He's pretty similar, but he's kind of different.
While those who are inclined to wager on the favorite in Saturday's big fight will insist Argentine slugger Marcos Maidana is cut from the same soon-to-be bloodied cloth as Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s previous foes, the folks who are more likely to lay cash on the underdog are quick to point out ways in which he breaks the mold.
And not surprisingly, among the loudest of the contrarians is Maidana.
Though he's well aware of the bull/matador outcomes of recent Mayweather clashes with Victor Ortiz, Miguel Cotto, Robert Guerrero and Saul Alvarez, the rough-hewn 30-year-old has no qualms about implying that he'll take advantage of his "Money" shot simply because he's tougher than the rest.
"I've crossed paths with lions," Maidana said, in footage shot for Showtime's All Access pre-fight documentary series. "I keep going forward and leave it in God's hands. If he wants to win, he'll have to kill me first."
While the chatter may seem boilerplate in nature as one man prepares to spend a Las Vegas evening punching another, when it comes to Maidana, the outward show of ruggedness isn't entirely an act.
He was born into something less than the Argentine privileged class and was a self-professed troublemaker through his childhood, occasionally running afoul of the law before finding an outlet in boxing as a teenager. He won 86 of 90 amateur fights and ultimately became a professional just one month before his 21st birthday.
As a youngster, he also picked up his nickname "El Chino," which was hung on him by friends thanks to what they perceived as Chinese-like features.
He toiled in anonymity while winning his first 18 fights—all but one by stoppage—on home turf. Then he trotted from Germany to Panama to Argentina and back for seven more early wins while working his way into a shot against then-reigning WBA 140-pound champion Andriy Kotelnik.
Maidana lost the fight by an unpopular split decision in the Baltic seaport of Rostock, Germany, but the mettle he displayed was rewarded four months later on HBO, when he bludgeoned unbeaten Golden Boy Promotions prodigy Victor Ortiz into surrender after five-plus rounds in Los Angeles.
The win copped him the WBA's bogus interim belt at 140, but more importantly, it stamped Maidana's ticket as a crowd-pleasing brawler who would have no problem climbing off the floor—three times in the first two rounds against Ortiz, in fact—to prolong a good, TV-friendly fight.
"I knew I was fighting against the local guy and I had to knock him out," Maidana told assembled ringside reporters after the fight. "I went down, but I got up because I have a big heart. I saw that Victor felt my punches and I said, 'I know I can win this.'"
Three wins against nondescript opposition followed the Ortiz breakthrough, before Maidana engaged in another highlight-reel scrap with Englishman Amir Khan—who was then the WBA's full-fledged titleholder at 140—two weeks before Christmas at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Khan controlled the early going and dropped Maidana with a wicked body shot in the opening round, but Maidana followed his typical in-ring trajectory and had the once-beaten favorite reeling in the final three rounds. It wasn't enough this time around, however, and Khan was awarded a close but unanimous decision by scores of 114-111, 114-111 and 113-112.
Sports Illustrated named the fight as 2010's best, and Richard O'Brien summarized it reverentially:
The old expression is 'styles make fights,' and that's true, of course. But what makes truly compelling fights is what's at stake. The Dec. 11 Amir Khan-Marcos Maidana super lightweight title bout at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas offered both a high-stakes match-up and a highly intriguing conflux in styles. The result was a dramatic and highly entertaining 12 rounds that ended up elevating both men.
Maidana fought just twice more at 140, defeating 34-year-old Erik Morales and untested Russian Petr Petrov in the subsequent nine months—the former fight rewarding him with another dubious WBA belt after Khan was elevated to the Panama-based organization's "super" championship.
A rise to welterweight resulted in a one-sided loss to slick southpaw—and fellow former 140-pound claimant—Devon Alexander in his debut, but Maidana reeled off three victories in response and put himself within striking distance, as the No. 2 contender, of Adrien Broner's WBA share of the 147-pound kingdom.
The smart money going into the Dec. 14 fight in San Antonio was that Broner would use his skill set—which he'd long referred to as Mayweather-esque—to batter a technically inferior foe.
But Maidana shifted the paradigm with a knockdown-inducing left hand in the second round and proceeded to batter the previously pristine champion into a unanimous-decision loss. Broner responded by bolting from the ring without an interview.
The new champ expects the scenario to repeat against the man whom Broner calls a “big brother."
In keeping with his tough-guy persona, Maidana has spent much of his on-camera All Access time either revealing his many tattoos, taking shots with pieces of his gun collection or riding horses in the Argentine countryside. When Saturday comes, he insists, he’ll beat Mayweather by being—as Carl Weathers said to Sylvester Stallone in Rocky III—“more man than him.”
"I know he is the favorite, but I don't care," Maidana said.
"This is one of the biggest fights I will ever fight. He won't know what hit him."
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