For the best part of a decade Paulie Malignaggi was a mainstay in the talent laden junior welterweight and welterweight divisions.
The gifted technician made up for a lack of power with boxing skills and a gutsy determined nature, winning two world titles in two divisions and fighting many of the best fighters of his generation.
Malignaggi was brought up in the predominantly Italian neighborhood of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He attended Gleason’s Gym at 16 and never looked back.
“I got expelled from high school one month before,” Malignaggi told The Ring. “[My family] didn’t want me to be on the streets. I don’t think they thought I was going to be a professional fighter. They wanted me to do something positive.”
In his teens, Malignaggi worked a wide range of jobs to supplant his income. He also enjoyed a good amateur career and won the U.S championships in 2001. He went 40-9 as an amateur before turning professional in July 2001.
“The Magic Man” went on to have a distinguished professional career and now works for Showtime as a commentator.
Here’s what he had to say about six of his most memorable nights in the ring:
June 10, 2006, Madison Square Garden, New York • Titles: WBO junior welterweight
“The main fight that sticks out to people is Miguel Cotto. I fought a recognized name and world champion. I kind of laid down my flag and felt like, ‘I belong here too.’ I’d come off one of the most dominant performances of my career when I fought Donald Carmarena. I looked so dominant in the Carmarena fight that I think it got me the Cotto fight. I did some different stuff in preparation for that fight but I don’t know if it ended up being for my benefit. I had a manager who felt that now we’re fighting at a world class level, now we need to get you a lot more strength training. The strength training lasted maybe four, five, six weeks. I was so sore every day, I couldn’t do any boxing. I think getting me away from the sharpness of my boxing, looking back, probably didn’t help me too much but it did give me great conditioning and the ability to withstand punishment. I had main evented before but not fights of this magnitude. I kind of expected Cotto to have the crowd because I’d been to Felix Trinidad fights in New York and I had also seen what happens when a Puerto Rican fights on the eve of the Puerto Rican day parade. There’s more Puerto Rican’s in New York than on the island of Puerto Rico. I realized going in that it wasn’t going to be my crowd. The Puerto Rican crowd of those days was very vociferous, very emotionally charged, it wasn’t easy for a rival fighter to fight a Puerto Rican star in the Garden. Everything fight week was sort of like what you’d done prior but on steroids. The press conferences are bigger, the events are bigger, the questions you’re dealing with in the media are 100 times more emphasized. I remember a lot of the naysayers saying, I’m just a pretty face, a hotshot, a big-talker, a hot-dogger, enough flair but not enough substance. I look at it as a real learning experience, dealing with emotion, dealing with pain, dealing with a fight that has its ups and downs. It made me more of a fighter. I fought a lot of really good fighters and I can look back on all of them and Miguel Cotto was the most complete fighter I ever fought, and the best fighter I ever fought.”
Result: Cotto UD 12
June 16, 2007, Mohegan Sun Casino, Uncasville, Connecticut • Titles: IBF junior welterweight
“I remember it was not supposed to be Lovemore Ndou, I remember Lou DiBella calling me and saying I was going to fight Ricardo Torres on a Top Rank card. Instead, it ended up being Lovemore Ndou. I get the politics of it, Lovemore Ndou was an Al Haymon fighter and DiBella used to do a lot of work with Al Haymon. That was why it was easier to make me and Lovemore, who had just won the IBF championship. I knew the guy was stubborn and wouldn’t stop coming; he had chased Miguel Cotto all over the ring. This is not an easy ask of me. If I don’t get the title, I’m going to be teetering for a few years with these 30, 40 thousand-dollar fights. Some nights you’re sharper than others – I just knew it was a night I had to do it. I had to make it all come together. I told myself, ‘I’m ready to go through this again.’ I remembered the feeling of being in the Cotto fight and how difficult it was each and every round. When you put your mindset into that place and you’re sharp, you’re boxing scared but you’re boxing really, really good. Obviously, it wasn’t nearly as difficult and I was able to box Ndou pretty well. When the [final] bell rang, I knew I had won the fight; it was too dominant a performance. The fights is underappreciated in my career because Ndou never made a big name for himself, but nobody had dominated Lovemore Ndou prior to that. It meant a lot to me because it was a world championship. I had a bad cut, so I didn’t really get to celebrate because Mohegan Sun had an early curfew. I went to the hospital to get stitches and when I got done everything was closed. The next day, my grandparents were having their 50th wedding anniversary. When I returned to New York it became a kind of dual party. My grandfather, who was the one who started me [in boxing] was double proud. It was a fun night.”
Result: Malignaggi UD 12
November 22, 2008, MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada • Titles: Ring Magazine junior welterweight
“I guess the Hatton fight was supposed to be my crowning achievement. I had had the Cotto fight and thought maybe that could be the one, but that was sort of my baptism by fire. I had won the world title with Ndou but he wasn’t a star, although he was a very tough opponent. Hatton was my first opportunity to go up against someone with star power since the Cotto fight. The reason I mention this fight is because it forced me to make changes in my career. I feel like the version of me that fought Cotto and the one that fought Juan Diaz would have had something for Hatton. What I didn’t know then that I know now is McGirt is a better trainer if you’re a puncher. I won a world championship with Buddy and it was still really early [in our working relationship] when I joined him February 2007. It was too early in 2007 for his tactics to have any natural effect but by 2008 you could see that this wasn’t going to gel well. With Hatton it all fell apart – it had been falling apart all 2008. I had looked bad against Hermann Ngoudjo [and Ndou in the rematch] and was getting worse and worse. There are still things I took from Buddy that I think helped me out later in my career. It just wasn’t me as a fighter. The majority of things I was working on in those days was not good for me in my style and probably should have been thrown out. Unfortunately, the Hatton fight was the one that happened to be my throw away fight. It was an important fight, I had to reassess everything. I changed my whole training team. The lesson learned was it’s not necessarily a trainer that’s a huge name, that everyone praises that is always going to be the answer. I decided to make my own choice because before that everyone had made choices for me. I wouldn’t have figured it all out if it wasn’t for 2008. I wish I would have learned it before the Hatton fight. All credit to Hatton, he performed better that night. But if you watch that fight, my stance has changed, my center of gravity is different. Working on those things for two years broke everything I did naturally. The Hatton fight was an important fight in my career because it made me realize who I am and who I’m not and I have to be true to my style.”
Result: Hatton TKO 11
Juan Diaz 2
December 12, 2009, UIC Pavilion, Chicago, Illinois • Titles: None
“The rivalry with Diaz started once I lost the Hatton fight and Juan lost to Juan Manuel Marquez. I looked like a completely obliterated fighter. It wasn’t just that I lost to Hatton, I looked like a fool; somebody who didn’t know what he was doing. The naysayers and the critics were thinking this guy’s done, he looked like a shot fighter. In the meantime, I knew the changes I needed to make. Diaz had lost a very exciting fight to Marquez – a fight of the year candidate – and they were looking to bring him back. I had to go to his hometown, there was no other choice, I was brought in as fodder. All I was looking for was an opportunity [to prove] that I wasn’t the guy from the Hatton fight. I kind of felt like I was going to get robbed and the media were saying I was making excuses before the fight happened. I was trying to leverage some momentum against the commission and put them on their backfoot so they would say, ‘We can’t rob this guy.’ I was hoping the media would latch onto this. Sure enough, they robbed me (Diaz won a controversial unanimous decision). But it was a good fight, nonetheless, and I’m not the shot fighter people thought I was in the Hatton fight. I created mayhem in the post-fight interview and I think I did my team’s job for them. I got myself the rematch in that post-fight interview on HBO. I remember the rematch because they offered me twice as much money to go back to Houston. But I was being offered more money for the rematch in Chicago [than I had made in the first fight]. I said, ‘No. I’m going to fight him in Chicago and I’m going to beat him.’ It was still a pay raise. I went to Chicago with that chip on my shoulder. Chicago was a great city for the fight because it had a really big population of Mexicans and Italians. I was able to get the victory and legitimize everything I said after the first fight. It was a fight that was important in my career because it set me back on the right path. But the damage my reputation took in the Hatton fight, I never got back.
Result: Malignaggi UD 12
April 29, 2012, Dombass Arena, Donetsk, Ukraine • Titles: WBA welterweight
“Golden Boy had done a good job bringing me back with a couple of wins [after losing to Amir Khan]. They put me on some of their pay-per-views and they’d put me on the televised portions of those cards. I remember thinking, ‘I’m not going to go to the Ukraine because I can’t get American TV to buy me. If I lose American TV definitely won’t buy me.’ [Then CEO of Golden Boy Promotions] Richard Schaefer rang me and told me, ‘We won’t even take our cut, you can keep all of it, but you’ve got to go there.’ The way I looked at it, he was extending an olive branch because he was angry at me for turning the fight down. Anyway, I decided to take the fight. The ironic thing about Senchenko was he also trained at the Wild Card gym with Freddie Roach and I trained there with Eric Brown. I had to go and train in Glendale, then I switched to New York, then to Milan – to get more used to the time zone in Europe – then finally Donetsk the week of the fight. It was probably the best camp of my career; I got really sharp and felt really good the entire camp. Luckily my lawyer, Steve Bash, speaks Russian, so I had him with me and he was a real ace up my sleeve. He could communicate and do everything I needed. I still felt I was going to get robbed, but he was going to take a good beating. I wasn’t thinking of the result anymore, I was so angry my career had come to this. It was kind of a Rocky story, it was just a shame it didn’t get a lot of coverage in the U.S. It might be the most special moment in my career. It’s hard to top your first world championship but it was the way things played out. Nobody thought I was going to win that fight. There was a post-fight party set up for Senchenko in the nightclub in the Dombass Arena, a brand-new state-of-the-art [soccer] stadium for the upcoming 2012 Euros. They had fresh sushi, drinks, music, they invited Evander Holyfield as the guest of honor, they tried to make it upscale and ritzy. It was just us, Evander and a few other people, [laughs] nobody went. I remember Evander dancing – he likes to dance. There was a few of Senchenko’s team on the side, they weren’t very happy. It had been designed to be their party but we crashed it. It was an ultimate moment for me. Nothing could ruin my mood. The next day I had to fly 12 hours back to New York. I had a first-class seat and the TV’s not working. I couldn’t watch anything and my manager, Anthony Catanzaro, was mad, ‘You have to get him another seat!’ But there wasn’t any other seats on the plane. I remember thinking, ‘Don’t worry about it. Nothing could ruin my mood, I don’t care, I’ll just sit in this seat for 12 hours and re-live last night.’”
Result: Malignaggi TKO 9
December 7, 2013, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn • Titles: vacant NABF welterweight
“I looked up to Zab coming up; I was trying to follow in his footsteps. We’d always swirled around each other’s orbit, and finally the stars aligned. We knew each other for so long it was cordial. The battle of Brooklyn was interesting because we were probably at the tail-end of our careers, but we were still performing at a high level. Judah had lost to Danny Garcia in a very competitive fight for the junior welterweight championship and I had lost my welterweight title to Adrien Broner in a fight a lot of people thought I won. We’d both come off losing fights where we had performed well and kept our stock intact. I was in a really bad mood because I felt Judah was a tough fight that I was taking for a fraction of the money I’d be getting had I kept my championship. I knew Judah was not an easy fight. It’s a Brooklyn rivalry, like a (soccer) derby, no matter if one team is in first place and one is in last place, it’s on, it’s always a give and take affair. We had that same feel. We had been the two most known Brooklyn commodities of the last 15/20 years as far as fighters are concerned. It was a long time happening, we’d come up together in Brooklyn, he’d come a little before me, we’d both won championships and put Brooklyn on the map. We prepared very well and had a lot of southpaw sparring. You know the funny thing is, I never lost to a southpaw in my career. I think that’s where I was underrated going into the fight because they made Judah the slight favorite. Sure enough, it ended up being a lot easier than people expected and probably easier than I expected.”
Result: Malignaggi UD 12
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