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From the verge of retirement to the peak of boxing, Maidana a ‘rugged’ challenge for Mayweather

Maidana’s new trainer, Robert Garcia, has chased ‘Money’ for nearly two decades

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Steve Marcus

WBA welterweight champion Marcos Maidana, left, of Argentina attends a news conference with trainer Robert Garcia at the MGM Grand on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Maidana will challenge WBC welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a WBC/WBA unification fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday.

Mayweather and Maidana: Final News Conference

WBC welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., left, and WBA champion Marcos Maidana of Argentina pose during a news conference at the MGM Grand Wednesday, April 30, 2014. The two champions will meet in a WBC/WBA unification fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday. Launch slideshow »

Mayweather and Maidana Arrive at MGM Grand

Undefeated WBC welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., center, poses in the lobby of the MGM Grand Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Mayweather will face WBA welterweight champion Marcos Maidana of Argentina at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday. Launch slideshow »

Robin Leach and Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Robin Leach tours the Las Vegas homes of Floyd Mayweather Jr. for a Showtime special. Launch slideshow »

Mayweather Jr. Prepares for Maidana

WBC welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., left, works on his timing with his uncle and trainer Roger Mayweather at the Mayweather Boxing Club Tuesday, April 22, 2014. Mayweather is preparing for his fight against WBA champion Marcos Maidana of Argentina at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 3. Launch slideshow »

A camera crew followed Marcos Maidana’s every step as the Argentine boxer arrived and spoke to a horde of media Wednesday at the Hollywood Theater in the final press conference before Saturday’s bout against Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Maidana could have never anticipated being at the center of a spectacle-like fight week at the MGM Grand two years ago, and not just because of his unease with publicity. He was unsure whether he’d ever fight again after a unanimous-decision loss to Devon Alexander in February 2012.

Maidana briefly contemplated retirement after losing for a third time in nine fights and getting beaten handily for the first time in his career.

“I just didn’t want to do it anymore,” the Spanish-speaking Maidana said through Robert Garcia, his trainer and translator, earlier this week.

Those close to Maidana, most notably manager Sebastian Contursi, were determined not to allow the then-28-year-old to sever his career without reaching his potential. They convinced Maidana not to abandon boxing partly by connecting him with Garcia, the reigning Trainer of the Year who ran a budding team out of his gym in Oxnard, Calif.

Maidana has looked reinvented ever since, knocking out three consecutive opponents to start his tenure under Garcia before seizing the attention of the entire boxing world last December. That’s when Maidana shocked previously undefeated Adrien Broner, Mayweather’s “little brother,” with a unanimous-decision victory that featured two knockdowns.

“I’m not just judging him off his last fight,” Mayweather said. “His last four fights, he’s done a superb job.”

Garcia turned out to be the perfect fix to Maidana’s problems. Always a vicious puncher, Maidana scored 26 of his first 28 victories via knockout.

The issue was his boxing ability, which remained raw even after he twice challenged for WBA titles. Garcia was able to round the rest of Maidana’s game into form, which was best exemplified by outpointing a technical whiz like Broner.

“He’s corrected a lot,” Maidana said of Garcia. “He’s corrected a lot of my punches. I’ve prepared well every fight, and the results are showing better every time than the previous one.”

Garcia was bound to get a shot at Mayweather someday. He’s trained several of the world’s top fighters over the past decade, including current featherweight standout Nonito Donaire, now-retired Kelly Pavlik and Victor Ortiz, who faced Mayweather after leaving Garcia.

Two of Garcia’s fighters, Antonio Margarito and Brandon Rios, have taken on Manny Pacquiao with him in their corners. But an opportunity to knock off the top pound-for-pound boxer in the world evaded Garcia until now.

“It’s bigger than anything I’ve been involved in,” Garcia said. “I’ve been in fights against some of the best fighters in the world, but this is definitely the biggest challenge.”

In a testament to Mayweather’s longevity at the top, Garcia nearly fought the five-division champion himself long ago. Mayweather captured his first title, the WBC super-featherweight belt, in 1998.

Garcia held the IBF super-featherweight strap at the same time but lost to Diego Corrales on the undercard of a Mike Tyson fight at the MGM shortly after to fall out of the running for a bout against Mayweather.

“Sixteen years later and he’s still here, and come to be the best fighter in the world,” Garcia said. “I didn’t get to fight against him, but just being a part of this, I’m still in the fight pretty much.”

While reviewing Mayweather’s previous fights in preparation for the Maidana training camp, one bout from closer to his own era stood out to Garcia. Jose Luis Castillo perhaps challenged Mayweather like no one else in their first of two fights in 2002 at the MGM.

Garcia thought Castillo excelled by attacking Mayweather and not letting the aura of the moment get to him.

“I think Castillo made him suffer,” Garcia said. “Most of the time, they know who he is and show too much respect. Castillo, 12 years ago, I think was like (Maidana) now. He didn’t care who he was fighting. He just went in there trying to beat his opponent, and a lot of people think he did. If you asked me a year ago, I would say I think Mayweather won, but now I’ve seen the fight closely round by round and I think Castillo won the fight.

“In this fight, Mayweather is going to suffer. Mayweather is going to have someone on top of him. It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be like a street fight, and I don’t think he’s ever been in a street fight before.”

Garcia may have polished his fighter’s skills, but Maidana will never completely stray from his roots. In Mayweather’s words, Maidana is “rugged.”

He’s a brawler.

“That’s my style,” Maidana said. “That’s what I do. I come to be aggressive and I come to fight. Mayweather might hit me, might hurt me, but I’m still going to come until the end and when I hit him, he’s going to feel it.”

Maidana had no such confidence after the Bradley defeat a couple of years ago. Many, to an extent himself included, counted Maidana out of ever reaching the pinnacle of the sport at the time.

Perseverance and a new mentor proved them all incorrect.

“Mayweather is not going to have the Maidana that fought Devon Alexander,” Garcia vowed. “That was two years ago. I wasn’t involved. His career since he’s been with me is a different Maidana.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer

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