Amir Khan's fight on Saturday night against Lamont Peterson will be one of the biggest and toughest of his young career, which has seen him go from hyped amateur and Olympic silver medalist, to top British prospect at 135 pounds, to a career nearly in ruins after a 54-second knockout at the hands of Breidis Prescott, and finally, to a titleholder and one of the best in the world at 140 pounds under the tutelage of Freddie Roach.
Khan has rubbed many the wrong way over his career, but has also picked up fans all over the world. His talents are obvious, but his shaky chin leaves many skeptics -- and makes his fights against guys who can punch all the more interesting, because you just never know when he might get caught.
Now Khan looks to close out his run at 140 pounds with an impressive win over a legitimate contender, and then move to the welterweight division, where he plans to chase a 2012 fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
[ Related: Khan vs Peterson Press Conference Video ]
Let's look back on Khan's five best wins. They're all in the junior welterweight division, since he did little of note at 135 (sorry, anyone who thinks his defeat of a shot, overweight, and injured Marco Antonio Barrera was impressive).
5. Paul McCloskey (2011-04-16)
McCloskey came in undefeated, the European junior welterweight champion, and was on fairly equal footing crowd-wise in Manchester against Khan, making the fourth defense of his WBA title. McCloskey was also somewhere in or around the back end of the top ten at the time, but was not considered any huge threat to Khan -- you'll get the notion right now that, for the most part, Khan has really done nothing spectacular so far, but has had a solid career at 140 that gets better on Saturday. If Khan wins Saturday, the Peterson fight immediately jumps to at least No. 3 on this list.
Khan and McCloskey both fought quite poorly in this one, with Khan especially looking jittery and out of sorts, not landing with the accuracy he usually had in recent fights and just looking a step or two off-center for much of the fight. That said, his activity pretty much muted McCloskey, who did little more than mug with his arms at his sides and get cut, leading to a technical decision after six rounds, all of which Khan won.
4. Zab Judah (2011-07-23)
After a couple months of trash talk and some drawn-out negotiations, Khan met with veteran American Judah in Las Vegas to unify his WBA belt with Judah's IBF belt, which Judah had picked up in a struggle with the mediocre Kaizer Mabuza in March. Judah's whole game at this point was talking about how much he'd changed, how he wasn't the old Zab anymore, and how he was "back" as a top fighter.
As usual, he was the same old Zab in the pre-fight hype, talking as much trash as anybody, and his promises to look like the mythical Judah of yore were just promises he couldn't keep. He was once again more sizzle than steak, as Khan bullied him around for for rounds before finishing him off with a body shot in the fifth. Judah and his defenders continue to cry about a low blow, but even if it were extremely low (it was borderline at worst), Judah should have known to get up instead of sitting and talking to a counting referee. His excuses were empty, and all that came of this fight was disappointment to the believers who thought it would be anything more.
The biggest reason that this fight ranks over the McCloskey win is that Khan himself looked in terrific shape and dominated the fight. It's really not much to do with Judah being better than McCloskey anymore, though he probably is by a fairly narrow margin.
[ Related: Roach Says Peterson Will Be Toughest Test Yet ]
3. Paulie Malignaggi (2010-05-15)
Malignaggi has always been more heart than anything else, and that includes flash, brashness, and "swagger." While the colorful and loud New Yorker has put together a damn fine career, he has always fallen short in his true biggest fights and tests, and that was the same case against Khan that it had been against Miguel Cotto and Ricky Hatton.
But that doesn't mean it wasn't an entertaining fight. No longer as nimble as he used to be, Malignaggi was forced to trade shots with Khan at various points, and given Paulie's lack of power, it was never going to be a question of the outcome.
Lamont Peterson recently summed up this particular matchup in a nutshell: "To me, Malignaggi will never beat Khan. It's just a bad style matchup for Paul. All the things that Paulie does, Khan does better. At that point, he'll probably never win the fight."
Paulie gave it his all, but was stopped by referee Steve Smoger halfway into the 11th round.
2. Andriy Kotelnik (2009-07-18)
Khan's first fight at 140 pounds was a title fight. It's good to have the right connections sometimes, and Frank Warren made this one happen, just before Amir skipped off to Golden Boy Promotions. Putting the stunning loss to Breidis Prescott and the 135-pound division firmly in his rear view mirror, Khan dominated the very solid Kotelnik over 12 rounds, winning a decision on scores of 120-108, 118-111, and 118-111. Kotelnik had no answers for Khan's speed, reach, and confident game plan provided by Freddie Roach. Khan made it look easy, and it wasn't.
In a recent interview on the MMA Nation radio show with Luke Thomas, Peterson said he felt that Kotelnik was Khan's greatest victory to date: "Kotelnik is a really good fighter that I respect. Khan kind of won the fight pretty easy, and I was surprised at that. That's probably his biggest win. I expected Khan to come out (fast), but I expected him to burn out, and for Kotelnik to take over in the second half. But Khan sustained his speed, and never gave Kotelnik a chance to come on."
1. Marcos Maidana (2010-12-11)
They said Khan wouldn't fight a puncher. Specifically, they said he wouldn't fight Marcos Maidana, considered as dangerous a puncher as there was in the 140-pound division, a reckless guy who knew no fear inside the squared circle and surely wouldn't be deterred by Khan pumping his jab and working around the ring. Somehow, Khan would find himself in a fight.
In the first round, it looked like all of that wasn't going to happen, as Maidana was floored on an absolutely wicked body shot that appeared would keep him down for the count. Wincing through the pain, Maidana somehow picked himself up, and amazingly, fought on.
Maidana made it rough, and was penalized a point in the fifth round for elbowing. Then, in the tenth round, he drilled Khan with a big right hand, shaking the Brit and sending him into retreat mode. As Maidana chased Khan around the ring, he belted him repeatedly -- but Khan stayed up, smiled, and kept moving. Khan tried to hold at one point, but couldn't get Maidana in his grasp. So he covered up, he moved, and he survived the round, and ultimately, the fight, winning by scores of 114-111, 114-111, and 113-112. The fight was named the BWAA Fight of the Year, and was indeed one of the very best of 2010.