Every person's chin sits in the lower part of their face, below the lower lip. But if Amir Khan's critics are to be believed, his lies on top of his head like a glass tiara waiting to get knocked off. It is a vast simplification of the multi-faceted boxer, yet not totally unwarranted given the brutal first round beat down he suffered at the hands of another heavy-fisted fighter, Breidis Prescott in 2008.
Since then, Khan has won five straight fights and collected a championship belt along the way, but none of that has changed the perception among many that the Brit has a weak chin. You certainly don't shed that kind of label fighting light-hitting punchers like Dimitriy Salita and Paulie Malignaggi. Maidana (29-1, 27 KOs) is whole different animal.
"I think this fight will go a long way to answering the questions on peoples' minds about Khan," says Papa, the HBO announcer. "This is the perfect fight for him. It is the best test he could have. Maidana hits harder than anyone in the division. He will be like a crucible for Khan."
While Khan has the foot speed and improved defense to keep Maidana from getting close enough to launch a bomb, it is inevitable that he will have to engage the Argentine slugger at some point. The first hard punch Maidana lands to Khan's head could either be the last one the Brit sees before lights out, or the point of entry for him into the rarified air of elite fighters. If he survives Maidana power and wins, he'll no longer have to hear from critics that say he can't take a punch.
In some ways the knock on the 23-year-old Khan (23-1, 17 KOs) is a bit unfair. When he faced Prescott, Khan was an unconventional, somewhat reckless fighter whose red carpet ride from a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics to England's most talked about young boxer left him feeling invincible. He was the darling of the British press, a rock star. But when Khan lunged into a heat-seeking missile thrown by Prescott, his fall from grace was as swift as the scant time it took him to hit canvas. The media, which had fallen head-over-heels for Khan, showed that love has no fury like a sportswriter scorned when it hammered him with criticism.
Looking at the knockout objectively, it might simply have been a case of Khan getting caught. It happens to the best of them. Paul Williams, who had never been knocked out and regularly spars with cruiserweights and heavyweights, got caught blind by Sergio Martinez last month and you won't hear many people saying that he has a glass chin. Conversely, when Victor Ortiz knocked Maidana down three times last year before he rallied to win, nobody accused the Argentine of being unable to take a punch.
Indisputable is that Maidana has God-given thunder in both hands. He is not a particularly skilled boxer, has average speed and an obvious disdain for defense. But because of his ability to change the course of a fight with one punch, he is a threat to anyone in the division. "Maidana has a one dimensional style," Papa says. "He wants to overwhelm you and blow you up."
That is exactly what Prescott did to Khan. A lot has changed since then, most notable being Khan is now under the tutelage of four-time trainer of the year Freddie Roach. The adjustments Roach has made in Khan's style are significant. Gone is the reckless, cocky fighter, replaced by one who protects his chin at all times, throws compact precision punches and utilizes his superior footwork and hand speed to control the ring.
Maidana, on the other hand climbs through the ropes with only one intention: to blast you out. So far he has been very good at it. Only four times in 30 fights has Maidana been forced to go beyond six rounds, and he has seen the 12th only twice. Tellingly, both fights that went the distance were against excellent boxers, Andriy Kotelnik and wily veteran DeMarcus Corley in his most recent bout. That raises the question: what if Maidana can't put away Khan? "Maidana's only chance of winning is to knock Khan out," Papa says. "If it goes the distance, Khan's superior boxing skills will win out."
That all depends on whether Khan can keep his newfound composure over 12 rounds in which he will face a relentless, attacking Maidana. "What nobody can answer yet is, 'Can Khan maintain the discipline he acquired in Freddie Roach's gym in big spots under pressure?'" Papa says. "How will he react to adversity? There is no script you can develop in the gym which will automatically translate in the ring. This is the Theatre of the Unknown."
Behind the curtain of that theatre, Khan has rehearsed for this play by sparring countless rounds with the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, Manny Pacquiao, also trained by Roach. As good as Maidana is at applying physical pressure, he's an amateur compared to Pacquiao.
"This is a case where the sparring with Pacquiao will have a great residual effect," Papa says. "It's got to be an incredible benefit for Khan, especially in the mental aspects of the sport. You can't duplicate that experience anywhere else. It would be like a basketball player practicing with Michael Jordan in his prime. It's got to rub off on you."
Khan believes it has. "The rounds that me and Manny do in sparring are tough rounds," Khan said recently. "We don't go in there and hold back. People who watch us spar say that you could sell tickets to our sessions, because Manny is a great fighter and I push him as hard as I can. If you can hit Manny cleanly once or twice, then you are catching the best fighter in the world and it makes the likes of Maidana look easier to hit."
If that turns out to be true, Khan's power, which has been overlooked in all the fuss about his chin, could come into play. "Not only does he have decent power, but also under Roach he's throwing more efficient punches, very straight ones and using smart combos," Papa says. "Khan could very well knock this guy out."
"I think this fight will go a long way to answering the questions on peoples' minds about Khan," says Papa, the HBO announcer. "This is the perfect fight for him."
Posted 12:00 AM | Dec 7, 2010
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