A Bout of High Stakes: Amir Khan vs. Paulie Malignaggi

Joel CoxContributor IMay 14, 2010

It all started with a left hook that buckled the legs of the undefeated million-dollar prospect from Bolton. The kid had never taken that kind of a shot—a shot that would change his life forever.  

The perpetrator of the punch was a Columbian called Khanqueror Breidis Prescott, a 7-to-1 underdog for reasons handicappers to this day still can’t quite figure out. He followed with a vicious right, then another left, and before anyone realized what was happening—the kid was on his back.

Unable to think things through rationally, he popped back up a little quicker than he should have. He was dazed and wobbly, barley able to stand, let alone fight. The ref should have stopped it then, but in a paradoxical act of cruelty and kindness he let it go on because the kid was a prospect. Seconds later, Prescott landed another combination of hooks, and it was all over.

The knockout punch was a replica of that first left, but it was the first that did it. That was the shot that marred the mystique of one of the most promising British lightweights since Ken Buchanan. The Pride of Bolton, then 21-year-old rising star Amir Khan had been knocked out in the 54th second in the first round of his 19th professional bout.

That was almost a year and a half ago. Since then, Khan has earned four victories including an impressive 5th round stoppage over ring legend Marco Antonio Barrera.

This Saturday night—in what promises to be a highly intriguing WBA World Light-Welterweight title bout—Khan is set to fight Paulie “the Magic Man” Malignaggi on Malignaggi’s home turf at New York’s Madison Square Garden Arena. This will be Khan's first American bout, and his opponent, well, couldn't be more American. That is if by American, you mean megalomaniacal, obnoxious, and full of hair gel.  

Malignaggi might be thought of as a white Floyd Mayweather, only not as talented or famous, yet just as infamous. Not exactly the most popular guy in boxing, but that’s not to say he’s not a hell of a fighter.

On the contrary, he has great speed, a proven chin, and an almost nostalgic ring style—defense reminiscent of a young Hearns: side stance minimizing body target.

He comes into the fight with a record of 27 and 3—all losses from big names, and interestingly enough, as much as boxing aficionados have discounted Malignaggi as a world-class fighter, his losses might end up being all that can save his legacy.

He was pummeled round after agonizing round in his bout with Miguel Cotto, but he would not go down. He showed likewise stubbornness in his fights with Ricky Hatton and Juan Diaz. Many believe he should have gotten the decision over Diaz, and in their rematch, he did.

So if nothing else, after this is all over, hopefully years from now Paulie Malignaggi will walk away from the ring knowing that he showed heart, which will always be the benchmark of a true champion.

Although Kahn might have the more impressive record and the brighter looking future—between the two—Malignaggi is the only one who can say he hasn’t been knocked out by an underdog in the first round of what was supposed to be a stepping-stone fight. Khan knows that, and he has something to prove. If there were ever anyone he could prove it on, Malignaggi would be the one.

This fight is special because although the two fighters differ in styles and strengths, both have an equal chance of winning. Both are great fighters, both have taken their licks, and both are hanging on by a very thin thread in the context of their careers, and that’s what this fight is really about.

When Khan and Malignaggi get in the ring, they won’t just be fighting against each other. Khan will be fighting against the left hook that changed his life, and Malignaggi will be fighting against his entire life up to this point.

These guys are by no means the best in boxing; however, fights like these can end careers, not because the fighters are dangerous, rather just the opposite. Whoever loses will not get another shot at redemption. If Malignaggi can’t pull this off, it will forever substantiate his reputation as a B-rate fighter, and if Khan loses, he will have lost to Paulie Malignaggi on top of having been knocked out in the first round of his Prescott fight.

This bout really marks the point of no return for both fighters. The stakes are high, and the only way both can win is if they give us a bloody war, and those are always the best fights to watch.