By Dan Rafael
LAS VEGAS -- Looking back, maybe it really was a blessing in disguise. At least that's how junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan views his stunning first-round knockout loss to Breidis Prescott a little more than two years ago.
That shocking loss is now well behind him, and Khan has elevated his game significantly since. He believes it is in part because the defeat taught him a lesson.
But on that night in September 2008, in front of his hometown crowd in England, Khan, then a lightweight, was crushed by unheralded Prescott. Khan was done in a violent and devastating 54 seconds after being hammered to the canvas twice.
It was a shock of shocks.
Khan had been a silver medalist in the 2004 Olympics at age 17, had moved quickly up the ranks as a professional and had been named 2007 ESPN.com prospect of the year. A loss at that stage of his career was practically inconceivable, but suddenly that career was in tatters.
Khan, however, picked himself up, dusted himself off and has come back as strong as possible.
He hooked up with renowned trainer Freddie Roach two fights later, has won five fights in a row since the loss -- all in dominant fashion (including three by knockout) -- and won a 140-pound world title.
"I've come along a lot," said Khan, who turned 24 on Wednesday. "I think that defeat was probably what helped me to get so far in my career. Maybe I wouldn't be fighting here if I didn't lose that fight. The defeat gave me a wake-up call because my training was different and the focus wasn't there, whereas now, I'm totally isolated when I go to training camp. I'm 100 percent focused.
"I listen to instructions and listen to my trainer. I train a lot harder. That [loss] was a blessing in disguise. If that didn't happen, like I said, I don't think I'd be in this position now."
The position Khan (23-1, 17 KOs) is in now is that of a world titleholder, one of the most significant fighters in boxing and just days from a serious confrontation with Marcos Maidana (29-1, 27 KOs), the hard-punching interim titleholder from Argentina. They meet in a much-anticipated fight at Mandalay Bay in the final "World Championship Boxing" card of the year Saturday (HBO, 9:30 p.m. ET).
Opening the telecast in another meaningful junior welterweight fight are contenders Lamont Peterson (28-1, 14 KOs) and Victor Ortiz (28-2-1, 22 KOs), who meet in a scheduled 10-rounder with a possible shot at the winner of the main event at stake.
Besides physical maturity, the realization that he was better suited to fight at junior welterweight than lightweight and the change of trainers, Khan's rebound from such a surprising knockout loss can be attributed to his mental outlook.
"Mentally, you look back at your previous fights and the mistakes you made in those fights. You don't want to make those mistakes again," Khan said. "That's what drives me. That's what keeps me focused and keeps me on the edge because we know in boxing things can go wrong and one punch can change a fight. We don't want that to happen again, so we're 100 percent focused and more professional."
Part of that professionalism was going to work with Roach. Not only did Khan seek him out but he showed the maturity to leave England behind and relocate to Southern California so he could train at Roach's Wild Card gym in Hollywood, when preparing for fights.
Khan also has had no issue traveling wherever he had to go to train with Roach, whose schedule can be hectic.
That's because Roach, of course, also trains pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao. So when Pacquiao was preparing to fight Antonio Margarito in November, the two training camps overlapped.
What did Khan do? The young fighter packed his bags for Pacquiao's camp in the Philippines to join Roach.
When Pacquiao returned to Wild Card, Khan was with him. And when the crew left for Dallas for the fight, Khan spent the week there working with Roach before returning to California to finish training for Maidana.
It has been a whirlwind couple of months of travel for Khan. Most fighters simply hunker down in one spot for the duration of training. Instead, Khan found himself flying from England to Los Angeles, then to the Philippines, back to Los Angeles, on to Dallas, back to Los Angeles and then to Las Vegas.
Khan, with his youthful exuberance, said it was no big deal.
"Yes, I've done a lot of traveling, but I think it's been a good thing because I've kind of enjoyed it because you don't get bored in one place," he said. "You see the same faces, normally you get in the same ring every time and same sparring partners. This time it's been different because when I was in Dallas, we had new sparring partners down there. It was a different gym. New faces to see. Then, when I was in Baguio [in the Philippines], that was totally different. Training in high altitude, that was different and also training alongside Manny Pacquiao. It doesn't seem like I've been traveling, and I don't feel tired from it."
Said Roach, "The travel was a little bit hectic at times, and we get a little tired at times and so forth, but Amir is a traveler. He's young. He never complained once. I take my hat off to him. He did a great job.
"Everything's really gone smoothly. We're ready for the fight. We know Maidana's a good right-hand puncher. He has knockout power. We do respect that, but we're ready for what he has."
Roach can be a harsh critic, but with Khan, he has liked what he has seen since their first fight together, a dominant five-round technical decision against faded all-time great Marco Antonio Barrera in March 2009.
"He knows how to set things up now," Roach said. "He just doesn't go in there and look for a one-punch knockout. He knows how to break a person down, and he knows how to work behind his jab. He's just become a completely different fighter. We haven't lost a round since we've been together. I mean, we haven't lost one round."
Roach looks to Khan's fight with Andriy Kotelnik, from whom he won his belt in July 2009. Khan won virtually every round in the blowout decision. Maidana's only loss was a tight split decision to Kotelnik in a title fight.
"The Kotelnik fight, I feel that was a great fight for us because we beat this guy for every round," Roach said. "So I think there are some very good comparisons in the way Maidana fought him to when we fought him. We dominated him every round. I feel that we'll do that in this fight, too. I don't see us losing a round here, either."
One of the reasons for Khan's supreme confidence is because he trained alongside Pacquiao. This is the second camp they've worked together. They've gotten to know each other and sparred.
While Pacquiao was training for Margarito and Khan was getting ready for Maidana, they sparred about 20 rounds against each other. There's nothing like learning from the best.
"It was just good to spar with him, to share the same ring as him," Khan said. "For confidence, I think it's brilliant because we all know that Manny's the best fighter in the world pound for pound. I think if you can do really well against him, then I'm sure you'll do well against anybody. If you can catch Manny, then I'm sure that someone like Maidana is going to be a lot easier to catch. Manny's got great footwork and great speed. We had some great rounds."
Roach said Khan handled himself well against Pacquiao. There were some rounds in which Roach said Khan even got the better of the pound-for-pound king.
"It's explosive," he said of watching them spar. "It's like a cockfight. One day, they both step it up. The thing is, I believe in good work. It's just when you're sharp, you're sharp. He helped Manny get sharp for his fight and brought his speed back up to the level I wanted it at, and Manny helped Amir with just being a sharp, all-around fighter. It was great work for him. Getting in there against the best and doing very well with him is always a great confidence builder, also."
Khan has grown to look up to Pacquiao after spending so much time with him the past two years. He hopes his own career plays out like Pacquiao's.
"We all fight for the purses and I want to walk out of this game financially comfortable, but when people ask me a question -- 'Do you want to walk out of this game filthy rich or walk out of this game having a legacy?' -- I want the legacy and to be known as a champion like Manny Pacquiao. Manny's a great role model to look up to, and to train with him makes me more hungry. Manny is on top of the world. He makes the biggest purses in the world, but still he's very humble and he still loves boxing, and keeps on fighting and fighting. And I want to follow his footsteps."
Beating Maidana, 27, who owns a TKO win against Ortiz in his coming-out fight 18 months ago, would be good start.
There was a time when some accused Khan of trying to avoid Maidana, perhaps because he is a big puncher and Khan did not fare well against heavy-handed Prescott.
Khan said he never tried to avoid Maidana. Rather, he was being a good businessman. Instead of facing Maidana in May, as so many hoped, he instead made his American debut against former titleholder Paulie Malignaggi.
Khan looked sensational stopping Malignaggi in the 11th round. The performance made the inevitable showdown with Maidana a bigger fight.
In other words, just as Khan had planned.
"Sometimes, you have to look at the options," Khan said. "When the Malignaggi option came, I knew six months down the line, or maybe nine months down the line, the fight with Maidana would be a bigger fight, so why fight him early and beat him and you miss that bigger purse in the future?"
Khan's Nevada contract calls for $975,000, but he will make considerably more once the British pay-per-view is taken into account. Maidana will make a career-high $550,000.
"This is a fight we both wanted. A lot of people think I was avoiding him. But financially, the fight was not making sense," Khan said. "It was nowhere near what we're getting paid now. I said to Golden Boy, 'I think the fight's worth more.' I got a bigger purse fighting Malignaggi, so I took that. Boxing is a business at the end of the day, and I knew down the line the fight against Maidana was going to get bigger. And look: Six months down the line, it's a bigger fight."
And with a victory, Khan can push his star even higher and put that night against Prescott further into the rearview mirror.
"Since I was a young kid, I wanted to be the best in the world, and I've been following that path. These are the fights that are going to make me an even better fighter," he said. "I'm in a division where you have the likes of Victor Ortiz, [Devon] Alexander, [Timothy] Bradley, myself, Maidana, and it's a division everyone is focusing on. And I think, in the next 12 months, I will be on top of the division."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.