Rebuilt Maidana targets Malignaggi

Marcos Maidana capped 2012 in a fashion we've grown accustomed to seeing from him: with a crushing victory. On Dec. 12 at Buenos Aires' storied Luna Park, Maidana notched his 30th stoppage in 36 career professional fights. The former junior welterweight titlist from Argentina celebrated the knockout but also knew that his opponent, Angel Martinez, hadn't remotely been the toughest competition available.

"Last year was very tough for me," Maidana said, "because I had three fights and I spent seven months away from Argentina. In these last few days, I rested as much as I could in my hometown [Margarita, Santa Fe] along with my family. 2012 started pretty bad with my defeat against [Devon] Alexander, but luckily we finished with two victories. Now I'm about to travel to Oxnard, Calif., to start training again with Robert Garcia and his team."

The loss to Alexander in St. Louis last February -- both fighters' first foray into the 147-pound division -- was particularly galling for Maidana. A go-for-the-jugular brawler, he said he felt slow and called Alexander "complicated" after the local fighter easily piled up points to nearly sweep a 10-round decision.

"The welterweight division is not for me," Maidana said after the setback, and his team was quickly purged. Adviser Sebastian Contursi then picked Garcia to take over Maidana's training, and so far the decision has proved to be an excellent one. The 2012 trainer of the year has managed to reveal new layers of the 29-year-old Maidana, whose game had been fueled by temperament and who too often lost his head when he set his mind on a knockout.

"To me, Robert is a great trainer, and I feel comfortable with him and his people," Maidana said. "I know this is a very important year for me and for my career, and I feel that Robert can give me some good advice. I know that sometimes I should pay more attention to what he says, but, well, KO artists usually have a hot head, right?"

So it's a process, this transformation of action fighter into clear-minded boxer-puncher. But the results, although incremental, are undeniable. When Maidana fought Jesus Soto Karass on Sept. 15 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, he handled himself as a much different fighter than we'd seen in the past: lots of jabs and waist movement, always staying in the midrange.

"Marcos is a very intelligent fighter," Garcia told ESPNdeportes.com after the bout. "What happens is that KO artists are like that, and precisely for that reason they usually engage and excite the audience, because they put on a great show. Just like Maidana, because no matter whether he loses his war or not, he always imposes his warrior-like style at any cost. I'm not going to change him. What I do is explain why and how, and ask him to throw more jabs, to take care of the incoming punches, to think a little bit more -- until his temper betrays him, obviously. But that's Maidana: pure dynamite."

Against Soto Karass, there were other noticeable changes, such as the absence of explosive temper tantrums that have plagued Maidana at times in the past. "El Chino" showed enough poise when the fight threatened to get dragged into the gutter, ultimately imposing his style and winning by TKO in the eighth round when Kenny Bayless decided Soto Karass had had enough.

Maidana (33-3, 30 KOs) had reconsidered his pronouncement and fought both Karass (and later Martinez) at 147 pounds. And he now has serious intentions beyond merely hanging around the division.

"I want to be welterweight champion," he said. "When I defeated Soto Karass, I asked for a fight against Paul Malignaggi. A few months went by, and I saw that Golden Boy Promotions wanted to do a fight between Malignaggi and Shane Mosley. The truth is that it made me angry, but that's the way things are sometimes in the world of boxing."

But the politics of boxing -- Golden Boy promotes both Malignaggi and Mosley -- can cut both ways, and the plug has since been pulled on that fight. Maidana says Contursi has already contacted Golden Boy to confirm that the fighter would accept a Malignaggi match.

"I hope it does happen," Maidana said. "I think it's an attractive fight because he boxes well and has fought the best, like [Miguel] Cotto, [Amir] Khan or Juan Diaz. It would be the usual boxer-versus-puncher type of fight. I look forward to fighting Malignaggi."

It isn't that simple, of course. Contursi says he was surprised to learn that the Malignaggi-Mosley fight was called off, and that Malignaggi was suddenly so enthusiastic about facing Maidana to preserve his April 27 fight date. So Contursi called Golden Boy matchmaker Eric Gomez to get to the bottom of it and also to express Maidana's interest.

"He told me he needed to have a new conversation with the Malignaggi people because, according to them, they ask for too much money," Contursi said. "But that's their problem. The important thing is that it is a big fight and that there is an opportunity for Maidana to be world champion again."

Malignaggi (32-4, 7 KOs), the 32-year-old former 140-pound titlist, is enjoying a somewhat surprising second act as welterweight champ after defeating Vyacheslav Senchenko in the Ukraine last April. In October, he made it through 12 rounds with Pablo Cesar Cano at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. -- but maybe just barely -- in a decision that some believe Cano earned but that was awarded to the hometown fighter.

Maidana seems unconcerned that a Malignaggi fight might mean suffering similar treatment in the borough. He says he has been ducked by other titlists and contenders, denied well-deserved opportunities. Meanwhile, the 19,000-capacity Barclays has put Brooklyn back on the boxing map, and there's a world title belt strapped around Malignaggi's waist. If the Magic Man is willing, that's good enough for Maidana.

"I say this respectfully, but there always appears to be a reason for guys like Robert Guerrero, Victor Ortiz and some others to avoid me," Maidana said. "Someone will have to fight me. And I hope it's Malignaggi. I know a lot of people don't count me in as a factor in the welterweight division, but they have the right to think that way. I only want my chance to prove what I can do in the ring."