FIVE years ago today, Amir Khan scored one of the finest wins of his entire career – if not the finest to date. Making his Las Vegas debut, the defending WBA light-welterweight champion met feared Argentine puncher Marcos Maidana in a fight some had said would never happen; so dangerous was Maidana.
Rising to the challenge and then some, Khan, then aged 24 and holding a 23-1 record (the loss coming down at lightweight, against another big puncher in Breidis Prescott; the 54-second KO loss of 2008 being a massive setback Khan had managed to overcome), Khan was making the third defence of his WBA belt.
Maidana was the older man by three years and his pro record read 29-1 (all but one of these wins coming by stoppage) and his sole loss came via close, debatable split decision, against Andriy Kotelnik, in a prior WBA title challenge in February of the previous year – Kotelnik being the man Khan had out-pointed to become champion in July of 2009. Since suffering his first loss, Maidana had won the interim WBA title with a thrilling upset win over Victor Ortiz and he had made three retentions. Now “El Chino” and “King Khan” would clash to decide who the real champion was.
The action was terrific from the opening bell to the last, and fans were treated to a quite sensational fight at The Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Khan, with his blisteringly fast hands, set and managed to keep up a sizzling pace. Maidana was right there with him, however, and soon enough Khan had to take a big right hand to the head. Khan, who the critics said had a glass jaw (not only hurling this criticism at Khan because of the Prescott disaster, but also due to Khan being decked and/or hurt during his career by Willie Limond and Michael Gomez, both fights taking place down at lightweight) took the shot and he did not wobble. Instead returning fire in a cracking opener, Khan then came agonisingly close to taking out the teak-tough Maidana in the opening three minutes.
A wicked left hand to the body dropped Maidana, his face twisted with pain. Bravely he got up and made it to the bell, but had the punch landed a half-minute or so earlier, the fight might have been over. There was plenty more drama to come.
Khan boxed at times, while Maidana bossed long spells of the fight by making it a real war. But Khan, somehow, was taking Maidana’s best punches, and this surely must have been as shocking to the Argentine as it was to the watching fans. Willing to fight on the inside with Maidana, and even trading with him, Khan seemed hell-bent on proving all the stories about his being “chinny” were false. It all added up to make a classic fight, arguably the most exciting of Khan’s career to date.
Maidana was deducted a point in the fifth-round for throwing an elbow (which actually caught referee Joe Cortez), but at this stage points totals were the least of it. There was no way this fight could go the distance, at least that seemed to be the general consensus.
In the 10th-round of a fight that was already thoroughly engrossing, Khan forever ended talk that he lacked a solid chin or toughness. Caught by a monstrous right hand to the head, Khan’s legs splayed but he never went down. Then, for pretty much the remainder of the three minutes, the hardest light-welterweight puncher in the sport at the time quite literally battered Khan all over the ring. Khan, his face covered with blood, somehow managed to remain upright.
During the minute’s rest before the 11th, Cortez visited Khan’s corner and told him he wouldn’t allow him to take unnecessary punishment. And surely, what Khan was doing was not what his trainer Freddie Roach wanted. Still, despite the odds against him, Khan was out-toughing the lethal hitter. Khan was fighting with Maidana and he was winning the fight.
The final two rounds did see Khan get back to his boxing, as best he could, anyway. To the defending champion’s credit, he was able to deal with whatever strength Maidana had left in his shots. Still, right up until the final bell, it was impossible to relax, and for Khan fans everywhere the fight was a genuine ordeal.
Seeing it out to the final bell, Khan prevailed by scores of 114-111 (twice) and 113-112. Maidana thought he’d won but there was nothing undeserved about Khan’s magnificently brave victory. The fight was later awarded The Fight of The Year award by the Boxing Writer’s Association of America. In some ways, in light of how hard Maidana pushed the sublime Floyd Mayweather in the first of two fights he would have with the unbeaten master, Khan’s five year old win looks even better today.