-- LAS VEGAS -- Marcos Maidana, the powerful puncher and brawler from Argentina, stormed from his corner in the opening round of his welterweight title shot against Adrien Broner in December and never stopped pounding away at him.
Maidana dropped then-undefeated Broner twice, roughed up the Floyd Mayweather Jr. protégé throughout the bout and won a unanimous decision in a fight few had given him a chance to win. Not only did Maidana, a former junior welterweight titleholder, claim his second belt, but he emphatically stated his case that he should be the next opponent for pound-for-pound king and fellow welterweight titleholder Mayweather.
Ultimately, Mayweather did select Maidana as his opponent, and they will meet to unify their 147-pound world titles Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
"Adrien Broner's a good boxer and he roughed Adrien Broner up and he got to victory, so we can't say what this guy can or he can't do. We cannot overlook the guy," Mayweather said. "I can't just say he's going to be an easy fight because he's not going to be an easy fight for me; I don't think so. What I have to do is I've got to make sure that I'm at my best.
"I've got to go out there and take my time, keep my composure and be me. Everybody thinks he's just going to be a pushover, but I don't think so. That's why I'm training hard and I'm pushing myself to the limit every day."
The good news for Maidana is that it's the biggest opportunity (not to mention money) of his career even if he enters the fight as about a 12-1 underdog at the MGM sportsbook, with few giving him a prayer to win. In one survey of 46 members of the boxing media, not one picked the 30-year-old Maidana (35-3, 31 KOs).
So be it, as far as he is concerned.
"I know I am fighting the best in the world and that this is the biggest opportunity there is, so I am very thankful to Mayweather for giving me the chance," he said. "I never let what anybody outside the ring says bother me. I've heard a little about what they're saying, but it doesn't matter. I've heard it before. I've been an underdog my whole life. I was the underdog against Adrien Broner and Victor Ortiz, and you saw what happened. I won.
"I am the underdog again in this fight, but I earned the right to the fight. I will give Mayweather a much better fight than any of the other contenders will. I have trained very well, and I'm in great shape. The only pressure is to perform well. I am a fighter and I come to fight. I don't respect any opponent when I'm in the ring. I'm in this fight to win."
Long odds have been the story of Maidana's career.
"Marcos Maidana is exactly where he wants to be -- the underdog, underestimated, perhaps overlooked," Showtime Sports chief Stephen Espinoza said.
"Maidana is hungry, he is ready and he wants it," Golden Boy Promotions chief executive Richard Schaefer said. "No one gave him a chance when he came here to the United States against 'Vicious' Victor Ortiz [in 2009]. He made a first impression that is still with us. Again, no one is giving him a chance, and that's the position he likes to be in."
Maidana knocked out Ortiz in the sixth round of a wild fight and has been in a series of exciting fights since, culminating with an even bigger upset against Broner.
Then he had his number called to face Mayweather (45-0, 26 KOs), 37, of Las Vegas. It's a fight he clearly earned with his performances in the ring, including four consecutive victories, three of which came against notable opponents -- Broner, Josesito Lopez and Jesus Soto Karass -- on major televised cards.
Mayweather said that he was impressed by Maidana's performance against Broner but that one fight was not the only reason he gave Maidana the shot.
"It's not just the Broner fight. I look at his last four fights," Mayweather said. "I'm not just judging him off of one fight. His last four fights, he done a superb job. He got an 80 percent knockout ratio, so I can't sleep on this guy."
At first, it was uncertain whether Maidana would get the fight. The talk throughout the boxing world was that England's Amir Khan, who owns a razor-close decision win against Maidana in their 2010 fight of the year contender for Khan's junior welterweight belt, was a lock for the assignment.
But Khan had been idle since April 2013 (purposely not taking a December welterweight title shot because he thought he had the Mayweather fight locked up) and had not looked good in his previous fight. Word of a Mayweather-Khan fight also drew a lot of fan and media criticism.
All the while, Sebastian Contursi, Maidana's manager, was watching the situation closely.
"I was expecting that, in order to get the Floyd Mayweather fight, Marcos really needed to get a knockout, a brutal knockout, over Broner. But I was never expecting that fight to be won on points, decisively," Contursi said. "And then you had the rumors that Amir Khan was already made. So I wasn't that confident we would get it. In early January, I started to watch the feedback, especially from American fans when they were talking about Amir Khan on Twitter and ESPN.com and all the social media, and the negativity that Amir Khan received -- that made me think that Maidana is the name now, he's hot. He deserves it."
Yes, he does, but can he win it?
Although Maidana is one of boxing's most brutal punchers, he is a straightforward, one-dimensional fighter who is smaller and slower than Mayweather. Many view him as made to order for Mayweather, who has supreme boxing skills, speed and perhaps the best defense in boxing history.
"As of late, Marcos Maidana has been making a lot of noise. Is he one of the best in the sport? Yes, he is. But I am the best. And that's the difference," Mayweather said. "He's tough, he's rugged, he's a champion. I respect him as a man, but come Saturday you have to earn my respect as a fighter."
Said Floyd Mayweather Sr., who trains his son, "Maidana is a puncher and a strong fighter, but Floyd is faster and has more knowledge. I saw Maidana against Broner, and, to me, he was very predictable but Broner did not know what to do.
"I see Floyd coming out early, moving some and feeling him out while walking him down for a few rounds and then picking him apart."
Contursi said as soon as Maidana was announced as Mayweather's opponent, he was inundated with calls from friends and family congratulating their team for getting the fight.
"We are facing the best in the world, maybe one of the best in history, but we just say to these people calling, 'Don't congratulate now. Congratulate us on May 4.'
"Absolutely, we have faith because we know Maidana is not a guy who can be intimidated. I don't want to talk wild about Canelo Alvarez [Mayweather's last opponent], but he had the tools to do something more and I think maybe [it was] lack of experience. But Maidana will not be like that.
"For him, it will be do or die. That's why we are so confident but always respectful. When you are facing a guy like Floyd Mayweather, you have to be, but we really are confident and here to win."
That has always been Maidana's approach. That is why he has gotten to where he has -- without listening to the naysayers.
"No one has given anything to me. The opportunity, I earned it myself," Maidana said. "I know this is a very difficult fight. That's why I trained like never before. Mayweather is a great fighter, but I don't give a f--- about this guy."