By Bryan Armen Graham
May 16, 2010

NEW YORK -- Most boxing fans in the United States have for some time been familiar with the broad sketch outline of Amir Khan, the WBA light welterweight titlist from Freddie Roach's stable with designs on cracking the American market.

But most of the 4,412 customers who filled the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Saturday came to examine the finer strokes and make a more intimate assessment of the 23-year-old from Greater Manchester who's been tabbed as one of boxing's most formidable rising stars.

Famous in Britain but largely unknown in the U.S., Khan made a scintillating stateside debut Saturday with an 11th-round TKO of former titleholder Paulie Malignaggi, the hometown favorite who couldn't match the champion's dazzling hand speed and precision.

But while Khan had all the answers during Saturday's lopsided victory, it came against an opponent who was incapable of asking the most important questions.

The memories of Khan's spectacular 54-second knockout loss to Breidis Prescott in 2008 -- the first and only black mark on the former Olympian's pro ledger and one of the sport's biggest upsets in recent years -- created doubts about his chin that will take years to dissipate.

When it came time to find an opponent for Khan's debut on American soil, he almost signed to fight Marcos Maidana, the hard-hitting Argentine whose punishing June knockout of Victor Ortiz nearly derailed (at least temporarily) the career of another Golden Boy blue chip. It came as little surprise when Roach nixed the high-risk, low-reward pairing in January.

Instead, Malignaggi stepped in. And from the perspective of Khan, all too familiar with the perils of reckless matchmaking, it was an ideal opponent to kick-start his American conquest.

With just five knockouts in 27 victories and none in the past seven years, it's obvious that Malignaggi -- bless his heart -- couldn't crack an egg. The 29-year-old's cocksure personality and Brooklyn pedigree surely helped ensure Saturday's near-sellout crowd. And despite Malignaggi's lack of punching power, the New Yorker is still the biggest name on Khan's resume to date.

Malignaggi was a game foe, but the challenges he posed Saturday were more mental than physical. Khan, a 7-to-1 favorite, never appeared preoccupied with getting the knockout at the expense of the greater fight plan, the one scenario where observers believed the slick challenger could escape with a points victory.

Saturday marked Khan's fifth fight with Roach, the four-time Trainer of the Year who's helped reconstruct the Brit's career from the wreckage of the Prescott debacle. Fringe benefits of scholarship under Roach range from adroit matchmaking to sparring sessions with Manny Pacquiao, the star pupil of Roach's Wild Card Boxing Club.

Blessed with a surplus of heart and guile, Malignaggi was slippery against the champion, just not slippery enough. There's only an inch difference in reach between the two, but you'd never have known it from the way Khan measured and alternated distance with a veteran's aptitude that belied his youth.

Khan, making his second title defense, outboxed "The Magic Man" with a steady diet of straight rights and stiff jabs. Even during the brief stretches when Malignaggi scored with combinations to the head and body, Khan never waited long before offering an emphatic response.

Malignaggi, whose face was beet-red by the fourth, managed to counter-punch with limited success during the middle rounds. But Khan never respected Malignaggi's power, leaving the feather-fisted challenger as vulnerable as the guy with a knife at a gunfight.

The cumulative damage began showing in the eighth, when Malignaggi's left eye nearly closed and he had cuts on his forehead and beneath his right eye. Meanwhile, outstanding conditioning left Khan looking as fresh in the 11th as the opening bell.

"He is a very awkward fighter and we had to break him down slowly," Khan said. "I knew in the last few rounds I was hurting him."

One last vicious combination early in the 11th prompted referee Steve Smoger to intervene at the 1:25 mark.

"He controlled the fight with the jab. That was the key factor in the fight," Roach said. "I gave him the green light to finish him and he did."

Khan said he'd like to return to the U.K. to fight as soon as July. He wants to fight the bigger names in the junior welterweight division in a four-man tournament.

"I'll fight Maidana, have Alexander and Bradley fight, and the winners fight," Khan said. "I'd love to do that and prove who is the best in the division. I am not leaving 140 pounds until I unify the title."

Khan's ambition is admirable and something fans on either side of the pond can get behind. But until he's put in against one of the many heavy hitters at junior welterweight -- like Alexander, Maidana or Ortiz -- the questions about his chin will only grow in frequency.

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