NEW YORK -- Every time Paulie Malignaggi has stepped up to take on an A-level pugilist, he has been knocked down a peg.
Fight fans didn't know whether Amir Khan was an A-level talent coming into the main event at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. But after a couple rounds of taking in Khan's considerable power, hand speed, work rate and beyond-his-years poise, everyone watching had to be of the same mind: Khan, who nabbed a technical knockout in the 11th round, is indeed a top-level fighter and would be a steep challenge for anyone in the 140-pound class.
After seeing round after round of Khan's blows landing solidly, ref Steve Smoger stepped in and halted the one-sided tussle. Malignaggi was the loser and his dreams of a showdown with Manny Pacquiao look to be shelved for now. The end officially came at 1:25 of the 11th, but unofficially it was over in the first, when Malignaggi came out flat and Khan looked sharp and heavy-handed.
Afterward, Khan (23-1, 17 KOs) said he'd like to get 'er done at 140 and deal with Tim Bradley, the WBO crown-holder, or Devon Alexander, who has the WBC and IBF belts.
Khan's trainer, Freddie Roach, said he'd like the WBA junior welterweight champion to meet Argentine Marcos Maidana (28-1, 27 KOs). "Amir wouldn't lose a round," Freddie said.
Malignaggi (27-4) said his camp was strong and that he went into the bout feeling capable, but Khan was clearly the better man.
"I've fought two elite fighters, Miguel Cotto and Amir Khan," Malignaggi said. "From here, I'm not sure where I go. I'll sit down with my team. I don't want to be a punching bag."
The underdog Malignaggi (139 pounds, from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn) has come up empty against Cotto, Ricky Hatton and now Khan. But even those who can't stomach his cocky manner and boy-band spiked hairdo have to concede that Malignaggi, 29, is of sturdy stock.
No fighter possessing the limited power of Malignaggi, in the present-day scene, has done more with less. But he is perennially armed with a slingshot against foes packing firearms. Before the bout, Malignaggi's promoter, Lou DiBella, was hopeful that his kid would wreck the U.S. debut of the HBO-backed Khan and secure a clash with Pacquiao, if the Filipino and Floyd Mayweather Jr. can't come to terms. But coming off a decisive loss, the New Yorker will likely have to claw back up the ladder to get a title shot if he wants to keep hacking away.
"I want to see Paulie do what is right," DiBella said. "But you heard him. He's not going to be in the game to be a punching bag."
Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer told ESPNNewYork.com that Khan, 23, exceeded his expectations. "I was just amazed by the speed, the combos, the power," Schaefer said. "He's the total package."
Schaefer would like to see Khan (139½, from Bolton, England) fight in the United Kingdom at the end of July, and then back in the U.S. in the fall. Maidana, the winner of the Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz bout, Victor Ortiz, Alexander or Bradley will all be considered.
It was hard to determine the breakdown of rooters at the venue. The building holds just under 5,000 and the announced attendance was announced at 4,412, with Malignaggi backers the majority by a 55-45 margin or so. The vibe was impassioned and intensified by a weigh-in fracas Friday afternoon. This wasn't a planned, WWE-style "I'll push you, you shove me" deal; neither fighter lacks for confidence or is shy about announcing his attributes, and their pride boiled over Friday.
In the first round Saturday night, Khan showed the controlled aggression that Roach has instilled in him since the Brit was KO'd in one round by unknown Breidis Prescott two years ago. This bout was Khan's fifth under Roach, the Hollywood-based tutor who has transformed Pacquiao from unharnessed brawler into methodical, pugilistic assassin. Khan's power edge was glaring from the get-go. Malignaggi sneakily whacked Khan on the thigh when Khan snagged him in a headlock on several occasions.
In the second, a Khan one-two snapped the New Yorker's head back. Khan both led, with a long jab, and countered, with crisp left hooks, in a solid round for the champ. Malignaggi, a former junior welterweight titlist, usually has a speed edge. But Khan's hand speed looked of a higher caliber than the challenger's. He picked off Paulie's jab smartly, and the American through three hadn't figured out a winning strategy to deal with Khan's skill set.
Khan had good luck with the left hook, catching Malignaggi coming in. His right hand was even more damaging to the Brooklyner through the middle rounds. In the eighth, a left-right slammed Malignaggi, who still didn't have an answer for the well-rounded Brit. The ring physicians took a hard look at Paulie after the ninth and 10th, at Smoger's insistence.
Malignaggi begged the doctor for more time after the 10th, showing his ample heart. But it was his lack of power, and dead legs, which proved his downfall. The heart has never been in question.
Speedbag: Before the co-feature (Victor Ortiz-Nate Campbell) kicked off, silver-tongued emcee Michael Buffer gave a heartfelt shout-out to Arthur Mercante, "the greatest referee ever," who passed away last month at 90. ... New York State Athletic Commission chair Melvina Lathan told ESPNNewYork.com that Khan fans crashed the weigh-in at the Essex House hotel Friday with mischief on their minds. "Khan followers were shouting 'Allahu Akbar,'" she said. Ample security was in place, but a bushel of bad apples poisoned the atmosphere, she said. ... Ring announcer Joe Antonacci said he was trying to keep the peace after a fracas between Khan and Malignaggi rooters broke out, post-staredown, and a Khan posse member yelled, "Get your hands off me, you New York Jew!" The affable Antonacci corrected him. "I'm an Italian from Jersey," he replied.