Paul Malignaggi is a 5-foot 7-inch, 140-pound junior welterweight with a 19-0 (5 KOs) record. With his trainer Billy Giles by his side, Malignaggi returns to action this Thursday night, August 25, at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, after a long layoff due to injury,
Malignaggi has terrific skills – a killer jab, blinding speed, acute ring intelligence, great defense – but the loquacious junior welterweight also has charisma in spades and is never at a loss for words, so I asked how he first got involved with boxing.
“School wasn't really working out for me so good. I got kicked out of the high school I was attending and they wanted to transfer me somewhere else and I wasn't really feeling that, so my uncle and my grandfather told me to try the boxing gym and see how I liked it—because I was getting in fights anyway—and it kind of guided me in the right direction. I was able to let out what I had to let out in the gym and by the time I got home,” said Malignaggi, “I was too tired to do anything else.”
Malignaggi turned professional on July 7, 2001 at KeySpan Park in Coney Island and has proven he’s one of a kind … a fact of life his trainer encourages.
“You gotta let a guy be himself, because that's what makes him. Leonard, Robinson, Ali, Benny Leonard, Barney Ross, all of them had the same attitude. If they don't have that ego kinda temperament they're not going to make it,” asserted Giles. “You gotta be a selfish guy. Most people take selfishness as something bad, but it's really something good. If a guy don't help himself and think about himself first he won't make it—nowhere in life doing nothing.”
Paulie has had hand problems from the start which peaked in his last fight.
“He broke the left one first; we had a tendon operation. Then he broke the right one. He had seven fractures in the hand,” Giles said. “But he’s been coming to the gym anyway. He wasn’t hitting the bags, but he was jumping rope, shadowboxing, doing exercise.”
“I was in the gym once the cast came off, but my confidence level was real low in terms of believing that the hand was really going to be okay,” Malignaggi added. “At a certain point you start to become a pessimist instead of an optimist. You start to lose confidence. And it was starting to wear and tear on me. At first when I got into the gym, I didn’t feel right for a long time, you know, the way I wanted it to. And I thought like, man, I had another [break] and it’s not going to be the same. But the last month or so it’s really picked up.”
I wondered if Paulie could elaborate.
“It kinda hurt when I was shadowboxing. It was very tender. I was just like: when it this ever going to stop? You know what I’m saying? It’s been a nag throughout my whole career … and you just start to wonder. In the back of my mind, I know this division is so talented and so stacked that without two good hands I’m not going to be able to make it,” Paulie said. “So it was wearing on me. But I’m the type of fighter who I know nobody in the world can beat me if my hand is healthy – and I’m at that point now. I’m 100% confident I could take on anybody.”
I asked Billy if Paulie, now that his hands have healed, is going to change his fighting style.
“His style is to be slick, smart,” Giles said. “We’re going to take care of this division pretty soon, real soon now, now we’re back.”
Paulie said “I have very fast hands, but up until now I had to be conservative with the combinations I throw. Now I can just rip it and let ‘em go where I want to. I’m not going to be a puncher or anything like that, but you’re probably going to see more knockouts, just because I’m going to be a little busier.”
Part of his rehabilitation was to bring a new manager into Team Malignaggi. Sal LoNano, who navigated Micky Ward’s career so effectively, is now working with Paulie. I asked him about Malignaggi.
“It’s a great honor to be with him,” LoNano said. “I thought I’d never get back into the fight game at this level. But when my son Frankie – he and Paulie are very good friends – told me that Paulie wanted to speak with me, I had a meeting with Paulie, I had a meeting with his people, and everybody got together and … how could you not be with him?
“Deep down inside he’s a young man that’s a real gentleman, respectful, and I couldn’t wait to jump at it, to be honest with you. He’s got so much talent. And I know he had the hand injury. And I know the doctor, because when I had Micky Ward, it was the same doctor that we brought him to. [But Paulie’s] the real deal, and now that he’s got the right hand back, I think he’s gonna shock a lotta fans. And like Lou DiBella said, he will be the next champion. I believe it. He works hard. He really loves the sport of boxing. He really takes it serious. He takes it to the next level.”
I wanted to speak with someone a little less partisan and asked HBO's Harold Lederman his impression of Malignaggi.
“What I like about Paulie Malignaggi,” Lederman said, with his staccato, rapid-fire delivery, “is the first time I saw him I thought he was going nowhere – and he keeps getting better and better and better. He’s amazing. That last [fight] he fought with the bad hand, when he beat that Italian, he looked really sensational against a world-class fighter. And that’s how he is. He’s got that great technique. He moves in and out. He’s got very quick hands. He just out-punches you. He’s not a one-punch knockout artist, but he hits hard enough to knock you out. And he’s probably the most in-shape fighter you’ll ever see in your life. I mean he never tires. He never stops. He fights at one pace, straight forward, always moving, and just keeps going and going and going … and you say to yourself, ‘I wonder if this guy is going to run out of gas fighting at a pace like that?’ And he never does!”
I asked Lederman to stop being shy, stop holding back, stop biting his tongue, and tell me what he really thinks of Malignaggi.
“Paulie Malignaggi, to tell you the truth, if he keeps improving the way he’s going, he’s headed for greatness. I can honestly see him out-boxing Miguel Cotto one of these days. He’ll out-box Ricky Hatton. He’ll out-box all 40-pounders. He’s a very tough guy to hit because you don’t get a good shot at him. He moves in, whacks you, and he gets outta there. He’s got that same technique that Roy Jones showed for so many years – that great movement, tricky, tough, hard to hit and, as I say, in dynamite shape and wears opponents down.” Howard Lederman smiled and said, “You gotta love him.”