Khan has rebounded beautifully from his stunning first-round knockout loss to Breidis Prescott in 2008 – winning a major title less than a year later — but the image of the then-unbeaten Briton rendered senseless lingers. And Maidana, remember, is one of the biggest punchers pound for pound in the world. Something has to give.
No one in the Khan camp is worried, though. Knockouts are part of the game, they say, a fate even many of the greatest fighters have met. And they point out that he has come a long way in terms of skills and conditioning under Freddie Roach since the Prescott fight.
They understand why the question hovers over this fight, though.
“You get knocked out once in your life and they say you have no chin,” Roach said. “If (Khan) gets knocked out, they’ll say they were right. If he doesn’t, they won’t. I say it was just something that happened. I’m not worried about that. People get knocked out in boxing. Amir got knocked out so he’s stuck with that for a while.
“When he wins this fight and proves that he’s one of the biggest punchers at 140 pounds that we’ve seen in a long time, it will start to go away.”
Khan speaks openly and patiently about the knock out even though he has been asked about it untold times.
He doesn’t make excuses but, in retrospect, he said two things might’ve contributed to it: Difficulty making 135 pounds, the weight at which the Prescott fight took place, and a false sense of security. He now believes he left too much in the gym and also was more muscle-bound than he is now, which he said gave him a feeling of invincibility.
Roach, a proponent of fighting at a comfortable weight, convinced Khan that he made a mistake fighting at 135 at that time because of what it did to his body and mind.
“I used to think 135 was my division,” said Khan, who will be defending his 140-pound title on Dec. 11. “I wanted to win a world title at that weight. When I came to Freddie, he told me, ‘That’s not a good division for you. You have to kill yourself to make weight.’ I was a big lightweight at that time. … Now I’m not killing myself making weight. And Freddie and I are working on my skills, on strategies, not fighting as much with my heart. I’m a fighter; I’ll always have heart. Freddie taught me to control myself more, though, to think more.
“My skills got me this far, not my heart. You need a heart. Sometimes when you show too much heart, though, you get hurt. I think I showed too much heart when I had that defeat. I tried fighting a big puncher. That’s wrong. Freddie helped me understand that.”
That gives you an idea of how he’ll fight Maidana at Mandalay Bay, with lateral movement, punching at angles, anything but toe-to-toe warfare.
Still, as we know, Khan is likely to taste Maidana’s power at some point. The Argentine isn’t the most-polished boxer in the world but he’s a good technician and, with a fierce will to win, will never stop coming.
Khan would then have the opportunity to show that he isn’t destined to fail because of what is called a glass jaw. Of course, the opposite also is a possibility.
Countless other talented fighters have had their brains rattled once or twice. Roach mentioned Tommy Hearns and Roger Mayweather, two aggressive fighters who weren’t afraid to risk taking a big blow in order to deliver one.
Roach also cited another fighter to whom he is very close.
“Manny Pacquiao was knocked out twice before he became famous and so forth,” he said, referring to KO losses in 1996 and 1999. “I guess he’s erased it. I don’t hear many people saying Manny doesn’t have a good chin. Some guys get past it, some don’t. Hearns and Mayweather won and lost their fights by knockout because they had the balls to go for it. And sometimes you get caught. If you fight conservatively, if you don’t take chances, then you’re opponent won’t have the opportunity to hit you. That has a lot to do with it.
“Hearns and Mayweather went for it and sometimes got knocked out. And if you don’t think you could get knocked out too, you’re wrong.”
Some believed Oscar De La Hoya, who has promotional deals with both Khan and Maidana, had a suspect chin early in his career because he went down a few times against journeymen.
The former 10-time titleholder ultimately proved to have one of the better chins in the sport. The only sudden knockout he ever suffered came on a body shot from Bernard Hopkins in 2004.
De La Hoya credits good conditioning more than any natural ability to absorb punishment.
“You can make a case that (Juan Manuel) Marquez doesn’t have a chin,” he said. “How many times was he dropped by Pacquiao? Four times? He’s just in such good shape that he gets back up and recovers fast. Maybe Amir wasn’t prepared for the Prescott fight because he took him too lightly.
“If you’re well prepared, you’ll recover faster. That’s what it boils down to.”
Khan comes into the Maidana fight with a better game plan – box, don’t brawl – and exceptional conditioning after working with his task-master strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza for the past year or so.
He’s ready to face the fire Maidana will bring. And we’ll see whether he gets burned.
“When I got knocked out myself, I realized I better sort myself out,” Khan said. “I cut down on the muscle, stopped doing weights. I only do strength conditioning with Alex Ariza now. I moved to Freddie Roach’s camp. I moved to 140 pounds, a new weight division.
“… To be hit by a big puncher like Prescott, to get hit cleanly with three, four shots could knockout anyone. I think it was the best thing that could’ve happened to me. I don’t think I’d be sitting here right now if it didn’t.”