NEW YORK (AP) — It took junior welterweight champion Amir Khan a trip to Canada and nearly two weeks of turmoil just to secure a visa to make his highly anticipated debut in the United States.
It was well worth the wait.
The former British Olympian used crisp right hands and incredible speed to stop former titleholder Paulie Malignaggi in the 11th round Saturday night, a brutally efficient display of boxing that is certain to catapult him into the upper echelon of a deep 140-pound division.
"I think with my speed I can catch any fighter," Khan said. "I knew I was going to catch him and I could see him getting his head knocked back. I could see him get frustrated."
Khan made good on his promise to quiet the flamboyant Malignaggi, who was fighting just across the river from his home in Brooklyn. Malignaggi's face was red and swollen from the middle rounds on, and he had to lobby the ringside doctor before the 11th just to let him continue.
It wound up being a bad idea.
Khan (23-1, 17 KOs) backed Malignaggi against the ropes and threw a series of unanswered blows before referee Steve Smoger finally stepped between them at 1:25 of the round. Malignaggi (27-4) didn't argue with the decision, tapping his chest and congratulating Khan on the victory.
"He knows how to win rounds, man," Malignaggi said. "He has a lot of ability."
Khan signed with Golden Boy Promotions in an attempt to raise his profile in America, where he can land the biggest fights and the biggest paydays. But just getting permission to fight in the U.S. took a lot more work than he anticipated.
Khan had been preparing with trainer Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles under a tourist visa, but his application for one that would have allowed him to work was held up by red tape. Khan went to the British consulate in Vancouver, British Columbia, to expedite the process, but he was given the run-around by the Department of Homeland Security.
The visa was granted a little more than a week ago, without any reason given for the delay. Khan assumes it had something to do with his Pakistani heritage and possibly the investigation linking the Pakistani Taliban to the recent failed Times Square bombing.
"My head was all over the place," Khan said. "It did get to me, but I was still training hard."
Khan has certainly come a long way since his stunning loss to Breidis Prescott two years ago, which is beginning to look more like an aberration with each passing fight. And much of the credit belongs to Roach, who also trains pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao.
Roach changed Khan's diet and workout regimen to redistribute muscle mass from his upper body to his legs, which seemed to improve his quickness and stamina.
Their work together showed throughout the fight Saturday night, Khan repeatedly beating Malignaggi to the punch. His straight right hands and sharp jabs created heavy swelling under both of Malignaggi's eyes, and Khan seemed to relish every blow that connected.
"I remember going back to the corner in round 10, and Freddie said, 'Go and send a statement to the world and send this guy off,'" Khan said. "And I sent him off."
The two fighters had a genuine distaste for each other that was evident before the contracts were even signed. They argued through Twitter and traded verbal jabs at news conferences, and tempers finally boiled over during the weigh-in Friday inside a hotel ballroom.
The event at the Essex House was supposed to be closed to the public, but close to 100 supports for Khan showed up wearing "Khan's Army" shirts. When the fighters began pushing, the crowd rushed toward the stage and Malignaggi was jostled around. Several people received bumps and bruises, though no punches were thrown and nobody was seriously injured.
It's unclear whether the state athletic commission will levy any fines or suspensions.
The crowd of about 5,000 inside Madison Square Garden was just as revved up before the fight, when a contingent of fans in the middle of the arena stood up and began waving two British flags flanking a Pakistani flag.
A few scuffles broke out during the fight and several fans were escorted from the Garden.
"I've fought all around the world but today I was a little nervous," Khan said. "I was walking in and I could hear a lot of boos, but at the end of the fight a lot of people were cheering for Amir Khan, because I know I have a style that people will like."