He is articulate and charming, impeccably dressed with a 1,000-watt smile. He blends power and skill as well as anyone in the 140-pound division and has the best trainer in the business doling out advice in his corner. Indeed, Amir Khan has all the tools to join the rarified air of great British fighters like Lennox Lewis, Joe Calzaghe and Ricky Hatton.
All except one.
Everywhere Khan goes he talks about his chin. To the British press. To the American press. Columnists, analysts, bloggers; Khan's chin has inspired enough words to fill a set of encyclopedias. It has been up for such debate since Khan's 2008 loss to Breidis Prescott, a fight that saw Khan wobbled once, dropped twice and beaten 54 seconds into the opening round.
Khan has rebounded nicely since the loss to Prescott. He has won five straight fights, including three by knockout. He has teamed up with Freddie Roach, who has done, well, what Freddie Roach does: reigned Khan in, taught him to work behind the jab and pick his spots to utilize his power. He fought in the U.S. for the first time earlier this year and dazzled in a demolition of Paulie Malignaggi before a New York crowd and HBO cameras.
"He is a whole different fighter," Roach said. "He's 100 percent better. I've never had a fighter to listen so well, take direction as well and stick to the game plan as well as Amir Khan. He's really become a very good professional fighter. He knows how to fight. He likes to [mix it up] a little bit too much sometimes, I think, but I won't take that away from him because he knows when to do it and when not to."
As much progress as Khan has made with Roach, questions about him linger. His recent conquests -- Marco Antonio Barrera, Andriy Kotelnik and Paulie Malignaggi -- are well credentialed (each has held a world title) but none possess much in the way of punching power. After each victory the questions invariably shift back to one subject: When is Khan going to fight someone who can punch?
On Saturday, he will. That's when Khan will defend his WBA junior welterweight title against Marcos Maidana (9:30 p.m. ET, HBO). Maidana (29-1, 27 KOs) is a heavy hitter. All but two of his 29 victories have ended in a knockout, a staggering 90-percent KO rate. In June 2009, Maidana earned an interim title with a win over Victor Ortiz. In that fight Maidana dropped Ortiz in the first round and again in the sixth to earn the victory.
"We know he's probably the biggest puncher from all the guys [he has faced]," Khan (23-1, 17 KOs) said. "We have to be careful because of his punches. They could hurt you in the first round or the last round. We have to stay on the edge and you have to stay sharp and focused all the way through the fight."
A lot of Khan's confidence comes from his work with Manny Pacquiao. Khan was one of Pacquiao's sparring partners during Pacquiao's training for Antonio Margarito, traveling with Pacquiao and Roach from the Philippines to Los Angeles to Texas. Khan estimates he sparred "between 15-20 rounds" with Pacquiao, which was a crucial element to Khan's training, too, given that Pacquiao's whirling dervish style is similar to Maidana.
"Some days he got a bit of the best of Manny, some days Manny got the best of him," Roach said. "It was explosive. It was like a cockfight, one day they both step it up."
Said Khan, "If you can do really well against [Pacquiao], then I'm sure you'll do well against anybody. If you can catch Manny, then I'm sure that someone like Maidana is going to be a lot easier to catch."
Khan's team has big plans for him in 2011. They envision the 24-year old unifying the 140-pound titles by fighting the winner of next month's Devon Alexander-Timothy Bradley bout, a plan that has the full support and bankroll of HBO. They think of the possibilities that could exist for him at welterweight should he choose to pack some muscle onto his 5-foot-10 inch frame.
But those plans are sketched in pencil, easily erased. Khan's career could take a significant step forward with a win over Maidana. But a loss, especially one that ends with him on the canvas, could be an equally damaging step back.