LAS VEGAS – Floyd Mayweather has spent his whole career tormenting opponents on his way to a 45-0 record and a place in history, but one of his probable future rivals feels just as picked upon – without ever trading blows with the pound-for-pound champ.
Amir Khan thought it would be his face (and not Marcos Maidana's) alongside Mayweather's on those giant posters that seem to cover every square inch of the MGM Grand this week, believing he had a deal to fight the biggest star in the sport.
However, it seems Mayweather was toying with the 27-year-old from England, and with a bob and a weave instead chose to square off against big-punching Argentine Maidana, whom he will face here on Saturday.
While Khan still has a spot at the top of the undercard against Luis Collazo and is very much in the running to be either Mayweather's next opponent or the one after that, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist still feels slighted, having canceled a proposed December 2013 bout with Devon Alexander in anticipation of topping the bill here.
Taking on Mayweather is the biggest challenge – and biggest payday – that boxing currently has to offer. Khan admitted that the fallout from his disappointment hit home.
"It was hard," Khan said. "I didn't know – 'Was I fighting Floyd? Was I not fighting Floyd?' – and he went with Maidana so I had to look at Option Two."
A Mayweather/Khan bout was prematurely announced in the British press in October, just after Mayweather overwhelmed Saul "Canelo" Alvarez in a one-sided demolition.
Khan even won a poll conducted on Mayweather's personal website in which the American champion asked fans whom he should fight next, although other media polls did favor Maidana.
Khan even agreed to and signed a tender sent out by Mayweather to several prospective opponents, detailing the terms should they fight. It may have been that paperwork that led Khan to believe he had a solid agreement, but the document had not been formally signed by Mayweather and thus represented no more than a loose, initial offer.
Such uncertainty surely has the ability to wreak havoc with a fighter's mind-set, yet Khan insists it has merely motivated him to produce a performance on Saturday strong enough to cause a clamor for him to land the big fish of a Mayweather fight down the road.
While Khan (28-3) has been knocked out twice and had his heart and chin questioned, there is also a school of thought that his relative youth, plus his quickness, jab and footwork, could cause Mayweather more difficulty than he is accustomed to.
"I believe that Floyd picked the easier guy with Maidana, for sure," Khan said. "I'm here to steal the show, and I think I will steal it. Styles make fights. By putting a great performance on, giving a good beating to Collazo, then the fans will want to see Amir Khan fight Mayweather.
"Floyd has not fought many people with speed and explosiveness. He is only fighting the same kind of opponents, the heavy-handed guys like Maidana. But whoever you put in front of him he beats, so you have to respect that. But he has not fought anyone like me yet."
While Mayweather will likely do another million or so pay-per-views, the Maidana fight has generated little mainstream interest, and unless there is some sense of drama or unpredictability that is not reflected in either the lopsided odds or most expert predictions, Mayweather may find it increasingly difficult to come up with opponents that capture the imagination.
A contest against Manny Pacquiao would have been a monumental blockbuster five years ago and would still command feverish anticipation, yet boxing political standoffs continue to ice that one.
Khan insists that his brand and style could be just the kind of tough fight that even Mayweather fans want to see their fighter encounter. Khan would also bring a huge English traveling contingent with him, plus perhaps sizable interest in the Islamic community on account of his faith – at least if the promotional masterminds work their magic in typical fashion.
"I'm probably the most exciting fighter in the world, and I give the fans what they want," Khan said. "Maybe that's the reason they wanted me on the show, because they needed an exciting fight. When I go in the ring, I give it all, everything it takes.
"Floyd is a great fighter and great technician. He knows when to throw a shot and when not to throw a shot. He is very smart like that. He doesn't waste too much energy. He just wins the round and that's all he does."
Mayweather hand-picks his opponents but likely has only the following on his radar as he moves toward the end of his career: Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia, (a rematch with) Miguel Cotto – and Khan.
One stumbling block, though, could be that Khan's faith means he will be going through Ramadan midway through this year, meaning his body could be too weakened to fight in September.
If the opportunity passed him by for that reason it would undoubtedly hurt Khan, who has been a high-profile figure in his homeland since the age of 17 but would never experience a bigger night than a bout against Mayweather.
But as Mayweather continues to churn through his six-fight deal with Showtime (the Maidana fight is bout No. 3) with domination – but not drama – it may be the perception of Khan offering a different challenge that he cannot afford to avoid.
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