Boxing


Malignaggi is Quietly Budding into a People's Champion

PaulieBy Christopher Roche, Photo by Raquel Gonzalez, BrickCityBoxing.com- Part 1 of my candid conversation with the new world champion : IBF light-welterweight world champion Paulie "Magic Man" Malignaggi is rarely described as "quiet". Malignaggi normally sports a penchant for castigating his opponents with an avalanche of pre-fight banter. The silver-tongued Brooklyn, NY native is also well known for his multi-colored hair, elaborate ring attire and animated gestures, including an introductory throat slash, which he performs before the opening bell of his bouts.

While Malignaggi portrays a flashy image, the reality is he is extremely down to earth and fan-friendly, and his winning the world title will not change that. The newly minted champion likes to keep things status quo and close to home. For example, four days after winning the title over Lovemore N'Dou, Malignaggi was right back where he came of age by supporting the grassroots "Broadway Boxing" series in Manhattan, albeit with some extra bling around his waist. Just days removed from the biggest night of his professional life, Malignaggi was doing what he always does, shaking hands with fans and mentally critiquing the prospects that were competing in the ring..

Malignaggi emphasized in our telephone conversation that he does not foresee the trappings of his growing fame changing him as a person.

"I still feel pretty much the same. The only difference so far that I have seen is that a lot more people recognize me, you know, with the media and stuff like that. As far as my life everyday, listen, nothing is going to change," explained Malignaggi, who is promoted by DiBella Entertainment. "I am still going to be the same kid. After a fight I usually hang out, take some off time, chill out, you know, that is pretty much what I have been doing, but the difference is that I have been recognized a lot more since the fight."

Despite his recent success, the road for the 26 year-old Malignaggi has not always been smooth. After his epic battle with Miguel Cotto, Malignaggi gave a poignant interview in the ring, and he was gracious toward the victor. However, the television cameras did not capture Malignaggi collapsing in his dressing room from the duress of his massive injuries, which included cuts and a broken orbital bone in his face. Malignaggi required emergency medical attention, and he was rushed to the hospital. Malignaggi openly described that harrowing experience.

"I remember asking myself in the dressing room after the Cotto fight, why do I do this to myself? Why? What possessed me to do this to myself?" said Malignaggi, who was speaking from Atlantic City where he was enjoying some well-deserved R & R. "But by the time I got to the hospital I was already determined to fight Cotto again! In the immediate aftermath I was questioning myself as to why I do this to myself, but by the time I got to the hospital, I was already telling myself `Damn I have to fight this guy again´. The competitor in me eventually comes out."

Malignaggi went on to explain that he was not really thinking about how soon he could get a title shot. He emphasized that he earned his shot and proved his championship mettle by soundly defeating N'Dou to win the IBF light-welterweight world title.

"I really wasn't thinking about how fast I would get a title shot after that (Cotto fight), so I can't say that I was surprised or not surprised, at that moment it really wasn't the focus. But when I look back at it now, I feel like I earned my title shot, because I did not come back and fight a cupcake kind of fight. I beat Edner Cherry on HBO," said Malignaggi, who outpointed Cherry in a ten round unanimous decision in February. "I came back and obviously showed not that I deserved the title, but that I am on a championship level with the way I won it."

When he is not competing in the ring, Malignaggi, who has been a www.Brickcityboxing.com fan favorite, is a fixture at New York area boxing matches, and he mingles as much with the fans as any fighter on the New York scene. He is also an avid supporter of many up and coming prospects. For example, nine days after the aforementioned "Broadway Boxing" appearance, the new champion attended another grassroots show, in Staten Island, NY, to cheer for local prospect Nick DeMarco. DeMarco was scheduled to make his third professional appearance, but he was cut from the ESPN Televised Duva Boxing card apparently because of time constraints.

Despite the disappointment surrounding the DeMarco bout, Malignaggi made a brief appearance on ESPN, where he offered spontaneous analysis of the Darnell Wilson vs. Emmanuel Nwodo main event. Malignaggi sounded like a veteran boxing broadcaster, as he pointed out how Wilson uses roughhouse tactics inside and Nwodo should box from the outside. Unfortunately for Nwodo, he did not stay outside, and moments after Malignaggi's analysis, Nwodo was brutally knocked out in the KO of the year.

Because of Malignaggi's championship success and fan-friendly persona, the public's interest in him is gaining steam, and Malignaggi wants to turn up the heat by fighting Ricky "The Hitman" Hatton. However, Malignaggi realizes there are factors beyond his control that could lead Hatton elsewhere. Hatton's camp appears to be heading toward a match with Floyd Mayweather, Jr., but Malignaggi explained that even if he cannot get Hatton, he still has a huge bargaining chip that he never had before, namely a world title.

"If Hatton fights Mayweather, obviously he would make more money with that fight, so I wouldn't be able to blame him," Malignaggi frankly stated. "At the same time there is not another name on the radar that is really sticking out…but at the end of the day you look at it like this, I have a world title, and I am probably the marquee name at junior welterweight besides Ricky Hatton. There are going to be plenty of challenges and guys gunning for me for me, so I think finding a good challenger won't be a problem if we don't get Ricky Hatton."

In addition to the title belt, another critical factor in Malignaggi's favor is his healthy right hand. Malignaggi's right was a key weapon in staving off the high-pressure assault of N'Dou, and it is healthy for the first time in what seems like an eternity. Malignaggi showcased his new and improved weapon in the ninth round, when he planted N'Dou with a straight right to the head.

"I am not going to tell you I have big power, but I had a lot of right hand injuries. Before I had the right hand injuries, there were knockouts I was getting where guys were going to sleep with the right hand," explained Malignaggi, who is 23-1, 5 KOs. "I am not going to tell you I have big power, but if I catch you with the right hand, you may go. Nobody stopped N'Dou, but the fact that I dropped him should speak for itself."

Malignaggi went on to say that he had a little bit of bruising in his hand after the bout with N'Dou, but he pointed out that if bruising is all he has to deal with, he can handle that at any time.

Malignaggi, like Hatton, is also a man of the neighborhood, and one is likely to find him in Brooklyn's Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge, as opposed to Beverley Hills or Boca Raton. While Malignaggi does not have the massive fan base of Hatton, yet, after his war with Cotto, and his decisive victory over Cherry, the public's interest in Malignaggi germinated. When Malignaggi systematically dismantled N'Dou, complete with the knockdown in the ninth round, Malignaggi's popularity launched way past the skylines of New York City. A victory over Hatton would send Malignaggi's career into the stratosphere.

Hatton is a veteran of 43 fights, without a defeat, and his greatness and global superstardom are not in doubt. However, because of performances like the ones against Juan Urango and Luis Collazo Hatton has an army of naysayers in America, including Mayweather, Jr., who recently called Hatton "the most overrated fighter in 25 years". While Mayweather's words will surely incite Hatton and his fans, from a pure entertainment standpoint, Hatton and Malignaggi match up better than Hatton and Mayweather, and a Hatton would silence his American critics permanently.

Both men have a lot to gain from fighting each other, and a Hatton vs. Malignaggi bout would serve as an exclamation point in a wonderful year of boxing.

Part 2 of this interview will be released next week. Malignaggi agreed to analyze the four major bouts that are set to take place on July 14th, namely Duddy vs. Furlan, Gatti vs. Gomez, Cintron vs. Matthysse and Williams vs. Margarito, and we will have his thoughts for you in advance of that massive quadruple header.

Article posted on 05.07.2007



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