Earlier this year, as names like Timothy Bradley, Devon Alexander, Marcos Maidana, Amir Khan, and Victor Ortiz began to define themselves as some of the best fighters in the world in one of boxing’s most stacked divisions, fans began to clamor for a tournament along the lines of Showtime’s “Super Six World Boxing Classic” modified round-robin. However, boxing politics as usual prevented the fights from happening in this format, much to fans’ consternation. But now it seems, an unofficial single elimination tourney is about to take place to end 2010 and begin 2011 as Tuesday, it was announced that Amir Khan would face off with Marcos Maidana December 11 in Las Vegas, NV at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino to settle one half of a dangerous four-man equation. In January if 2011, Timothy Bradley (should he sign on the dotted line soon) will square off against Devon Alexander with the winners (hopefully) squaring off against each other by mid-to-late next year.
Khan, 23-1 (17), vs. Maidana 29-1 (27), dubbed “Thunder and Lightning” by Golden Boy Promotions, features an interesting contrast of styles. Khan, a silver medal winner in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, is a boxer/puncher who, under the tutelage of veteran trainer Freddie Roach, has risen from the ashes of his knockout defeat in 2008 at the hands of Breidis Prescott to take the WBA junior welterweight title and position himself as the big draw in the division.
Maidana, an Argentinean educated slugger with dynamite in his fists, burst onto the scene last year when he blasted through Victor Ortiz’ guard and chin, dropping him and forcing him to quit in six rounds, bringing an element of danger to the allegedly chin-deficient Khan.
As Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer said, “This fight is not called ‘Thunder and Lightning’ because one is ‘Thunder’ and the other ‘Lightning’ but rather because both men can strike at any time and both bringing booming punches to the ring with them.”
"We are two fighters that are exciting to watch. Both young. Both hungry. It's the perfect fight for both of us,” said Khan the assembled media at L.A.’s Conga Room. "I'm not scared of anyone. I'll fight anyone you put in front of me.”
That’s not what many fans were claiming when this fight was first talked about by Khan. After defeating Paulie Malignaggi in his big U.S. debut earlier this year, Khan said in the post-fight interview that he’d like to fight Maidana if Alexander and Bradley would fight each other with the winners squaring off. It was the kind of tough talk you want out of a world titleholder but odd timing, given that Maidana was out with a back injury at the time. Later, Maidana revealed it wasn’t his back but rather managerial issues that forced him out of the ring earlier this year. But Khan has shown what he is made of by not only taking this assignment but asking for it.
Khan told us that the fight, originally scheduled as a UK homecoming for Khan, was moved to Vegas at Maidana’s insistence as he did not want to go to England for the showdown. It’s a rare move for a big name draw to acquiesce like that but it shows the kind of champion Khan hopes to be.
"I felt Amir was scared of me because he wasn't giving me the opportunity to fight him,” said Maidana, who holds an interim version of Khan’s belt. “It's been almost a year-and-a-half since I won the interim title. I'm excited that we're going to fight.”
"Maidana is a big name,” said Khan. “If I want to unify the division I have to fight the best. I believe if you want to be known as a great fighter, you have to clean up divisions and that's what I'm going to do.”
That Khan willingly making this fight shows not only how badly he wanted the fight but that he is ready to take over the division starting December 11.
"When I beat Maidana,” said Khan. “I want to let my fists do the talking, not my words.”
Maidana would disagree with this sentiment and add that all the tough talk Khan has done both in person, in the media and on Twitter is going to put self-expectations on Khan that will play into his hands.
"Khan has been talking a lot,” said Maidana. “On December 11, he's going to have all the pressure on him.”
Khan has been evolving under trainer Roach, as he displayed in his battering of Malignaggi at Madison Square Garden in May. No longer a wide-open target, Khan keeps his chin tucked, uses his strong jab more often than not and is employing more efficient movement than his old bouncing-around-aimlessly style. And the best part is that, despite his KO loss in less than a minute to Prescott, the aggressive streak that has always been a Khan hallmark is still intact, if a little more under control. All this, Khan attributes to his loss to Prescott. Had he not lost, Khan figured he’d still be in England working with promoter Frank Warren and, while surely filling arenas, he wouldn’t be progressing as a fighter.
"Losing to Prescott made me realize how serious boxing is,” he explained, “I needed to train harder."
Maidana, after taking apart Ortiz, has toiled a bit in obscurity in the States. He has had just one fight here in the US, an impressive KO win over Victor Cayo in March. Still, he sold 11,000 seats in Argentina in August when he looked vulnerable in beating the aged DeMarcus Corley via decision in 12 grueling rounds. The fight marked the first time Maidana was cut (in the third round) and he claimed that had a bit to do with the rough outing.
His trainer, Miguel Diaz cited a need to improve Maidana’s stamina and overall conditioning for the battle ahead and has hired welterweight legend Felix “Tito” Trinidad’s former conditioning coach, nicknamed “Pensa,” Cruz Garcia Figueroa. After one day, Diaz claimed he showed “he knows exactly what he is talking about. He knows about preparation and conditioning than what I know.
“It’s an add-on to the team,” continued Diaz. “There are a lot of new things that I don’t know. A lot of new techniques. This is a specialist in athletics and he knows things that I don’t know. I think it would be very selfish on my part if I don’t bring a guy like him in for a big fight like this, especially after the fiasco we had in the [Corley] fight.”
Diaz told me Maidana only had 28 days to prepare for Corley after some contract issues. But the main reason he faded down the stretch of that fight was because he had come into the fight camp in the 170s and so the camp was more about losing weight than anything. On this day, Maidana looked in game shape, which is a good sign for the coming fight.
“He was about 156 pounds yesterday,” said Diaz.
Khan, by contrast, told us he weighed about 149 pounds but expected after camp and then the day after weigh-in re-hydration to be around 147 pounds which he feels is optimum.
It’s rare to see two young titleholders fight so early on in their careers. Khan is just 23 to Maidana’s 27. It’s going to be a treat for the fans or as Schaefer called it, “an early Christmas present for fight fans.” Both men promised victory, each in their own way.
"I'm going do something different in this fight, something nobody's ever seen me do,” said Khan. “My style is always changing. I'm going to come in and be the big puncher. This fight is going to be explosive.”
While Maidana, a let-my-fists-do-the-talking-type of fighter said, "You can say he's the favorite and I'm the underdog but I don't feel that way. I feel calm and prepared and know I will win.”
But it was Miguel Diaz who best summed up the situation. “Two fighters in the prime of their fighting careers and two young fighters looking for a position in the boxing world,” he said. “For the winner, it means the super-fights and for the loser it's back to the drawing board."
For a year that hasn’t been the most scintillating all around, the end of 2010 just got a whole lot more exciting.