We have just passed the anniversery of one of the great match-ups of the twenty-first century. On December the eleventh, 2010 Amir Khan showed the world exactly what he was made of with a career defining victory over the brooding light welterweight monster that was Argentina’s Marcos Maidana in the third defence of his WBA world championship.
It was one of the most exciting bouts in modern boxing history and is without doubt the redemptive moment of the then young Khan’s career. Though the truth is, it’s a fight we very nearly didn’t see.
Khan had just made his second title defence and USA debut against the severely underrated but severely underpowered Pauli Malignaggi in New York’s historic Maddison Square Garden, a fight in which he stopped the tough Malignaggin in the eleventh round. The year prior, Bolton’s 2004 Olympic silver medalist had defeated Ukrainian WBA world champion Andreas Kotelnik on home soil to capture world honours. It’s a fight and performance that is so sadly overlooked by boxing fans and pundits. Kotelnik, himself an Olympian who captured silver at the 2000 Sydney olympics was a proper world class operator who in his previous bout had defeated Maidana by split decision. He had won his title by stopping Welsh hard man Gavin Rees in 2008 and had made two successful defences. Kotelnik was a simple but affective orthodox boxer, though not overly powerful he had a great understanding of range and space and was as tough as they come, by the time of the khan fight he’d had thirty-four professional bouts with one draw and had suffered two losses, one to Britain’s own Junior Whitter and he’d never been stopped.
Khan was coming off of one of boxing’s most public and heavily scrutinised re-build jobs, just under a year prior he had been decimated by the Colombian boogey man Briedis Prescott. Every boxing fan knows this fight. Prescott who was arguably one of the most formidable punchers the lighter weights has ever seen, starched Khan in one. This fight and this fight alone is the reason Khan is known as “Chinny”. It’s a ridiculous accusation but that’s the nature of the sport, one slip up and even a great can fall from grace. But Khan manned up, made some changes, hooked up with the great trainer Freddie Roach, re-located to Los Angeles and got to work on making himself one of boxing’s premier tempo fighters.
Exactly three months later Khan returned and stopped Ireland’s Oisin Fagan in two before battering the elderly and overweight hall of famer Marco Antonio Barrera, one boxing’s sadder fights to watch.
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Next was the aforementioned Kotelnik, in front of a home crowd at Manchester’s MEN Arena. Khan was spell binding that night, zipping around the ring in his golden sparkled trunks at light speed, throwing six plus punch combinations in those iconic black and white Reebok gloves that even the viewers at home could hardly register. Kotelnik held on but Khan had done it.
Whilst Khan was making his defences against Dmitry Salita and Paulie Malignaggi, Marcos Maidana had secured the WBA “interim” world championship by stopping victory Ortiz in six rounds in mid 2009, he would go on to defend his “interim” belt three times, knocking out William Gonzalez and Victor Cayo and defeating DeMarcus Corley by points in August of 2010. It’s in this time period that Khan versus Maidana became imperilled, as before the Corley bout Maidana and his team had given up on trying to capture the “full” WBA belt and decided to go the way of the WBO and signed to take on then champion Timothy Bradley in mid 2010 but the fight had to be rescheduled due to Maidana suffering a back injury, when the fight was once again secured Maidana pulled out, again due to his back, ultimately the match up was abandoned and Bradley moved on. And what a match up that would have been, as we saw in Bradley’s 2013 bout against Russia’s marauding Ruslan Provodnikov he was certainly not averse to gut wrenching twelve round war.
Before the Corley bout Maidana had some choice words for Khan and his trainer Freddie Roach and called the pair out “I’ll go to Khan’s home soil to take the other portion of the WBA title, which belongs to me…They say they want me next when the cameras and mics are on but when it comes to make the fight for real, Roach begs Golden Boy Promotions to keep Khan away from me.”
After the Malignaggi beat down Khan was looking for a “good” opponent to defend his title against. A possible opponent was the great not good Juan Manuel Marquez but the Mexican wonder decided not to move up and continued his lightweight tenure. Finally in walks Marcos “El Chino” Maidana.
On December 11th 2010 Las Vegas was rocked. Though only around half full The Mandalay Bay nearly had its roof lifted off by 4,632 rabid fans. They were witness to one of the most thrilling fights of the last twenty-five years. Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana both came in at their dangerous best and asked each other questions that mere mortals cannot even begin to comprehend. Questions they both answered and answered well.
Both men walked to the ring exuding confidence, cockiness and in Maidana’s case danger. Maidana wore white whilst Khan wore fire engine red and for first time in his career ditched his famous black and white Reebok gloves for a conservative pair of red Everlasts MX’s, a real puncher glove. The story behind this is that during fight week one of Maidana’s team took issue with Khan’s Reebok gloves and asked the Nevada Athletic commission to investigate further, the commission decided to weigh the gloves and it turned out Reebok had made an error as the gloves weighed 9.5 ounces when they were meant to weight 8 ounces exactly, the commission banned Khan from wearing them even though Reebok were his chief sponsor. Allegedly Khan was secretly ecstatic about this as he preferred Everlast gloves and wanted a reason to ditch the Reeboks.
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When the opening bell finally rang and the fight was commenced by the third man in the ring, hall of fame referee Joe Cortez, both men came out fast, Maidana actually opened proceedings by throwing one of his wild lead hooks in an attempt to remove Khan’s head. They started at a frantic pace, Maidana attempted to take centre ring and smash Khan with over hand rights and a surprisingly well educated jab and he had success but Khan was too quick and too clever, utilising ceaseless movement, and a spiteful rapier like jab to set up some of the fastest combinations your ever likely to see. Throughout the round you get a glimpse at just how clever a boxer Khan was as he worked Maidana up and down, he seemed to spot a defect in his opponents defence and he used cunning multi punch combinations to pull Maidana’s tightly tucked elbows out and expose his body. Then with just twenty-one seconds left in the first round he delivered one of the most sickening body shots vegas has ever known. Setting the vicious left hook to the body up with a left hook, right hook combination to the head, it was perfect, beautiful destruction and Maidana reacted as if he’d taken a dagger to the gut, collapsing in a heap and rolling over onto his stomach, it looked over but somehow through sheer pride, will, hardness, and pig headedness Maidana rose to his feet and saw out the final few moments of the round. Khan jumped on him but there wasn’t enough time to deliver the death blow. Even though Khan hadn’t stopped his opponent it seemed he had stolen his soul and fractured his being.
Maidana went back to his corner, accept his telling off and rose from his stool for round two but he looked as if something was missing, he was worried and he kept his injured torso hidden behind his elbows. Khan was bristling with confidence and utilised his otherworldly speed and decisive foot movement to give “El Chino” a nasty three minute shellacking. Round three started much the same but just under a minute into the round Maidana spun Khan into the ropes and delivered a solid over hand right on Khans chin that would of stiffened the legs of any man in the division, Khan clinched whilst Maidana threw a series of messy body shots, Khan was hurt and got on the move but Maidana like a Great White pursuing an injured seal chased him down, throwing his head in, pushing Khan back and smashing uppercuts and wild hooks onto any part of Khans body. This was it, Maidana was a hard nut covered in tattoos of guns but Khan was a poser, a jumped up amateur who’d already been exposed, he couldn’t cope in a fight like this. As it turned out not only would he cope he’d thrive.
The much missed commentator Jim Watt who was on commentary duty had this to say during Khan’s third round beating “Get those hands up, get the chin down until the head is clear, do not take chances with this fellow.” Well, when needed he got his chin down but Khan took every chance available for the rest of the evening.
Round three set the tone for the rest of the bout. Khan would out manoeuvre, out punch and bust Maidana up from range and then suddenly Maidana would capitalise on the smallest of gaps left by Khan and the fatigue from the rapid pace and throw himself up close to Khan and throw demonic uppercuts which acted as a key to the locks on Khan’s defence. Doubling up on uppercuts, holding on the referees blind side Maidana was able to brutalise Khan up close and then give chase when khan fleed on the back foot, only to be met by a recomposed Khan who’d smash lightening jabs and whip like rights into his round face. The early rounds were competitive but Khan was having the better of it…Just.
The fifth was a big round for the tough Brit, Maidana was bemused by Khan’s movement and fatigue was setting in. Khan landed with impunity, marking Maidana up and damaging his eye. Joe Cortez also docked him a point due to use of the elbow. Maidana was never averse to fighting dirty.
The mid rounds saw an increase in volume from the Argentinian slugger. He seemed reinvigorated in the sixth, he was a touch sharper, he’d certainly pushed through a wall or two, even at this point, he even switched stances and boxed as a southpaw. This change in form and shape threw Khan off just enough for Maidana to push forward and land more of his powerful uppercuts. He had Khan on the run. Round seven and Khan looked done, he was falling apart in front of the world, his form was crumbling, he was ragged and punching without authority. Maidana was able to push the advantage, bully Khan on the inside, smash uppercuts home, wing away at Khan’s bruised and tired arms. It seemed that Maidana truly was a Great White, latching on to Khan and dragging him from the shallows into deep water to drown and devour him.
It now looked inevitable, Maidana had busted threw his wall whilst in the seventh Khan seemed to be bouncing off of his. But Khan was too good to go out like this, to be dragged into a brawl and beaten by a slugger, even one so good as Maidana. In the eighth Khan utilised all of his skills and elite experience to regain his composure and bring some boxing back into the affair. He slipped under hammering haymakers and made Maidana look cumbersome and slow. In the ninth Khan kept himself ahead and out of trouble. He caught his opponent with a nasty left hook and poured on multi-punch combinations to win the round.
Then in round ten all hell broke loose. Maidana looked utterly depleted in his corner and was slow to stand from his stool. Khan had come through some hard moments and taken some wicked shots but he now seemed to be very much in charge. The Argentinian didn’t care. Khan started sharp with a tidy long range combination and put some stinging jabs on his man’s chin, he danced around his opponent for the first minute but as Jim Watt noticed these were “Arm shots” and nothing more. At just over a minute Maidana threw an over and right from hell that exploded on Khan’s chin. Khan was in massive trouble, his legs had betrayed him but his so called “glass chin” had not, some how he was still standing. Khan got on his bike but Maidana pursued him relentlessly, pinning him against the ropes and smashing heavy leather into Khan. It was a disgustingly beautiful beating, most have said that skill went out of the window and Maidana went full on Weatherspoons dust up but they’re wrong, though it looked messy Maidana’s use of dirty tactics and momentum to deliver his bone crunching punches was something to behold. And of all the rounds of Khan’s long and stellar career this is the three minute period that he proved himself to the world and showed his grit, the fact he heard bell ring is a modern day boxing miracle.
Khan was unsteady and looked ready to go at the start of the eleventh. But luckily for him Maidana had used almost all of his remaining energy in the tenth. Maidana stalked Khan and Khan avoided him, keeping his assailant off for long enough to recover his legs. He was able to time Maidana’s attacks and at one point checked and spun his man into the ropes. Khan nailed Maidana with a wonderful uppercut to show that he was still there and he was still dangerous.
Maidana flew out in the twelfth. He was desperately searching for that one punch to lay Khan out and snatch the world title, he was crude, fighting more like Taz The Tasmanian Devil than a professional boxer and climbing all over Khan. He was again told off by Cortez, this time for rabbit punches. Khan was on the run, taking the sting out of Maidana’s shots but in the closing seconds of the fight Khan decided to finish with aggression, pride and a dash machismo as he stood firm, fronted Maidana out and put a series of slashing combinations threw Maidana’s guard and onto his chin.
It was a gruelling, nasty, torrid fight filled with ups and downs for both men. And it was close with Khan wining by unanimous decision. The score cards read 114-111, 114-111,113-112 and that’s with a points deduction for Maidana.
This fight was everything that is great about boxing. Two men at the top of their division, at their very violent best trading blows to decide who is the true and rightful king. It was a showcase of blood, guts, skill and will, the boxer versus the slugger, the matador versus the bull.
In a 2018 interview with ESPN referee Joe Cortez had this to say of the fight “During my sixty years linked to the sport of boxing, I have seen and refereed many great fights, but if I had to pick the top twenty championship fights that I refereed, I would say the Khan-Maidana bout I 2010 was one of the most outstanding, skilful and exciting. Lots of heart, blood, sweat and tears. That fight had it all.”
Maidana would go on and have an outstanding run at light welterweight and welterweight, culminating in two mega-money dust ups with the great Floyd Mayweather. But for Khan this fight marked a special moment in his career, he banged with one of the divisions biggest, nastiest bangers and came out the other side. He proved all of the doubters and naysayers wrong and may have even proven something to himself, no chinless poser could stand with Maidana, let alone stand and win, he proved he had minerals even Turkish would be proud of.
And this is the story of Amir Khan’s career. Bravery and dogged determination both enhanced and took away, he was almost as vulnerable as he was dangerous and that’s what made him so fun and at his decisive, whirlwind, aggressive best he was one of the finest boxers Britain has ever produced and thirteen years ago today he gave us one of our finest nights.