Thursday, July 28, 2011

Marcos Maidana--Not Great, But Great TV

June 6, 2009 was supposed to be the day of Victor Ortiz's coronation as a star in boxing.  He had steamrolled his competition and quickly built his reputation as one of the sport's elite prospects. A likable and articulate kid fighting out of Southern California, Ortiz was given a shot at headlining Staples Center in Los Angeles.  

Golden Boy needed to find a suitable opponent for the HBO date, so they found Marcos Maidana, an unknown fighter in North America, whose only claim to fame was that he lost a close decision in Germany to Andriy Kotelnik – who was thought of at the time as a serviceable paper champ, but nothing more.  Sure, Maidana had an impressive knockout streak of 24 KOs in 25 fights leading up to the Kotelnik fight, but South American boxers notoriously built up their records on weak competition.  Plowing through Maidana's victim list provided no evidence to the contrary.  The opponents for his fights in Argentina and Germany were uninspiring to say the least.

Everything seemed to be headed Ortiz's way.  He sold 10,000 tickets, which was the type of fan support usually reserved for established stars.  In its introduction to the fight, HBO provided a heartbreaking profile on Ortiz's rough upbringing: Ortiz survived parental abandonment and poverty, yet somehow he raised his younger brother.  Through all of this turmoil, Ortiz's dogged determination and athletic gifts led him to become one of the best young fighters in the sport.  This was a Hollywood backstory.  All of the elements were in play to make Ortiz the next Big Thing.  

Unfortunately, Maidana did not realize that he was supposed to lose.  Instead, he brought his right hand and left uppercut.

Maidana and Ortiz proceeded to engage in one of the most savage fights of the young century.  Both fighters went down in the first. Ortiz knocked down Maidana in the second and it seemed as if the Argentine was hanging on by a thread.  Somehow, Maidana survived and slowly turned the tide back in his favor.  He landed another thundering blow on Ortiz in the 6th round and Ortiz refused to continue, turning his back to the referee.

Just like that, from essentially thin air, a television star was born.  No one knew much about Maidana.  Subsequent research showed that he was an amateur on the Argentine national team.  However, how does a guy lose to Kotelnik and blitz through Ortiz?  Not only was Maidana re-evaluated after his win over Ortiz, but so too was Kotelnik.  (Kotelnik's close loss to Devon Alexander confirmed that he could really fight).

After a local fight in Argentina, Maidana was brought back to America by Golden Boy (who had an existing option on his next U.S. fight) to face undefeated prospect Victor Cayo of the Dominican Republic.  By now, Maidana was Amir Khan's mandatory challenger and it was believed that he was given step-aside money to delay the Khan fight.  

After a competitive first round, Maidana dropped Cayo in the second.  Maidana dominated his opponent until he finished him with a body shot in the sixth round.  With that knockout, Maidana cemented his status as must-see television.  

Maidana went back to Argentina to fight a past-his-prime Demarcus "Chop Chop" Corley, and, quite frankly, he struggled.  In Corley's best days,  he was a crafty foil who gave good fighters (Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto) tough nights.  Even a diminished Corley was able to hit Maidana with regularity.  Nevertheless, Maidana prevailed and was ready for greater opportunities.  

Finally, the Khan-Maidana match was made in December of 2010.  Khan's trainer, Freddie Roach, was so confident with the matchup that he predicted a knockout and didn't expect his fighter to lose a round.  After all, Khan was a decorated Olympian who easily beat the one fighter (Kotelnik) that defeated Maidana.  

The fight went according to Roach's plan during the first half.  Khan dropped Maidana with a great left hook to the body in the first round.  In the early rounds of the fight, Khan boxed rings around his opponent, making Maidana look like a rank amateur.  By the 8th round, Maidana started to land some of his right hand bombs.  In the 10th, he hurt Khan so badly with a right hand that Khan had to spend a full two minutes in full-on survival mode.  Maidana landed vicious power shots throughout the round, including several more right hands, left hooks and left uppercuts.  Khan looked like he could go at any point.  Khan was able to shake off some of the cobwebs by the end of the 11th but Maidana landed more bombs in the 12th.  If Khan could survive the round on his feet, he would win the fight.  Maidana tried everything he could to finish off his opponent, but somehow Khan saw the final bell.

The Boxing Writers Association of America voted Khan-Maidana as the fight of the year for 2010.  Maidana did not disgrace himself in defeat; his stature rose with his performance.  

Maidana was now an official member of the Golden Boy stable. (In the summer of 2010, a proposed fight with Tim Bradley – a wonderful clash of styles – fell through over some management/promotional issues.)  He was next given the assignment of Erik Morales, the former featherweight warrior who had only recently returned to boxing after a lengthy retirement.  The fight was seen as a mismatch and several prominent boxing figures objected to the matchup on the grounds of Morales' health and safety – truly a sign of respect for Maidana's abilities.  

The Maidana-Morales fight did not play to the script, with the old legend having his best moments in the ring in many years.  Both fighters landed vicious bombs and Morales' granite chin enabled him to absorb shots that would have stopped lesser fighters.  Maidana won a majority decision.  Judge Richard Houck was too kind in scoring the fight a draw.  The other two correctly gave Maidana eight rounds of the fight.  

After the Morales fight, there was full-blown revisionism regarding Maidana, with many calling him "overrated" or "exposed."  What was left unsaid is that Morales hand-picked Maidana as an opponent.  Morales knew that his chin could withstand Maidana's assault and that the Argentine's lack of defense and movement was tailor-made for him.  Nevertheless, elite junior welterweights aren't supposed to struggle with 34-year-old, ex-featherweights who recently come out of retirement.

Maidana next faces Robert Guerrero in a fascinating matchup pitting a supreme brawler (Maidana) against a top-flight boxer-puncher (Guerrero).  Both fighters have clear pathways to win the fight.  Guerrero is the superior technician and has imposing size.  Maidana will have opportunities for victory in that Guerrero sometimes has concentration lapses in the ring and his chin is not regarded as excellent.  

As Maidana continues to fight the elite in the sport, he faces significant technical disadvantages.  He almost exclusively features only three punches (right hand, left hook and left uppercut).  He has no jab and his defense is atrocious.  Furthermore, Maidana only moves in straight lines and can't fight going backwards.  When he pins his opponents against the ropes, he can smother his left uppercut; he'll often throw it essentially parallel to his body, with no angle towards his opponent.  Maidana's hand speed is average at best and he doesn't necessarily place his punches well.  When attacking his opponents along the ropes, he can resort to volume punching with his left uppercut and left hook, instead of throwing his punches with more impact.

Physically, Maidana has other hindrances.  Although his heart cannot be questioned, his conditioning can be.  He will take rounds off, especially after rounds where he expends a lot of energy on offense.  Also, he doesn't have a classic boxing body, with a thin frame and comparably little musculature.

But Maidana does have some unassailable gifts.  Even though many of his hooks and right hands look like arm punches, they affect fighters so devastatingly that it's safe to assume that his natural power is immense.  That so many of his shots aren't thrown with proper technique suggest just how real his power is.  Also, he has a real commitment to body punching.  Morales' body was bright red on his right side from Maidana's body assault; a lesser athlete would have folded with that kind of attack.  Additionally, Maidana has tremendous finishing instincts, jumping on fighters when they are hurt, willing to risk his own peril to get his opponents out of the ring. 

Clearly, Maidana is fearless.  He could have quit at multiple points during the Khan and Ortiz fights, yet he pressed on and imparted his destruction.  His heart, tenacity and will are the types of intangibles that you wished 30 more skilled fighters possessed.  

In total, Maidana is a flawed but exciting package.  Unless he scores a quick knockout, his fights are guaranteed to feature gripping give-and-take battles, power connects and guts.  In this current boxing age, where many multi-millionaire fighters seem to forget that boxing is a contact sport, Maidana's relentless offensive style provides a soothing balm for the irritated fan. 

His appearances on television signal that excitement and indelible moments will follow.  Having only fought in the U.S. four times, three of Maidana's fights have been among the best in the sport's recent past.  Those are some incredible percentages. 

It remains to be seen whether he can ascend to the top of the junior welterweight or welterweight division.  However, win or lose, Maidana will make several good paydays before his career is complete.  For an unknown fighter, who was brought in to lose two years ago, Maidana will make millions – and he will have earned every penny.   

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