Amir Khan´s trainer Freddie Roach has warned the WBA champion against complacency when he makes the second defence of his title against Brooklyn´s Paulie ”Magic Man” Malignaggi at New York´s fabled Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
The bout will be screened live on ITV at 2:40 am UK time, Sunday morning.

Last December, in the first defence of his title, Khan demolished the WBA´s no.1 contender Dmitriy Salita in just 76 seconds of the first round, but according to Roach, he can expect a much tougher test this time around against former IBF junior welterweight champion Malignaggi.

At a pre-fight press conference in New York earlier this week Roach said;

“Salita was more one dimensional but Paulie brings a different style to the table, he’s unpredictable and awkward so we have a couple of plans to try and nullify that, but overall I think we’re just bigger, faster and stronger than he is and we can do everything that he does better.” said Roach.

”The thing is, we have to control the ring. We’re really working on how to make that ring smaller. How to make his presence always in front of him. Not always in striking distance but always pressuring right in front of him without really exerting yourself. That’s with footwork, cutting the ring off, not following him and setting traps for him, putting him against the ropes and in corners and trying to nullify his movement because he does have good movement and he can run.”

Despite Malignaggi´s relative lack of punching power, Roach feels he can still be dangerous;

“You can’t be foolish and just walk into one (of his punches). If you get caught, anyone can go,” he said.

“I thought about being aggressive and just walking right through him, but it’s probably not the best way to go about it. Let’s go about it more scientifically and smarter, let’s move and work. Amir knows how to beat this guy and Paulie is what he is. He’s a little bit elusive, that’s the problem. He can be a little hard to find at times but the way we’ve designed to cut the ring off for him, make the ring smaller, control it and have ring generalship, which is kind of a lost art but Amir knows how to do it very well.”

On the selection of Malignaggi as an opponent Roach said;

“I pick his opponents, Paulie Malignaggi is a good opponent, and we’ll take any of those guys on after we knock this guy out. Why would we duck people? We’re the champions of the world. As champion, everyone’s after you. That’s what we’re here for. It’s his (Khan´s) first fight in America, and we’re going to make a statement. The division is really hot right now, and we want to make a mark on the division. We want to fight the best, and … whoever steps up.”

23 year old Amir Khan (22-1, 16 ko´s) was genuinely excited to be making his US debut at the venue many still regard as the home of boxing.

“I really wanted the fight at the Madison Square Garden. I think it’s the Mecca of boxing,” Khan said. “I’ve been to a fight there. There have been some huge fights over in the Madison Square Garden. You’ve had Muhammad Ali fights. You’ve had Mike Tyson and big, big names. And hopefully they can put my name down there as well. Also, you had Naseem Hamed, who made his American debut there, and I’m sure my debut can be as good or maybe better.”

“I’m fighting a guy who is very experienced, who is well-known in New York, and I’m going to be fighting him in his own backyard and hopefully be the guy to beat him there as well,” Khan said.

29 year old Malignaggi (27-3, 5 ko´s) has felt throughout the fight´s promotion that he has been cast in a supporting role, and was bristling with annoyance at the press conference.

“He (Khan) may have a great career ahead of him, but on Saturday, he will get his second loss,” Malignaggi said. “The Hamed v Kelley fight (Naseem Hamed´s US debut) was the first live fight I ever saw, when I had only been training for six months and wasn’t even a pro yet. That was the fight that inspired me to pursue my career as a fighter. All of these Brits come to the U.S. to make their debuts against New Yorkers, and yes, they all have the common denominator that they have all beat us, but they were never tested like I will test Amir in his debut. I have a lot of respect for Amir, but he’s going to get beat because when I get in the ring, I throw down. Madison Square Garden is Paulie Malignaggi. This is New York and it’s my town. I will have all the answers.”

And Malignaggi, who scored a knockdown over iron-jawed Juan Diaz in his last fight, spoke as if he fancied his chances of winning inside the distance.

“If I get hit on chin, I’m not going to wobble,” Malignaggi said. “If Amir Khan starts wobbling, I hope they have a pillow for him in the corner, because he’s going to sleep. I’m going to enjoy sinking my punches into Khan. Some fights are just business, but not this one. I’m going to enjoy every punch I land.”

Malignaggi continued; “He talks a lot, and he’s really getting a little bit ahead of himself, and now he’s getting a little bit on my nerves. Actually, he’s getting a lot a bit on my nerves, to tell you the truth. I think the most enjoyable part of the fight is going to be beating the s*** out of him, not even winning the world title. That’s going to be like the second most enjoyable part.”

Khan laughed off Malignaggi´s tough talk.

“Malignaggi is a funny character,” he said. “I think I’ll be the first guy to shut him up properly with my boxing skills and speed and power.”

The bookies have Khan a heavy 2/13 favorite, with Malignaggi the 17/4 underdog (bet365). I believe this time, the bookies might have got it wrong.

Khan´s only defeat, his 54 second knockout loss to Colombian Breidis Prescott in 2008 wont be a factor in the fight against Malignaggi, who has just five inside the distance victories on his record, and hasn’t stopped an opponent since 2003. But contrary to popular opinion, nor will Khan´s 76 second blitz of Salita.

Of more significance is Khan´s WBA title winning performance against Andrei Kotelnik in July 2007. Khan won few rave reviews against a tough, stoical but limited fighter who had never been knocked out and had suffered just two career defeats. Khan stuck to a game plan, took few risks, boxed behind his jab, and won by a landslide. Khan will have to box at a higher level again against Malignaggi, who will pose a whole new set of problems for the boy from Bolton.

Malignaggi, for all his faults is, on his night, an excellent boxer with fast hands, great reflexes and a good chin. He is currently ranked no.1 by the WBO and no.3 by the WBA. Juan Diaz, who Malignaggi defeated last December is ranked 3rd by the IBF, yet Malignaggi is not ranked by that governing body. Go figure! The prestigious Ring Magazine has Malignaggi as the no.5 light welterweight in the world, two places behind Khan.

Much is made in the UK of Malignaggi´s eleventh round TKO loss to Ricky Hatton in November 2008, a time Malignaggi now describes as the lowest in his boxing career.

“I’ve read the British press and they’re saying this should be an easy fight for Khan because of what I did in Manchester and when I fought Ricky Hatton.” says Malignaggi. ”But that was the worst run of my career. Buddy McGirt (Malignaggi´s trainer at the time), his main thing is you stay low. He made it easier for guys to track me down. For somebody like Ricky, who was all pressure, it was a piece of cake for him. We weren’t working on my game plan, which is reflex boxing. Now I do that every day in training, be creative, think outside the box.”

Malignaggi claims to be reborn under new coach Sharif Younan. In August last year, Malignaggi dropped a close decision to Texan Juan ”Baby Bull” Diaz, the former WBA/WBO and IBF lightweight champion. The loss was controversial, and led to a rematch three months later that Malignaggi won by a clear decision. In both bouts, Malignaggi looked back to his best, boxing like a skilled matador against the strong, aggressive ”Baby Bull”.

Khan will have to stick religiously to the game plan Freddie Roach has laid out for him, because he is unlikely to score a knockout against an opponent who fought twelve rounds in 2006 in a losing effort against a red-hot Miguel Cotto, went 24 rounds last year with Diaz, and has only been stopped once, and under controversial circumstances, when Buddy McGirt chose to throw in the towel in the eleventh against Hatton because Malignaggi wasn’t throwing punches. At the time it looked as if Malignaggi was capable of lasting the distance. Afterward, he was furious with McGirt for stopping the bout and landing him with a TKO loss on his record.

This fight is going to go right down to the wire. It may well come down to what impresses the judges more – Khan´s aggression, or Malignaggi´s movement and counter-punching.

If Khan doesn’t get distracted or lose his head, he should come through a very close, possibly even split decision to retain his crown.

But at odds of 17/4, I´ll be having a tenner on Malignaggi pulling off the biggest upset of 2010!

Big fight Odds; Amir Khan 2/13, Paulie Malignaggi 17/4 bet365

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