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Joe Cortez on Amir Khan vs. Marcos Maidana: 'That fight had it all'

Referee Joe Cortez considers the Amir Khan-Marcos Maidana junior welterweight bout in 2010 one of the best he has ever worked. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Referee Joe Cortez, a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, was the third man in the ring when Amir Khan defeated Marcos Maidana by unanimous decision to retain his WBA belt in one of the best fights of the year in 2010.

Cortez sat down with ESPN Deportes' Alfredo Berrios to relive all the action from that memorable fight ahead of Khan's return Saturday night to face Phil Lo Greco in Liverpool, England (ESPN+, 2 p.m. ET).

During my 60 years linked to the sport of boxing, I have seen and refereed many great fights, but if I had to pick the top 20 championship fights that I refereed, I would say the Khan-Maidana bout in 2010 was one of the most outstanding, skillful and exciting. Lots of heart, blood, sweat and tears. That fight had it all.

You have to take into consideration that in 2010, both Maidana and Khan were in the prime of their careers. They were both outstanding, had great stamina, great reach, great reflexes, great punching power. It was really outstanding. Fans at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino were in for a treat.

It was a fight that was very intense in some rounds, because both fighters were hurt in different occasions, especially in the first round, when Khan sent Maidana down with a left hook to the liver. I was surprised how Maidana was able to get off the canvas. It was a devastating punch that most fighters would have stayed down.

I was ready for a very intense fight. Prior to them going into the ring, my instructions to the fighters was that I was there to protect them, to make sure they didn't receive unnecessary punishment. However, these fighters came in well-prepared, well-conditioned, well-schooled, and therefore, I knew that if they were in some danger, they had been in the trenches before and they would know how to recover, which they did.

Khan is a great puncher and has great speed. In most cases, when a fighter has punching power, they don't have great speed. Amir has both, just like Mike Tyson, who had great speed and great punching power.

Maidana, with his experience and determination, got up from the canvas when he was in danger and continued the rest of the fight like a real champion.

As Maidana was rocked in the first round, Khan was to get his fair share of huge blows. In the sixth round, Maidana proved it.

I always knew that Khan had a questionable chin, and he got hit hard. He has always been able to weather the storm, with the exception of when he got KO'd by Breidis Prescott a couple of years back. But he always seems to get out of those dangers when he's hurt, and he has great experience and great footwork, plus him being a masterful resourceful fighter, Khan was able to weave and backtrack to be able to survive, and he did that very well. I was surprised how he was able to stay on his feet.

In the late rounds, the fight turned into an instant classic, as both fighters got hurt again but never gave up. The last two rounds told the story of this battle.

When you see a fighter that is a little bit hurt, you throw punches from all angles, as was the case with Maidana. Of course, the duty of the referee is to enforce the rules, so when I saw Khan got hit behind the head on several occasions, I knew they weren't intentional. It was in desperation to try to put away Khan, and he would try to start throwing punches to those dangerous areas where you hit punches behind the head.

Had he put Khan down with those punches around the head, I would have had to determine if it was caused by Khan turning his head trying to get away from those punches or was it an intentional punch. Thank god it was not intentional, so therefore, it made it a lot easier for me to handle. Had Amir gone down because of that punch, I would have taken a different action depending on how severe the blow to the head was.

I think Amir pulled it out, it was a back-and-forth mano-a-mano match. The 12th was a hard round to score. I don't think that all three judges had it the same in the last round, because it was that kind of a fight, and it was an outstanding performance by both fighters.

The scores of 114-111 twice and 113-112 were right on the spot.