What is it with these fighters from Argentina?
Sergio Martinez, the middleweight champion of the world, didn't even put on a pair of boxing gloves until he was 20, dreaming instead of fulfilling his athletic potential as a soccer star.
Marcos Maidana, who challenges Amir Khan for a junior welterweight title at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Saturday night, at least began boxing at an earlier age. But he admits that there were times in his childhood that he contemplated instead becoming a gaucho, a cowboy and ranch hand of the Argentine pampas.
"Yeah, yeah, I used to ride horses," he says. "Being on a farm, you think about it, of course. But boxing changed my whole life around. Soon after I started it, I moved from the farm to the city."
Despite suffering just one loss, he was not widely known when he stepped into the ring at Staples Center in Los Angeles in June '09 to take on rising star Victor Ortiz. After Ortiz knocked him down in the first, it didn't appear as if his fame would increase at all. But he knocked down Ortiz in that same round and outlasted him in a fierce duel.
The prospect arose of a bout with Timothy Bradley, widely regarded as the best of the 140-pound crop, but although the two signed to meet earlier this year, multiple postponements on Maidana's part, the result of a combination of injury and management issues, caused the American to select a different path that will result in him facing Devon Alexander in Detroit in January.
Maidana says he would like to face the winner of that fight, "but I'm not thinking past this test. I'm not thinking beyond Saturday."
The conventional wisdom is that the taller Khan wins by boxing and Maidana's best shot is to draw the Briton into the same kind of brawl that saw him defeat Ortiz, but Maidana doesn't necessarily see it that way.
"It doesn't matter to me," he says. "I've worked in the gym for everything. Every scenario."
Between Maidana and 2010's near-certain "Fighter of the year" Martinez, boxing in Argentina is on an upswing, and although the junior welterweight may be Robin to the middleweight champ's Batman right now, he knows that a victory against Khan could change everything for him.
"I think if I win this fight, a lot bigger fights are going to come around," he says. "I want to be one of the elite fighters in the division. We're getting a lot more attention now. Sergio Martinez is doing his job and I'm trying to do my part, and we want to be able to get some spotlight in Argentina. Right now, I'm pretty well-known back home, but after victory on Saturday night, everyone is going to know about me."