness on his cheek, you wouldn’t notice anything abnormal.
But that’s not the point in the eyes of both the security guard and the prosecutor.
The prosecutor requested the judge to order Mayweather’s arrest (As of now he’s been charged without being taken into custody. The judge turned down that request.) in order to “send a message that he can’t continue to engage in these types of behaviors over and over again,” per the Associated Press report.
That was in reference to another case, one in which Mayweather is facing several felony and misdemeanor charges for an alleged incident involving his ex-girlfriend and their sons.
5. Boxers Behaving Badly, part two: One-time heavyweight title challenger Matt Skelton has been sentenced to five months in jail for lying to police three times – a charge in British courts known as attempting to pervert the course of justice, according to BBC News.
Skelton, 43, had twice gotten a speeding ticket, apparently from speed cameras, for his defense was that a valet had been driving Skelton’s Porsche, not him.
Police couldn’t find a valet with the name Skelton provided, however. And Skelton gave police a false address for the nonexistent valet.
Skelton last fought in October as part of the one-night Prizefighter tournament. He is 25-6 with 20 knockouts.
6. That’s a crime in the United Kingdom? In the United States, lying to police is a Constitutional right.
7. In the past five years Bernard Hopkins has put on just two truly notable performances, the first in which he defied the odds by beating Antonio Tarver for the light heavyweight championship, the second in which he defied his age by defeating Kelly Pavlik.
And that Pavlik performance was the only one from these past five years that wasn’t aesthetically displeasing.
And yet while Jean Pascal is the clear favorite to beat Hopkins this coming Saturday, it’s difficult to completely rule out the possibility of the nearly 46-year-old Hopkins becoming the oldest-ever world champion.
8. For those of you still complaining about Sylvester Stallone being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame:
He’s NOT going in as a boxer. And he deserves to be there.
There are several categories for induction into the Hall of Fame:
- Modern boxers, whose last fights came no earlier than 1943.
- Old-timers, whose last fights came between 1893 and 1942.
- Pioneers, whose last fights came in 1892 or earlier.
- Non-participants, who didn’t box or observe the sport but still contributed (promoters and trainers, for example, although some writers from the earlier days of this Hall of Fame were inducted in this category).
- Observers, who are/were journalists, screenwriters, artists, photographers, etc.
Modern boxers are elected by members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and certain people who aren’t members of the BWAA but have been given a vote by the Hall of Fame’s board of directors. The electorate for the other categories consists of historians selected by the Hall of Fame.
Stallone is going in as an observer. And why shouldn’t he?
As others have already pointed out, isn’t Stallone, who wrote and starred in all six Rocky movies, as deserving for a spot in the observer wing as Budd Schulberg, who wrote about boxing in books and magazines but is more famous for penning “The Harder They Fall” and “On The Waterfront”?
And aren’t some members of the mainstream sports press being more than a bit inconsistent throwing a fit about Stallone’s induction when so many of them have lobbied for labor negotiator Marvin Miller to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame?
9. Sept. 12, 2008: Joan Guzman is supposed to weigh in for his fight with Nate Campbell at 135 pounds. Guzman weighs in at 138.5.
Dec. 19, 2008: Guzman is supposed to weigh in for his fight with Ameth Diaz at 135 pounds. Guzman makes weight.
Nov. 27, 2009: Guzman is supposed to weigh in for his fight with Ali Funeka at 135 pounds. Guzman makes weight.
March 26, 2010: Guzman is supposed to weigh in for his rematch with Ali Funeka at 135 pounds. Guzman weighs in at a staggering 144 pounds.
March 28, 2010: “I’m going to move up to 140, and I’ll fight anyone,” Guzman is quoted as saying after the Funeka fight.
Dec. 9, 2010: “I found out I was having issues with my thyroid. That is why I was having problems making weight,” Guzman tells BoxingScene’s Ryan Burton at the final press conference for Khan-Maidana. Guzman was fighting on the undercard in an over-the-limit junior-welterweight bout.
“I like this weight. I feel comfortable and won’t have a problem making weight,” Guzman says.
Famous last words.
Dec. 10, 2010: Guzman is supposed to weigh in at 141 pounds for his fight with Jason Davis. Guzman weighs in at 144.5 pounds. Davis, not wanting to feel left out, weighs in at 143.
10. Hulk Hogan’s infamous “Finger Poke of Doom” on Kevin Nash earned him the WCW heavyweight championship.
Floyd Mayweather’s alleged finger poke of doom on a security guard earned him a misdemeanor charge.
Hogan outnumbers Mayweather in WrestleMania appearances, 12 to 1. But Mayweather, to his credit, is catching up with Hogan when it comes to the number of negatives articles about him on TMZ.com.
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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