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The Path to Superstardom

In preparation for his WBA super lightweight title showdown Saturday against Marcos Maidana at The Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Amir Khan needed an ice cream.

Alone at 1:36 a.m., just days prior to his stablemate Manny Pacquiao's thrashing of Antonio Margarito in November, Khan wandered into a coffee shop at the Gaylord Texan Hotel. The post-midnight ice cream is an unusual part of a boxer's training regimen, but Khan has had an unusual training camp. Since September, the Bolton, England native of Pakistani descent has been on three continents (Europe, North America, and Asia) and four states (New York, California, Texas, and now Nevada), all in efforts to defend his title and put to rest endless speculation about his chin since his first round knockout loss two years ago to unknown South American slugger Brandeis Prescott.

"A fighter like Maidana, you can't change much. I'm not stupid and I'm not going to lie to you."

Despite the consequent suspicions of Khan's chin and the relatively manicured path of his opponents since being knocked out, he did spar extensively with Pacquiao last October in Baguio, Philippines. In one particular exchange, Pacquiao drilled Khan with a straight left and knocked Khan's headgear completely sideways. Unperturbed, Khan swiveled the headgear back in place and kept swinging. While the incident helped assuage the doubts of some, it remains to be seen how he'll fare when it's his skull -- not a cushion - that he is swiveling back into place.

Two months later, just three days before the weigh-in, at Barry's Boxing east of the 15 freeway in Las Vegas, the son of an Argentine farmer ran three rounds of mitts in a private workout. The fifth of eight children, Marcos Rene Maidana began boxing at the age of 15 when he was recruited to join a local competition. "I never really watched boxing, and I still don't," he said through an interpreter. Twelve years later, Maidana has a professional record of 29-1 with an even 90% knockout ratio (the precise ratio Prescott had after knocking out Khan).

"This is the first camp I get him here in Vegas all 10 weeks," says Miguel Diaz, Maidana's trainer for his past five fights, including his riveting performance against Victor Ortiz (who will face Lamont Peterson on Saturday's undercard). Diaz's focus with Maidana has been on conditioning. He believes his recent few lackluster outings (the last of which failed to produce a knockout) to be the result of too much time in plastic suits cutting weight and too little spent concentrating on fighting. Maidana supposedly ballooned before his last fight, and Diaz consequently asked for his pupil to come to camp early and fired his previous strength coach, hiring Pensa Garcia (former coach of Tito Trinidad).

Strategy is less a concern to the 78-year-old Diaz, saying, "A fighter like Maidana, you can't change much. I'm not stupid and I'm not going to lie to you." At the end of his Tuesday workout, Maidana stripped naked and tipped the scales at 141.6 pounds. (Khan weighed 144.) This included the weight of the ink from his most recent tribal tattoo, which he got last month at a parlor around the corner from the gym as "a Vegas souvenir."

For Diaz, watching Freddie Roach and his fighter from the opposing corner will be a change of perspective. Just last month, he served as Manny Pacquiao's cutman, and a quarter-century ago he oversaw Roach's training in Las Vegas during the final five fights of his professional career.

In the opposing camp, Roach has been studying Maidana. Strategy is an element critical to Khan's recent success, including his near-shutout romps over Andreas Kotelnik and Paulie Malignaggi. Since beginning his tutelage under Roach after the knockout loss, Khan (23-1) has added a complex arsenal of feints, lateral movement, and disciplined combinations that leads Roach to believe that of his large stable of fighters, "Amir is currently my best student." Khan has not only been learning from Roach. Recently in sparring, he will clap his gloves together after getting hit, a longtime habit of Manny Pacquiao.

As for the power of Maidana, Roach opines, "His best knockout shot is an illegal rabbit punch to the back of the head. Maidana can only throw it if you sit in the pocket with him and stay in range. Amir won't be there all night." Should Khan make that mistake and survive Maidana hitting him flush, he would dispel the skepticism of his harshest critics. The question is not whether the agile and versatile Khan can defeat a puncher like Maidana through craft and speed; the question is if can he defeat a puncher after taking his best shot. Roach hopes Khan will not give Maidana the opportunity to help answer that question.

The victor of Khan-Maidana could potentially face the winner of the Ortiz-Peterson undercard; however, a far more appealing option would be a title unification bout against the winner of the Devon Alexander-Timothy Bradley showdown Jan. 29 for the WBC and WBO titles. There is a chance the bouts will be compelling enough to cause these fighters to make stars of each other. But ultimately whoever surfaces on top out of the junior welterweight talent pool will likely give boxing its first superstar since Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. With Pacquiao increasingly engrossed in his congressional duties and Mayweather by his legal battles, let's hope the junior welterweight king surfaces soon.

Posted 12:00 AM | Dec 8, 2010

Amir Khan vs. Marcos Maidana

HBO WCB - December 11, 2010

Ortiz vs. L. Peterson