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Khan-Malignaggi fight sparks 140-lb.class

Here's a quick fact that needs to be addressed: There's only one Naseem Hamed.

The sooner this is realized, the sooner we can focus on this weekend's showdown between Amir Khan and Paulie Malignaggi for what it is: a good fight, in addition to being Khan's stateside debut.

That's it. Attempts to align it with any past event will only beg for it to flop in comparison.

Sure, it's tempting to find similarities between Khan and Hamed, as several exist. Both fighters were 23 years old when they decided to make their stateside debut. New York City was the chosen location for each such occasion, both fighters taking on mouthy New York-based former titlists.

On paper, all of that stuff sounds significant. But it's quite honestly where the similarities end.

If a trend is what you are in search of, try this one on for size: Khan-Malignaggi is yet another terrific matchup pitting legitimate top 10 super lightweights against one another, in a bout that headlines a televised doubleheader from the WaMu Theatre in New York City (Saturday, HBO Boxing After Dark, 9:45 p.m. ET/PT).

The 140-pound division is easily the deepest in the sport. It's not the most lucrative, but it remains a weight class in which the best consistently face the best, which is far more noble in an era of "if it makes dollars, it makes sense" mentality.

Such a concept is one that Khan (22-1, 16 KOs) appears ready to embrace as he enters the prime of his young career.

Six years ago, Khan served as a one-man wrecking crew as the lone member of the UK boxing squad in the 2004 Summer Games. At just 17 years of age, he advanced all the way to the finals but dropped a decision to exit with the silver medal in the lightweight bracket.

Through five years as a pro, he has been forced to settle for second place just once -- a stunning first round knockout loss to Breidis Prescott in September 2008. The evening was designed to establish Khan as a major UK pay-per-view draw, but such plans needed just 51 seconds to disintegrate.

Chants of "fraud" and several plays on his name (include "A Mere Con") soon followed his career, as it was believed that the next big thing suddenly became the next big bust.

So goes life in a time when a single loss can make or break a career in the public eye. Khan has since resumed his winning ways and even conquered a new weight class, but it required a change in trainers and style. Once a mighty offensive force, the 23-year old is now far more reserved in his approach while under the tutelage of one of the very best trainers in the sport, Freddie Roach.

The competition level hasn't exactly been stellar, especially considering where he now resides as a prizefighter. His toughest opponent to date actually turned out to be a relatively easy night's work, taking a convincing -- though not an aesthetically pleasing -- decision win over Andriy Kotelnik last summer in Manchester, England.

Kotelnik is hardly an easy out for any fighter, but also one who will test your heart far more than your chin. Questions still remain as to how well Khan can take a punch at the new weight -- and more importantly, how he will react to adversity.

Such questions were long ago answered by Malignaggi (27-3, 5KO), even if the end feedback remains a mixed bag.

The brash New Yorker is certainly an acquired taste, but one thing that cannot be questioned is his willingness to step into the ring against any given fighter on any given night. Eight of his last nine fights have come against legitimate top 10 competition, as strong a sign as any that "have gloves, will travel" is the way he carries it.

His June 2006 showing against Miguel Cotto proved that Malignaggi's heart is as large as his big mouth.

With then-divisional champ Ricky Hatton focused on securing a big payday against Floyd Mayweather Jr., Malignaggi sought position as the top available challenger once the wildly popular Brit was ready to return to the division.

Along came his second bid at a title, in which he effortlessly outboxed Lovemore N'Dou in pitching a virtual shutout. Two fights removed from the Cotto loss, Malignaggi racked up what served at the time as a career-best win.

Little did he know it would be as good as it gets for a couple of years.

His title reign was anything but the stuff of which champions are made. Wins over Herman Ngoudjo and a repeat over N'Dou were hardly fan-friendly, and a long-awaited showdown with Hatton ended in the lone stoppage loss of his career.

A second brutal beating in a span of two years would be enough to break most fighters. Instead, Malignaggi took personal inventory of his career and renewed his approach to the game.

A pair of fights with Juan Diaz helped re-establish the Brooklyn boxer as a major player in the talent-rich junior welterweight division, even if it took the judges two tries to finally credit him with a much-deserved win.

With HBO's sudden interest in the 140-pound division, the career-resurrecting performances against the former lightweight titlist couldn't have come at a better time. Once Khan signed with Golden Boy Promotions and announced his intentions to travel to this side of the pond, Malignaggi's name surfaced to the top of the list.

What came of it once their names were signed on the dotted line wasn't shades of a British invasion of yore, but merely a sign of what's going in the division -- a good fight, for the sake of making a good fight.