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Classic Fight: Amir Khan survives a war with Marcos Maidana in 2010

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In what may have been Amir Khan’s real shining night, he battled the always-determined Marcos Maidana and won a war over 12 rounds.

When Amir Khan turned pro in 2005, he did so with a ton of hype, having won a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, losing in the finals to the outstanding Cuban Mario Kindelan, who had also won gold at Sydney 2000, plus various other major tournaments over the years.

Losing to Kindelan was no shame whatsoever. Over his incredible amateur career, he went 358-22, and didn’t lose from 1999 until retiring in 2004. He beat Khan multiple times, and also held wins over Felix Trinidad, Miguel Cotto, Felix Diaz, and Andriy Kotelnik, among others.

But while pro hopes were high for Khan, serious concerns would follow. His chin was questioned pretty early, and really questioned after feather-fisted Willie Limond put him down in a 2007 fight. Khan’s speed and power proved too much for Limond, as he stopped the Scottish veteran after eight rounds to win the Commonwealth lightweight title, but the door had been opened.

In 2008, lightly-regarded Colombian Breidis Prescott kicked the door down, demolishing Khan in 54 seconds in Manchester. A very deliberate rehabilitation process commenced from there, with Khan returning three months later against Oisin Fagan, followed by a sad Mar. 2009 fight with a faded and undersized Marco Antonio Barrera, which Khan won via technical decision in the fifth round. (Barrera was bleeding profusely, less the result of Khan than that of a complete ham-and-egger fighter named Freudis Rojas, who had headbutted Barrera and opened a terrible cut in what was meant to be a tune-up bout less than two months prior in Mexico.)

Khan jumped to 140 after that, winning his first world title, the WBA’s belt, by beating the aforementioned Kotelnik in 2009. In some ways, that may have been Khan’s best pro performance, as he stuck completely to his strengths and dominated the fight with his speed and skill. He took no unnecessary risks. It wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but he fought to his strengths, something he’s been criticized over his career for all but refusing to do too often.

After successful defenses against Dmitriy Salita and Paulie Malignaggi, Khan was matched with Argentine brawler-puncher Marcos Maidana in Dec. 2010.

On paper, Maidana (who came in 29-1, 27 KO) could easily be seen as all wrong for Khan (who came in 23-1, 17 KO). Yes, Khan would have clear advantages in speed and skill, and usually that’s enough to win fights against crude sluggers like “Chino.”

But Maidana was kind of a special crude slugger. After a controversial split decision loss to Kotelnik in Feb. 2009 in Germany, Maidana came to the United States and beat the fight right out of the much-hyped Victor Ortiz in an HBO main event. Ortiz had put Maidana down twice early in the fight, but Maidana roared back and tested the young man’s mettle. The young man failed the test, quitting in the sixth round.

Three straight wins set Maidana up to face Khan at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay in another HBO main event on Dec. 11, 2010. We wound up getting one of the best fights of that year, a dramatic battle that saw Maidana go down early again, this time on a vicious body shot that really looked like it was going to end the fight in the first round.

Somehow, Maidana got up, and ferociously battled back. This time, Amir Khan survived every onslaught. At times he fought to his strengths, other times he was drawn into the war. It was the greatest fight of Khan’s pro career, and though it wasn’t his smartest performance and certainly not his most flawless victory, it may well go down as his greatest victory. For one night, Amir Khan showed everyone he could stand up to the pressure and the power.