Will Paulie Malignaggi's Bite Match His Bark?

Lyle FitzsimmonsFeatured ColumnistJune 18, 2013

Never at a loss for words, Brooklyn's Paulie Malignaggi is 5-0 since becoming a full-time welterweight.
Never at a loss for words, Brooklyn's Paulie Malignaggi is 5-0 since becoming a full-time welterweight.Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

By now, everyone’s heard the talk.

But in case you haven’t, here’s a synopsis: Adrien Broner doesn’t think much of Paulie Malignaggi as a fighter, and he’s not afraid to say so. Not surprisingly, the feeling goes both ways.

And Malignaggi, who’ll be defending his WBA slice of the world’s welterweight championship this Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET), doesn’t limit analysis of his opponent to just the in-ring Xs and Os.

“You go from fight to fight and guys talk to each other and most of the time it’s just banter and you can get past it afterward,” he said. “But in this case it’s different. I have people coming up to me and saying that when they met him he was the biggest a**hole to everyone, including fans.

“Even people who’ve known him say that he’s not always been that way. Once you make some money it can change you if you let it, and to me that shows a severe lack of class. So no, there’s no love lost for him. I couldn’t care less about him and there’s nothing good to say.”

The oddsmakers are less harsh on Broner the challenger, installing the former 130- and 135-pound titleholder as a clear favorite who’ll require bettors to make a sizable investment upfront to recoup a comparatively puny sum in return.

According to the champion, though, any such wager equates to financial folly.

“It’s not even close,” Malignaggi said. “I’ve had some very good sparring partners in camp and I’ve barely lost rounds—and that’s with guys being replaced every couple of rounds and having fresh ones brought in. I’m very sharp and it’s going to be the best possible version of Paulie Malignaggi.”

Added to that, Malignaggi said, is the edge he gleans simply from this not being his first rodeo.

“When you’ve been doing this for a lot of years, you need to have the motivation to do the hard work to prepare,” he said. “And this fight is why I want to show up and perform. It’s a big fight. It means the world to me for a lot of reasons. The arena is just a few miles from the hospital where I was born, which blows my mind, and it makes it that much more important.”

The 32-year-old Brooklyn native has fought and won twice in his home borough, and he’s 12-2 in 14 career bouts in his home state.

The two defeats, however, came in other high-profile events where he was perceived as the local fighter—a unanimous 12-round loss to Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto in 2006 and an 11th-round TKO loss to Englishman Amir Khan four years later, both at Madison Square Garden.

Both fights were for championships at 140 pounds, a division Malignaggi abandoned after the Khan loss because he could no longer comfortably make weight. In five subsequent fights in the 147-pound ranks, he’s 5-0 and has scored two of his seven career stoppages.

The fourth of those five wins came 14 months ago in the Ukraine, where he TKO’d Vyacheslav Senchenko in nine rounds to win the WBA title that he’ll risk on Saturday.

“I’m unlike other fighters in the sense that if I have a fight and something goes wrong, I’ll come out and say what it was and then I’ll correct it,” Malignaggi said. “So, for all those people who might have written me off over the years, all they need to do is look at where I am now. The way you remain relevant is by knowing what you’re talking about and coming out and showing that in your next fight.”

In Broner, he sees a skilled foe cut from the cloth of multi-division superstar Floyd Mayweather Jr. But unlike Mayweather, he contends, Broner simply doesn’t have the physical tools to make the same sorts of weight-class ladder climbs that Mayweather has made look easy.

On paper at least, the differences don’t look so drastic.

Mayweather, who stands 5’8’’ with a 72-inch reach, won his first championship at 130 pounds and has since captured belts at 135, 140, 147 and 154. Broner, who’s an inch shorter and has a slightly shorter reach (72 inches to 71), has championships in two weight classes but decided to skip over 140 and head straight for Malignaggi at 147.

Malignaggi, incidentally, is 5’8½’’ and has a 70-inch reach. He turned pro in 2001 at 136½ pounds, weighed-in at exactly 135 for three fights and has been as heavy as 148¾ for a sixth-round TKO of Michael Lozada seven months after the Khan fight in 2010.

“I think (Broner is) a lightweight fighting as a welterweight,” Malignaggi said. “Floyd was able to jump a lot of divisions, but he had more height and a bigger frame. Broner just looks like a smaller guy to me.”

Predictably, Mayweather tops the next-fight wish list for the incumbent, assuming all goes well over the weekend. If that one doesn’t get made, though, he’s ready with a solid backup plan.

“Sure, everyone wants to land the big fish, and (Mayweather would) be it for me,” Malignaggi said. “He’s the best fighter ever, in my opinion, and I think everyone would want to match up with him to see where they stand. But there’s Marcos Maidana out there, too, and I’d love to have a fight with him. He’s been out there a couple years and he deserves a shot at a legitimate belt, not the interim ones.

“That’s a quality welterweight title fight, and I don’t think anyone would be complaining if I was successful in getting Marcos Maidana into a ring.” 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first hand.