By Vivek Wallace: Saturday night, the world of boxing will shine the spotlight on two of its most coveted prizes in the sport as jr. welterweight Amir Khan (23-1, 17KO's) takes on Argentinean KO artist, Marcos Maidana (29-1, 27KO's). The jr. welterweight division remains the deepest in the sport, and by the end of the night, the expectation is that fight fans may have a very firm understanding for who exactly leads the pack amongst this group of young stallions. In Amir Khan, you have a man whom most consider to be the most naturally gifted, presenting an infusion of speed, power, smarts, length, and pop.
A stunning one round KO back in 2008 shook those around the sport who adamantly support his perceived greatness, raising questions about his ability to compete at the highest level. The intrigue Saturday night will no doubt encompass the million dollar question which beckons whether or not his evolution under famed boxing trainer, Freddie Roach, has allowed him to develop enough to avoid this very same fate in a showdown where the stakes are much higher? In an effort to look at the chances of both men, we take a look at a few "Keys to Victory", "Four to Explore", and in the end, an "Official Prediction":
AMIR KHAN: (KEYS TO VICTORY)
For Amir Khan, the fight plan can be best simplified with two words. Speed, and footwork. A month ago, stablemate Manny Pacquiao displayed the effectiveness of understanding the principles behind entry angles and exit angles. Khan will need to adopt a similar philosophy if he is to stay out of harms way. The greatest issue will result from the fact that unlike Pacquiao, the man Khan will have in front of him will present much better speed and skill to go along with his very durable chin. Based on this reality, Khan's most prized possession could be his fluid jab. He will need to effectively shoot the jab, yet also watch the trend of Maidana, and potentially go to a counter-punching mode if the rugged Argentinean finds a way to nullify it.
Critics of Khan have often raised the fact that his hand speed is quite a contrast from his foot speed, which could be a dangerous element to contend with. Khan's footwork looked much better in his last outing against the slick and unorthodox Paulie Malignaggi, but Malignaggi didn't have the pop to hurt him. Maidana does! Khan will need to mix up his assault, blending a smooth and firm jab with periodical aggression to keep his opponent thinking. If Khan can execute this type of game-plan and keep Maidana from squaring up and landing powershots, the "easy victory" most critics don't see him earning could be there for the taking.
MARCOS MAIDANA: (KEYS TO VICTORY)
For Marcos Maidana, the first few rounds will be most critical. Khan's mental fortitude has greatly improved since his knockout lost two years ago, but anyone who doubts that he shares the same questions about his chin that most of us do could not be more false. Anytime a fighter, particularly a young fighter, has his world rocked on the grand stage, the question will resurface when faced with this type of power. Khan has avoided that same fate by improving his overall boxing skills and he has to be commended for taking such a "grab-the-bull-by-the-horns" approach. That being said, Maidana will have to remind him very quickly how uncomfortable it can be when you have a fighter with this type of speed, power, and aggression in a deadly pursuit for a 12 round fight.
Maidana will need to not only bring pressure from the first bell, but he will also need to mix his assault by not only head-hunting but going for what I think will be the ultimate key of the night.....which is the body of Amir Khan. Everyone talks about the questions surrounding his chin, but we have yet to see the linky champion take powershots to the body from a true banger! Maidana's best luck will be to target the rib section, weakening the legs and reminding Khan that there's more than one way to skin a cat! If Maidana can bring the pressure intelligently and continue to press forward, the validity questions of Khan's chin will finally be answered, because it will be squarely tested. Most of all, Maidana will have to stay patient and remember that it's a marathon, not a sprint, and KO isn't the only way to seize the victory.
FOUR TO EXPLORE (GAME CHANGERS TO WATCH OUT FOR)
In-and-Out: Amir Khan could have an easy night if he's able to use the speed of his jab and keep Maidana at bey. What makes Maidana so dangerous is that he has a very good ability - (enabled by a durable chin) - to walk through shots and get inside to land powershots his opponent typically can't handle. This makes things for Khan rather simple in theory. If Maidana gets IN, the odds increase of him (Khan) being knoked OUT! If he can keep Maidana OUT, he remains IN (contention for bigger and better things) going forward.
Khan-Fident or Con-Fident: Coming into this fight, everyone has wondered what Khan will do when he finally gets cracked on the chin again. Bredis Prescott made it look easy and his power is quite different from that of Marcos Maidana. The key strategy for Khan from that point moving forward has been to prevent a fighter from being able to get in close enough to land that hard. Well.....tonight, that plan may not be enough. What we know is that Maidana will in fact land something nasty at some point. What we don't know is how Khan will handle it. Confidence appears to be on his side, but many young fighters have conned the fight public with this perception in the past. Tonight, we shall finally learn if Amir Khan (take it), or if Amir simply "conned" us into thinking he can!
Improved Skills vs Untested Will: Anyone who has questioned how good this fight will be can reflect on many battles of the past where one mans dynamic skillset has opposed the others undying passion to earn the "W" in the end. Tonight will be no different, but what will be is the fact that neither man is as polished in their perceived area of expertise as may suggest. While skillful, Khan is far from a finished product. And while the will of Maidana seems very strong, most would be hard-pressed to name a fighter who really tested it outside of the one man (Kotelnik) who found a way to defeat him despite it. In the end, one of these rising stars will have to step beyond the shadow of what they've shown us in the past. Which man is truly ready to take this step? By the end of the night we shall find out.
Round-for-Round: Most fight fans today attempt to equate the rising stars of the jr. welterweight division with eventual Pound-for-Pound greatness; but a deeper analysis helps explain why none of them have yet to reach that mantle. The formula is simple. To become pound-for-pound, you have to have rounds, and this fight is a great indicator on how deprived many in this division are in that department. Marcos Maidana (30 fights, 102 rounds), Amir Khan (24 fights, 106 rounds), Victor Ortiz (30 fights, 123 rounds), Devon Alexander (21 fights, 118 rounds), and Timothy Bradley (27 fights, 176).
The telling stat here is that despite the fact that we all seem to love power, the man with the least in this equation (Bradley) seems to be the one who has gained the most experience, and his resume (which includes a huge win across the pond) solidifies his status amongst them. In this particular fight, things are about even from this standpoint. With all things remaining presumably equal, which man will find the intangible needed to separate himself from the other? Stay tuned.
OFFICIAL PREDICTION (UPSET BAROMETER: SCALE 1 - 5)
In the end, I think the evolution of both men has been quite appealing, but a few major things stand out. Maidana has had great troubles against the two men who presented decent to very good boxing skills (Ortiz and Kotelnik). With Ortiz, his heart simply didn't allow him to execute long enough to achieve a victory with those skills, but Kotelnik had the grit and determination to stand in the pocket and get the job done. While I don't know that Khan has achieved this same level of determination yet, what I do know is that the X-factor can be found in the fact that the man who will steer his effort in the corner (Freddie Roach) puts together the type of gameplan that typically never fails unless the opponent in the ring is intelligent enough to out-think his fighter while in the ring.
Strategy, when executed properly, can be very hard to beat, and in his last big fight (Pacquiao/Margarito), Roach proved that he can forumlate a strategy for this type of fighter. Officially, I like Khan to keep it at a distance, (despite his statement of "making it a fight"), and win on points. That being said, I also expect the hard-charging Marcos Maidana to storm early, and if his will isn't broken (which it normally isn't), I think the upset barometer will play a major role.
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: KHAN via UNANIMOUS DECISION (Upset Barometer will peak at 5 of 5, as Maidana can land flush and stop it at any time).
UNDERCARD PREDICTION: ORTIZ via MAJORITY DECISION (Upset Barometer will peak at 2 of 5, as Peterson could outbox him, but the power of Ortiz will change his execution).
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