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Boxing is a strange sport. There are a lot of folks who call themselves boxing fans, but who are among the first to boo a classic exhibition of pure boxing.
Power is revered in this sport. Fighters who use angles, head movement, who slip, slide and dance away from danger, are derided as runners.
Those who bore forward intent on concussing their opponent without regard for their own well-being are lionized. The ability to make a man miss without the ability to make him pay for it is often reviled.
And so, when Paul Malignaggi and Amir Khan climb into the ring Saturday in the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York before a national television audience on HBO to battle for the World Boxing Association super lightweight championship, power will be very much center stage.
Malignaggi can take it but he can't really give it. He's 27-3 and a former International Boxing Federation super lightweight champion who has only been stopped once in his 30 fights. Yet, Malignaggi is often begging for respect because he only has five knockouts and hasn't won by stoppage in nearly seven years.
Khan can give it but he still has to prove he can take it. He has been among the game's most heavily hyped prospects since he won a silver medal as a 17-year-old in the 2004 Olympics. He's got the backing of HBO and Golden Boy, one of the sport's most powerful promoters, and is so well connected that just 10 months after being knocked out by a journeyman in less than a minute, he fought for a world title.
Khan is the overwhelming favorite on Saturday, largely because of the punching power that led him to 16 knockouts in 23 fights, but Malignaggi is not an easy guy to knock out. Malignaggi has never taken a 10-count and the only time he was stopped came in 2008 when his corner threw in the towel in the 11th round of a bout against Ricky Hatton that he could not win on the scorecards.
Malignaggi has literally done a standup routine trying to sell the fight, but his best line was his promise to knock Khan out. Given that Malignaggi hasn't scored a knockout since 2003, it's a pretty safe bet that Khan will end the fight on his feet. But whether he ends the fight with his title belt is another matter entirely.
Trying to hit Malignaggi is often more difficult than eating soup with a fork. He's among the quickest fighters in the super lightweight division and the most defensively aware.
He's coming off a pair of impressive performances against Juan Diaz and earned a shot at Khan's belt.
He's taken to calling Khan "Amir Con" and has promised a knockout. But what he wants most is respect, because he believes he's being overlooked.
Though the fight is in his backyard, it's title is "Khan is coming to America." The promotion is about Khan, but Malignaggi said the fight will be about him.
"This is redemption; this is what I was waiting for, because nobody – nobody – thought I was going to be back in a world title fight," Malignaggi said. " … All you guys [in the media] know you wrote my obituary. Even if you smiled to my face, none of you thought I was going to be back in a world title fight. That's not a bad thing. It's an opinion. But be honest: None of you thought I was going to be back here.
"This is a big, big redemption for me. The opportunity just to be here, and the chance to beat a champion that everybody – everybody – is saying is so great and the future and all this, is what I've wanted. Don't forget after the fight on Saturday night, after I've beaten him, what you were saying. I don't want to hear 'Amir Khan was overrated.' I don't want to hear 'Amir Khan had to go to Vancouver.' I don't want to hear anything."
Khan is trained by Freddie Roach, who predicted Khan would stop Malignaggi inside of three rounds. But Khan's training camp was temporarily diverted from Roach's gym in Hollywood, Calif., to Vancouver when he was deported because he didn't have the proper work visa.
For a while, it looked like the fight would not happen and Malignaggi was steaming.
"It's a [expletive] joke that you got guys already in the country blowing [expletive] up or looking to blow the [expletive] up [and Khan can't get a work visa]," Malignaggi said.
Khan, a native of Bolton, England, who is of Pakistani descent, got his visa problems worked out last week and said it won't impact him.
He plans to make his impact with his hands, but he knows he can't allow himself to be frustrated.
"You have to stay calm and focus on the game plan," Khan said. "A lot of guys get frustrated when they fight Paulie. He's very fast and he has fast feet and fast hands. But I do, too, and I think I'll be able to catch him. I won't get frustrated and I'll work within the plan, but I believe I can catch him and get him with some of my good shots."
The fight will turn on whether Khan can, in fact, catch Malignaggi with some good shots and, if he does, how well Malignaggi takes them.
Malignaggi took a brutal beating from Miguel Cotto in a 2006 title fight, but he was still trying in the final minute of the final round. He's a resilient guy.
Malignaggi's not going to hurt Khan. Not physically, anyway.
But if Malignaggi can use his speed and quickness and defensive awareness, he can hurt Khan's pride, frustrate him to no end and maybe, just maybe, lift the title from him.
"Don't rewrite history after I do this," Malignaggi said. "Give me the credit for the win that I deserve."