Veteran boxing referee Joe Cortez revealed in an interview Monday that a recent sparring session between reigning UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor and Paulie Malignaggi got heated.
Cortez discussed the situation with Randy Gordon and Gerry Cooney on SiriusXM Boxing:
McGregor is in preparations for his first professional boxing match, which will be a clash with Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Aug. 26 in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
In the interview (h/t Anton Tabuena of SB Nation's Bloody Elbow), Cortez said McGregor acquitted himself well against Malignaggi before things started getting out of hand:
"He handled himself pretty good with Paulie. That guy can pop. He was in there mixing it up a little bit with Paulie, and it was the real thing. They was no messing around. In fact, I had to stop the action, and I had to say, 'All right, guys, you guys are a little out of control here, you gotta stop this.' It got a little rough."
Cortez also said he had to shut down the trash-talking between McGregor and Malignaggi while also trying to get them to have a clean sparring session:
"They were both roughing each other up, and I had to stop the action like in a regular fight. They were holding too much, they were trying to punch each other. I mean, it got a little bit out of control where I had to call 'Time!'
"[I said], 'All right, guys, you gotta stop this right now. I want a good clean round. Give me sportsmanlike conduct. Understand? I don't want to take any points from either one of you. Do you understand?' I looked at them, and they said, 'OK, all right.' And I said, 'Time in.'"
Malignaggi boasts a 36-8 career record as a professional boxer, and he is a former welterweight and junior welterweight champion.
According to Sky Sports (h/t BoxingScene.com), Malignaggi has been impressed by what he has seen from McGregor: "It makes me respect McGregor to see his work ethic that he's put into the training camp. Seeing him work hard every day and see that he's really determined to upset the odds."
The 29-year-old McGregor is 21-3 in his career as an MMA fighter and became the first UFC fighter to hold two titles at the same time (featherweight, lightweight).
He is easily among the top draws in combat sports, and his star power is undeniable. But he is stepping into an unfamiliar realm.
Mayweather is a perfect 49-0 in his boxing career, and despite being 11 years McGregor's senior, his vast amount of experience makes him a significant favorite heading into the fight.