Khan the king in Vegas classic
Bolton boy keeps his title in a titanic Vegas tussle
By Tim Hobbs Last updated: 12th December 2010
Khan: sensational victory
Amir Khan turned in the performance of his career in the fight of the year to show America he is here. And here to stay.
The boy from Bolton retained his world title after a furious 12 rounds in which he had Marcos Maidana down, was out on his feet himself before somehow digging deep to take a pulsating points win.
In the end the margin - 114-111, 114-111, 113-112 - was almost irrelevant. Few in the Mandalay Bay had got their breath back by the time Khan was confirmed the winner.
If ever there was a way to announce yourself to the watching American public, then Khan found it. It was not perfection by any means and there were alarming flashes of the Breidis Prescott performance as he dabbled with danger time and time again. But he came through it.
He took some horrendous shots from a massive puncher in Maidana. He was out on his feet in the 10th and hanging on. But he showed he has a chin, he showed he has speed that maybe only Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao can match and he proved that he should now be considered one of the sport's leading lights.
From the very first bell, when Khan went to touch gloves only for Maidana to aim a cheeky left hook at his ribs, the night was sensationally surreal. The champion stilll opened up with a flurry of lightning combinations, three, four, even five punches at a time finding the target.
And anyone who thought the boy from Bolton was all flash and no force was made to think again as Maidana went down in the opening session. A crunching right to the ribs forced an opening on the opposite side which Khan found with a searing left, 18 seconds from the bell.
Maidana made the count but was on the back foot again in the second as Khan buzzed about him, his hands a blur, his well-rehearsed combinations successful and after six minutes, you were left wondering whether the Argentinean's renowned power would even come into the equation.
But a right over the top at the end of the round was not just a warning sign, it was a very real sample of what was to come. And come again. And again. And again. Busy banging home his combinations, Khan was caught off guard on the ropes and Maidana walloped the same shot in, stunning the champion.
Momentarily dazed, he was caught again before his footwork got him free, back to the centre of the ring and soon enough, back forcing the issue. Yet whenever he decided - for some reason - to stand and trade, trouble was never far away. Freddie Roach had said he wouldn't stand in the pocket, yet he did - and Maidana cashed in.
The fourth round was faster still and only when referee Joe Cortez did his usual by jumping in too early, was there a break in the action. It might not have been welcome then, but the man who had hardly helped Ricky Hatton against Mayweather, was to come to Khan's rescure on more than one occasion later on.
He was onto Maidana in the fifth, just after he had pinned Khan in a neutral corner and then took a point away for throwing an elbow - although it only connected with the referee himself. If that surprised Maidana, in the next round he was cut over the right eye and given a torrid time by the rapid-fire punches that rained in from all angles.
Yet all the while, as we suspected, his big right was lurking. When it landed at the end of the sixth during another of Khan's static moments, it stayed with him until the seventh, his slowest session of the round and the one in which the challenger unleashed another weapon.
Twice the right uppercut smashed through and had Khan in trouble. As he tried to hold on and tie his man up, he left the same right free and Maidana hammered home three of them to the side of the head. It was the first time on the night Khan's legs left him and when he needed to back-pedal he found himself rooted to the spot, relying on instinct to survive.
His senses may have deserted him once or twice, but the speed was always there and one of the most admirable features of a performance that had everything was that Khan usually responded. Sometimes recklessly, sometimes raggedly, but usually rapidly. He did that in the eighth when the pace finally dropped and at that point, you expected him to close the show.
He then produced an uppercut of his own and a dazzling left-right-left flourish, ending with a sharp, short hook to the head that brought gasps from the crowd, not least David Haye at ringside. Even if Maidana grimly shook them off, the accumulative effect was taking its toll.
Indeed, by the ninth the challenger was sagging. His marches forward had become stumbles, the right hand still came over the top, but so much slower and when he slumped onto his stool and then took an eternity to leave it for the 10th, the boy from Bolton was well on his way.
Then though, the mood changed and the momentum shifted. The right landed, Khan cowered and as Maidana moved in, only another Cortez intervention saved him from serious punishment.
Even then, he took shot after shot and had to cling on desperately and, as is his wont, swing back dangerously. After an explosive round in which he admitted he was hurt, he wobbled and weaved back to his stool like a young man who had won big in the casinos and cashed in on liquor, not a boxer in Vegas to make America sit up and take notice.
He was still struggling in the 11th but then, like Maidana had done before him, he found a shot that brought another twist. It was his uppercut and his straight right that had landed to redress the balance, but as the pair were caught in a rare clinch, a look to Roach in the corner and then the clock overhead suggested that maybe Khan wanted to get out of there. And quick.
Maidana knew he needed a knockout in the last and came out looking for it. Khan knew he needed to steer clear of danger and did his best to. But be it brave or barmy, he is drawn towards the spectacular and was soon taking away Maidana's sting with three stiff jabs and snappy combination. Why free-wheel when there is a rollercoaster ride to be had?
Khan kept that up for the final three minutes and when the final bell sounded threw his arms into the air in triumph. He had proved he could get hit and come through, he had proved he could perform on the biggest stage and just as importantly, he had been part of a fight that will live long in the memory.
The fact that he ended the last round on top should tell America all it needs to know about Britain's longest-reigning world champion and what we have known all along; Amir Khan is fast, he is fit, he flirts with danger and he has furious fists.
But for the first time under the Las Vegas lights, he showed us all he can take a shot. Surely the boy from Bolton is now the complete package?