When Paul “The Magic Man” Malignaggi of Brooklyn, New York, won the WBC Continental Americas junior welterweight title from Donald Camarena on February 10 at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut, his team was ecstatic.
Not only did the colorful and likeable Malignaggi raise his record to 21-0 (5 KOs), he punched with authority while giving the formidable Camarena a one-sided beating.
His manager, Sal LoNano, couldn’t stop smiling and his promoter, Lou DiBella, proclaimed that the Magic Man was ready to fight Puerto Rican wunderkind Miguel Cotto this summer.
There was immense joy all around, but nobody was smiling more than Dr. Steven Margles of the Lahey Clinic in Peabody, Massachusetts. If anyone was a magic man that night it was him.
Because he has performed several surgeries on Malignaggi’s often injured right hand, he, along with everyone else involved with the fighter, watched with baited breath and high anxiety as the fearsome Malignaggi continually belted Camarena with the right hand without ever wincing in pain.
“I haven’t come down from my high yet,” said the good doctor a few hours after Malignaggi became a newly crowned champion. “I am so happy to have been able to do this for Paulie. He’s an unusual guy. The only thing faster than his hands is his mouth. He came from nowhere to be where he is today.”
Margles first became involved with Malignaggi in 2004, when he surgically repaired his hand by taking a graft from his pelvis and fusing it with his wrist bone. Six months later, Malignaggi felt pain while training for an August 2005 bout with Jeremy Yelton in New York.
“An X-ray and an MRI found nothing wrong so I got him through training by making the area numb,” said Margles. “He beat Yelton, but he never threw the right hand. He called me the next day and said he thought he broke the hand.”
Margles discovered a displaced fracture on Malignaggi’s fourth metacarpal. He had to remove screws that had been previously placed there, and bone graft the whole area with non-threaded pins instead of screw heads.
While the hand now seems to be stronger than ever, Margles still marvels over the fact that Malignaggi endured so much pain and discomfort for so long.
“Paulie trained three months with a broken hand,” he said. “Talk about tough.”
Surprisingly, the 58-year-old doctor had no more than a fleeting interest in boxing for much of his life. He barely remembers attending one of the classic Ali-Frazier battles at a local theater while attending Penn State’s College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
He always had mixed emotions about boxing and tremendous sympathy and empathy for the boxers.
Those feelings have changed immensely since he began performing surgeries on several notable fighters, all of whom he has tremendous respect for. Among his other pugilistic patients are Vinny Paz, Micky Ward, Harry Simon, Joey Spina, and female champion Jaime “The Hurricane” Clampitt.
“When I operated on Vinny, I gave him two choices of anesthesia and told him the risks associated with both,” said Margles. “Block anesthesia could hit a nerve and he could have a painful arm for the rest of his life. With general anesthesia he could be dead. I told him I know you’d rather be dead than have an arm that doesn’t work. He said, ‘You’re right.’”
He describes Ward as “such a straight shooter. What you see is what you get. He’s a totally honest guy, a man of his word who never forgets a friend. Sometime after Ward-Gatti III, Micky and I were trying to remember the name of an orthopedist who had originally referred him to me. I told Micky I couldn’t remember. He said he couldn’t remember. I told him I was considerably older and that was my excuse. I asked him what his excuse was. He replied, ‘I get hit in the head for a living.’ I thought he made a good point.”
Margles says that Simon had “the hardest bone of anyone I ever operated on. I wasn’t strong enough to screw in the screws that would hold the plates in.”
One thing that all of those fighters have in common, says Margles, is the fact that their injuries are what he terms “professional boxer fractures.”
“An amateur boxer fracture will be to the ring finger and pinky,” he explained. “These guys are having problems between their base and the second and third metacarpals because they throw punches properly and with authority. A boxer who punches properly should hit with the index and middle fingers, which are anatomically very stable. All power generated there gets translated up the forearm bone.”
When Margles first operated on Ward, they made a pact. The doctor would do the operation for free if a victorious Ward would make mention of him on HBO. After his thrilling victory over Shea Neary in Neary’s hometown of London in March 2000, Ward did just that.
Watching the fight from stateside was New England promoter Jimmy Burchfield, who soon took Paz to see Margles. Before long, Margles garnered a well-deserved reputation as a boxing surgeon and a diehard fan.
However, as much admiration and respect that he has for all of his patients, you can’t help but think that he has a special affinity for Malignaggi.
Although the Magic Man can ruffle feathers with his big mouth, to know him is to love him. He is a classic New York dead-end kid who, if not for boxing, would probably be a grim statistic.
“Boxing gave Paulie a reason to be,” said Margles. “He’s such character who’s always pushing the envelope, but he’s really a good person. One time when he was getting ready to spar I found a piece of jewelry that had a hand in the middle. On it were the words, Always remember that you are the magic.
“I gave it to him and told him to wear it on his robe as a good luck charm. I never bought a present for another fighter. I think it is working and I couldn’t be happier.”