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Khan makes a smashing U.S. debut

15
May

Amir Khan's 11th-round knockout of Paulie Malignaggi on Saturday was another step toward stardom. Photo / Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos-Golden Boy Promotions

NEW YORK – Emotions were already stoked before Amir Khan made his United States debut against Paul Malignaggi on Saturday night at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Khan partisans raised the Union Jack, only to be hollered down by chants of “Paulie, Paulie, Paulie.”

Then the two fighters claimed those sparks and took them in the ring with them before 4,412 excited fans. In the end, though, emotion only goes so far. The quicker, heavier-handed Khan proved too much for Malignaggi, making himself a bigger player in the junior welterweight division by stopping the New Yorker in the 11th round to retain his 140-pound title.

With Ricky Hatton all but retired and David Haye somewhat reluctant to face the Klitschkos, Khan could very well become the face of British boxing and stay there for some time.

Malignaggi (27-4, 5 knockouts) put on a valiant effort, very reminiscent of his courageous loss to Miguel Cotto at the Garden in June 2006. Khan was faster and better but also much larger and more powerful. Malignaggi, to his credit and detriment, decided to play along and engage the bigger man straight on. It proved to be a big mistake. Each round, Malignaggi’s face showed the consequences, turning redder and more swollen as the fight progressed.

In the sixth round, the action inside the ring was usurped by the commotion outside the ring, as fights broke out between Khan’s British supporters and the army of Italian-American fans there to support their man. Those fights were more competitive than the main event.

“We took the instructions all of the way and we wanted to break Paulie down slowly,” Khan said. “I used my speed, and the jab, I have a great jab and everything was coming off the jab.”

Khan now makes the junior welterweight division the second-best division in boxing and arguably the deepest behind the stars at 147.

The one question that begs to be asked is how would Khan (23-1, 16 KOs) fair against someone who can punch? Malignaggi last stopped someone in 2003. Khan’s lunging might be exploited by someone who can crack, someone like Marcos Maidana or Devon Alexander.

And don’t forget that Manny Pacquiao is still THE RING magazine’s junior welterweight world champion until he decides to relinquish that belt. Include “Pac-Man” and junior welterweight is the best division in boxing, featuring the quartet of Pacquiao, Timothy Bradley, Alexander and Khan.

Khan suggested after the fight the possibility of an informal four-man tournament that didn’t include Pacquiao: Khan vs. Maidana and Bradley vs. Alexander, with the winner to face off in the final.

“If Maidana wants to fight me, that’s all right with me,” Khan said. “Everyone is talking about me fighting these big names. I won’t leave 140 until I unify the titles.”

By the 10th round, a groundswell of ringsiders started clamoring for the fight to be stopped. Malignaggi’s courage was beginning to reach a danger zone. He talked the ringside doctor into going one more round, but again Khan landed the bigger shots and referee Steve Smoger did the right thing by stepping in and halting it at the 1:25 mark of the 11th.

“I had a great game plan and I was busy, but he was bigger,” Malignaggi said. “He was very busy and disciplined.”

Joseph Santoliquito is the managing editor of Ring Magazine

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