Boxing returns to Brooklyn's Barclays Center this Saturday night, as two of the borough's biggest stars, Paulie Malignaggi and Zab Judah, face off.
This fight is for the vacant NABF welterweight strap, but that belt is an afterthought in a fight like this. Malignaggi and Judah are both multiple-time world champions at light welterweight and welterweight.
This fight is about local bragging rights and two aging stars battling to remain relevant at the world-class level.
|Per BoxRec||Paulie Malignaggi||Zab Judah|
|Record:||32-5, 7 KOs||42-8, 29 KOs|
|Weight:||147 pounds||147 pounds|
|Hometown:||Brooklyn, New York||Las Vegas, Nevada|
Both fighters are longtime ring veterans with a lot of fights and rounds. Malignaggi has above-average reach for his height, but Judah has the average reach of a six-foot tall man, despite listing at below 5'8".
Although Judah's residence is now listed as Las Vegas, he's a Brooklyn native like Malignaggi. Both of these fighters have represented the borough well during this century.
This is a fight that might easily have happened already. Malignaggi and Judah have both fought at the world-class level at 140 and 147 over the past decade.
But once the Barclays Center opened up for business in Brooklyn in 2012, it was probably only a matter of time before Malignaggi vs. Judah had to happen. The two Brooklyn natives have both already headlined in the new venue, and it's a natural rivalry for them to face off there against each other.
Judah turned professional in 1996 and had already won the IBF light welterweight belt before the turn of the century. Malignaggi turned professional in 2001 and failed in his first title challenge against Miguel Cotto in June 2006 but managed to win the IBF light welterweight belt a year later against Lovemore N'Dou.
Both aging fighters have remained stubbornly relevant in recent years. Malignaggi captured the WBA welterweight belt with a Round 9 TKO of Vyacheslav Senchenko in April 2012. Judah beat previously unbeaten Vernon Paris by Round 9 TKO in March 2012.
Malignaggi and Judah both looked good in defeat against undefeated rising stars in 2013. Zab Judah finished strong in a unanimous-decision loss against Danny Garcia last April. Paulie Malignaggi dropped a split decision to Adrien Broner in June.
Paulie Malignaggi is a slick technical boxer. He has excellent defensive movement and footwork. He is very good at getting the angle on his opponents and delivers punches in quick, accurate combinations.
Although his style is designed to minimize the damage he takes, he has a very solid chin and no fear of hanging out in the pocket.
Zab Judah has extremely quick hands and excellent timing, which allow him to throw a very sneaky lead left from his southpaw stance. It's a punch he's had success landing against some of the best fighters in the world, including Floyd Mayweather.
Judah is a very good boxer, but his explosive athleticism makes him dangerous when he turns a fight into a brawl.
Paulie Malignaggi has just seven stoppages in 37 professional fights. He's had a successful career despite the lack of finishing ability, but his limited power has definitely hurt him against elite fighters.
Zab Judah has not always looked strong in the later rounds of fights. He has dropped two of his last three fights and, at 36, does not seem to have all the physical gifts that once made him among the more exciting fighters in the sport.
The most important thing Paulie Malignaggi needs to do in this fight is avoid Zab Judah's left hand. He is going to need to circle behind his jab to his own left, making sure to keep his own lead left foot to the outside of Judah's lead right foot.
Malignaggi is going to need to use a combination of level changes and movement to finesse Judah's attempts to apply pressure and land on him with heavy combinations.
Malignaggi needs to make Judah miss and then come back with aggressive multiple-punch combinations. He's going to need to make it an active, busy fight and look to wear Judah down in the stretch rounds.
Zab Judah is going to need to apply smart pressure to Paulie Malignaggi and beat him to the punch in close range. He should look to score with a lead hook to the body as Malignaggi tries to circle away from his left hand.
Judah needs to avoid reckless aggression. Malignaggi might not have the power to seriously threaten him with a stoppage, but he's definitely got the skill to unload scoring barrages and move out of range.
The biggest factor influencing Judah's success will be his conditioning. He's going to need healthy legs all fight long to keep Malignaggi in front of him.
I don't expect to ever see either Paulie Malignaggi or Zab Judah once again emerge as a true factor at the top of the welterweight division. But this should be a very compelling and competitive fight. Both of these guys have world-class skills and plenty left in the tank.
Moreover, there is a tremendous amount of pride at stake in this battle. A win here would mean a lot on a personal level for both men.
I expect Malignaggi to win rounds with movement and counterpunching, but as long as Judah has the conditioning to keep up an active pace, I think he will be able to land the heavier shots as the fight progresses, which should give him an edge in the championship rounds.
I was impressed by the way Judah finished the night against Danny Garcia last April, which has often been a weak point for him. If he can sustain an active pace all fight long against Malignaggi on Saturday, he should be able to edge him.
I'm picking Judah by a very close decision, 115-113.