Boxing: Khan faces his moment of truth

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The Independent Online

Amir Khan will tonight make arguably the hardest defence of a world title by a British boxer since poor Frank Bruno travelled to Las Vegas in 1996 to face a brutal beating from Mike Tyson.

Khan turned 24 just three days ago and he seems like a veteran having been popular since his exploits as a 17-year-old pup at the Athens Olympics in 2004, but his third defence of his World Boxing Association light-welterweight title against Argentine puncher Marcos Maidana will finally show everybody just how good he is.

Maidana is young at 27, has just one defeat in 30 fights and has left 27 of his 29 victims on the canvas or in the welcome arms of the referee. He is a serious threat to the British fighter and accepting the fight was an enormous risk by all involved in the Khan business; it is a reassuring fact that it was the boxer who ordered his handlers and advisers to get Maidana in the ring at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Khan will need to box a strategically flawless fight, refuse any rushes of blood to his head and be content to take the drama out of the occasion at the risk of ruining the event; winning ugly is still a win.

The biggest test for an Olympic medal winner is not in Las Vegas but at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, where Beijing gold medallist James DeGale makes an audacious bid for the British super-middleweight title after only eight fights.

DeGale has never completed five rounds as a professional boxer during his brief, entertaining and textbook career and eyebrows were raised when his promoter Frank Warren announced that fight No 9 would be against Paul Smith.

This will be the third time in 14 months that Smith has fought for the British title at the Echo Arena and his two previous fights were bruising and bloody encounters that he won on points after 12 rounds. Smith is a local idol, just over four years older than DeGale and is mystified that the bookies have made him the underdog.

It is one of the most eagerly anticipated British title fights in years and, like the Khan fight, a tremendous gamble for DeGale and all of his people. However, boxing promotion has always been about taking the right risk at the right time, even if there is no sign that Smith is fading, injured or struggling at that weight.

The nominal main event at the Echo Arena is between unbeaten Welshman Nathan Cleverly and late and dangerous replacement Nadjib Mohammedi for the interim version of the World Boxing Organisation light-heavyweight title. Cleverly was once the unpaid sparring partner of Joe Calzaghe and is now a serious attraction and will look good beating the Frenchman.