LAS VEGAS -- Amir Khan successfully defended his WBA 140-pound title with a narrow unanimous decision over Marcos Maidana on Saturday night, surviving the stiffest test of his career with guts and skill.
Khan (24-1, 17 KOs) knocked down Maidana with 10 seconds left in the first round of the British champion's Las Vegas debut with a vicious left hand to the body, and the fight never really slowed down.
The free-swinging Maidana seemed to be close to stopping Khan during a brilliant 10th round, but Khan absorbed every shot to his head and responded with a strong 11th.
Khan answered every question about his toughness in his third title defense, finishing the fight with blood dripping from his nose. Still scarred by a first-round knockout loss in his only defeat more than two years ago, Khan has grown tougher and stronger.
"I know I made mistakes, but I worked hard and came back stronger than ever," Khan said. "He's a strong fighter, and he hits hard. My chin was tested. I'm not taking anything away from him. He's a great champion. I proved today I've got a chin."
Maidana (29-2) was hurt by a point deduction by referee Joe Cortez in the fifth round, apparently for throwing an elbow at Cortez in frustration when the referee broke a clinch.
Judges Jerry Roth and C.J. Ross scored the bout 114-111 for Khan, and Glenn Trowbridge favored the British champion 113-112. The Associated Press also favored Khan 114-113.
The Argentine slugger attempted to bolt from the ring after the decision was announced, but his promoters pulled him back.
"I thought I won," Maidana said through a translator. "I thought I did enough in the final rounds to win the fight."
Khan landed 45 percent of his 603 punches, while just 20 percent of Maidana's 767 blows landed. Khan's jab was much more effective, and Khan connected with 53 percent of his power shots -- but Maidana landed 122 power punches, many of them apparently devastating.
"I fight with my heart," Khan said. "When I go into the ring, I know I'm going to get hit. You can tell by his record he's a strong puncher, and I took everything he gave me."
The tone was set in the opening seconds of the fight when Khan approached the middle of the ring with his glove raised in good sportsmanship -- and Maidana instead threw a sneaky left hook that barely missed. Maidana then landed two shots to Khan's head in the opening minute, sending the British champion on the defensive.
But Khan caught Maidana with two body shots in the final seconds of the first round, and his left hand to Maidana's abdomen sent the Argentine to his knees wearing a mask of pain. Khan also dominated the second round, but Maidana caught Khan with two big punches early in the third.
After Cortez's unusual ruling when Maidana's elbow hit the referee in the chest out of a clinch in the fifth, Maidana still responded with two outstanding rounds, stalking Khan with uppercuts that had the champion staggering.
After what appeared to be a scolding from trainer Freddie Roach, Khan righted himself in the eighth and began to pepper Maidana with jabs and combinations.
Maidana utterly dominated the 10th round, repeatedly rendering Khan seemingly defenseless -- but Khan never went down. Maidana also finished strong, but Khan had enough of a lead to hang on.
Khan rocked to British stardom at 17 with a silver medal at the Athens Olympics, but he doesn't yet have the international drawing power of Ricky Hatton, Manchester's favorite son. Hatton got several thousand Brits to make the transcontinental trip to Las Vegas for his biggest fights, but Khan appears to be on the way: Hundreds of Khan's British and Pakistani fans showed up at Mandalay Bay, blowing vuvuzelas and waving both nations' flags.
Khan becomes arguably the biggest name in the stacked 140-pound division also featuring titleholders Timothy Bradley -- who attended this fight -- and Devon Alexander, who will meet in a title unification bout in Michigan next month.
Maidana and Khan circled each other for several months before agreeing to meet in Las Vegas. Khan wanted the fight in his native England, but Maidana balked -- his only career defeat was a split-decision defeat in Germany.
So Khan, who turned 24 on Wednesday, agreed to a meeting in boxing's capital city, fulfilling a longtime dream.
The fight also was a breakthrough for Maidana, who was largely unknown outside Argentina until his stunning sixth-round stoppage of Victor Ortiz last year in Los Angeles. Maidana got up from three knockdowns in the first two rounds of that fight, proving his chin and identifying him as an intriguing brawler.