Paulie Malignaggi and his trainer Billy Giles love to talk smack. It’s like an alternative language for alternative guys for the alternative universe they inhabit. They’re both a lot of fun, fun to be with, fun to hang around, but they’re also smart, real smart, and they both seem pretty serious these days, as well they might considering the fight Saturday night at the big room at Madison Square Garden.
I caught Malignaggi and Giles at Gleason’s Gym where they were putting the finishes touches on their training for Miguel Cotto and asked them about the man Paulie’s challenging Saturday night.
“He’s perfect,” said Giles. “He’s the perfect opponent. The guy’s style, the guy’s weight problems, I think the guy’s too slow, I think the guy’s an idiot, I think the guy has no tools. I think my guy has maybe the best tools in boxing; maybe he’s the best fighter in this business that nobody knows.”
One of the knocks on Malignaggi is that he’s not a power puncher in a sport whose fans love power punching. But Malignaggi, whatever his faults, boxes like a dream.
“A lotta people think I ain’t got no shot in the fight, a lotta people thinks this fight is a joke, a lotta people think this fight is a mismatch,” Malignaggi said. “It just fuels the fire because I’m an elite fighter, whether you believe it or not. I’m a world-class fighter, so if people want to take that credit from me because they dislike my antics and dislike my personality, that’s fine with me. You don’t have to like me, but you’re gonna respect me. So once this fight is over and I do what I gotta do, you’re gonna hear me talk even more – you’re not gonna hear me shut up – and it’s people like that that make me want to do it. If you don’t wanna hear me talk, give me my respect; believe me, I’ll tone it down. But the less people respect me the more I’m gonna talk.”
“The magazines are called boxing magazines,” Giles pointed out, returning to the subject of boxing. “The fans know. It’s just that the average reporters don’t know. They’re baseball reporters, so they don’t know about fighting, they’ve never been roughed, they don’t know nothing about it. This is just their idea, so they make these things up. A guy’s a great puncher? Nobody’s a great puncher… The object of the game is to use art and science, and this is what my guy got. And another thing. There’s no sign when you’re riding your car that talks about power. It says ‘Speed Kills. Slow Down.’”
Malignaggi’s had his share of hand problems, an endemic problem for fighters, but by all accounts his hands have never been better. “Better than they’ve been in two years,” said Giles. “No problem at all.” I was photographing Malignaggi working the heavy bag with only his right fist gloved, and as I told Giles, he was “using it, using it, using it.” “Oh,” Billy said, “we’re gonna use it plenty June 10, right on this guy’s noggin. He’s gonna be a broke up coconut.”
“That’s the analysis of the fight,” added Malignaggi, “and that’s what makes the fight so intriguing. He’s a really good puncher. He’s a good pressure fighter. And I’m a really good boxer, slick, so both of our strengths fall into each other, which makes for a great fight for people to see.”
Many believe if Malignaggi fights his fight – and when has he not? – the kid from Bensonhurst could have Cotto swinging at air all night long.
“Maybe he’ll land four punches in four rounds,” an admittedly partisan Giles predicted. “But no more. And I think he gonna hurt Cotto. We might stop him early too because Cotto’s going to be desperate. He’s gonna run into things. He has no idea how fast this guy really is. He’s gonna be just as surprised as any other opponent we had. We seen Cotto. There’s nothing special about the guy. He’s not tall. He’s not a puzzle like you’re fighting Mayweather. We seen him at his best. But he hasn’t seen us at our best. We’ve been fighting with one hand for the last two years, so when he sees this right hand he’ll know. He’s gonna run out there with his face, get hit. Thinks he’s gonna trade. We’re not trading. What they’re thinking is they’re gonna run out there – this guy’s so powerful, so strong, that he’s an animal, that he’s just gonna tear my guy up. But people don’t know that animals, beasts, monsters, are either made by man or killed by man.”
“He’s so limited that he can’t fight. He can punch,” Paulie added, “but he can’t fight. You’ll find out June 10 that the guy can’t fight. I’ve been saying it all along, but people are going to know, they’re going to believe and know what I’m talking about. Come fight night they’re gonna say, ‘man, this guy doesn’t look like himself.’ And it’s not that he doesn’t look like himself. He’s just gonna have somebody in front of him that knows how to beat him and knows how to fight him.”
Before leaving Gleason’s, Giles and Malignaggi to their own devices, I asked the junior welterweight challenger what if any pressure he felt going into Saturday’s bout with Miguel Cotto.
“Obviously it’s a big fight, but it’s not like a pressure that unnerves me. It’s a pressure I look forward to. It’s a moment I’ve been looking forward to prove everybody wrong and show the world that I am who I am – and that’s a great fighter. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. So it’s not pressure in a bad way. It’s a pressure where it’s my time to shine and I’m gonna do it.”