If ever there was a boxer who raised his profile in defeat, it was Paul Malignaggi, the brash junior welterweight from Brooklyn.
Ridiculed as a trash-talking charlatan before the bout, many observers expected Malignaggi to lose badly to Miguel Cotto on Saturday at Madison Square Garden during a 12-round match for Cotto’s WBO title.
Instead, Malignaggi gritted his teeth, tucked in his chin and silenced his critics by going the distance against Cotto, putting forth a career-defining effort.
Cotto won a unanimous decision by scores of 115-112 and 116-111 (twice) in front of 14, 365 squealing fans at The Garden, but Malignaggi (21-1, 5 KOs) made the biggest impression with his gritty performance.
An accidental head butt in the first 30 seconds of the fight opened a two inch gash above Malignaggi’s left eye, and over the next 11 rounds, Malignaggi would move ahead with blood oozing from his nose; his right cheek puffed up the size of a golf ball; and his ribs a rose-colored pink. He was knocked down from a left hook in the second round.
Immediately following the fight, Malignaggi was whisked away in an ambulance to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village, where he spent the night and was released around noon on Sunday.
His promoter, Lou DiBella said that Malignaggi sustained a fracture of the orbital bone and that he would not fight for six to eight months. Despite shaking his right hand in the fourth round after landing a punch – the telltale sign a fighter has hurt his hand – a doctor at St. Vincent’s denied that he suffered any broken bones. The hand specialist Dr. Steve Margles, who operated twice on Malignaggi’s right hand during his career, visited the hospital briefly but would not speak to a reporter, citing HIPAA Privacy Rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that protects a patient’s right to withhold medical information.
One internet report declared that Malignaggi broke his nose and possibly dislocated his jaw and fractured his cheekbone, but DiBella said that was not true. What was beyond the realm of speculation was the courage Malignaggi showed in standing up to Cotto. Malignaggi did not return phone calls seeking comment.
“Paulie proved that he’s one of the top 140-pounders in the world,” DiBella said on Saturday at the hospital. “This kid was willing to go out on his shield. I’m proud of him, and I think that even in defeat, his stock went way up. This was a huge jump in competition, and maybe it was a little bit too much to bite off, but jeez, what stones he showed, what guts.”
The attending physician at St. Vincent’s emergency room on Saturday said that Malignaggi had some facial swelling and his nose was bleeding but that a battery of tests revealed no serious damage.
The media was not allowed to see Malignaggi or speak to a doctor after a brief initial conversation with Dr. Maria Rolon, the attending physician.
“He’s going to be fine,” Dr. Rolon said. “He didn’t break anything. His jaw appears to be ok, but his nose is still bleeding.”
It was the fourth time one of DiBella’s fighters visited a hospital after a match in the last year. Leavander Johnson died after his bout with Jesus Chavez last September; Jaidon Codrington suffered a terrible knockout at the hands of Allan Green in November and David Estrada was stopped by Kermit Cintron in April.
Malignaggi’s trainer, Billy Giles, said that Cotto surprised him with his speed and endurance in the later rounds.
“Cotto was faster than I thought he was going to be,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that, but that head butt in the first round threw Paulie off his game. He got a little dizzy, and it changed his game-plan. He got a little desperate, but he regrouped, and he showed that he was a world-class fighter. He showed a lot of heart. I knew he was a tough kid. The great ones are able fight through this type of stuff.”
Malignaggi’s manager, Sal LoNano said Malignaggi’s performance brought back memories of some of Micky Ward’s grittiest performances. LoNano managed Ward’s career for ten years and was ready to retire from boxing until Malignaggi came along.
“Seeing what he went through reminded me of Micky,” LoNano said. “Paulie surprised everyone with his toughness. No one expected him to go the distance. Everyone thought he would last three or four rounds. To see Paulie [enduring punishment] was heartbreaking. I broke up watching him. A lot of old feelings came back that I used to feel when I watched Micky fight. It was a hard fight, but Paulie will come back strong.”
As the fight depreciated into a slugfest and Malignaggi began to break down physically, the New York State Athletic Commission sent a throat, ear and nose specialist, Dr. Linda Dahl to Malignaggi’s corner, in addition to the doctor that was monitoring the corner already. Watching the match closely, Ron Scott Stevens, the commission’s chairman, inadvertently caught Malignaggi’s eye in the later rounds of the fight and Malignaggi mouthed to him: “Don’t stop the fight; I’m ok,” Stevens said.
For Malignaggi to fight again in New York, he will have to get a clean bill of health from the commission. Stevens said he will probably put Malignaggi on indefinite suspension.
“He can fight again when he’s ready,” Stevens said during a phone conversation on Sunday. “He has to be completely recovered and go through a full battery of tests to make sure he’s ok. It was really a courageous performance from Paulie and Cotto. I anticipate Paulie being able to fight again. We were all very proud of both fighters for putting on a tough, hard fight.”
Back in his dressing room, Malignaggi gazed into a bathroom mirror, checking his teeth and eyeing the evidence that he had been in a grueling war. When someone suggested that he be taken to the hospital on a stretcher, Malignaggi demurred, explaining that he didn’t want to give Cotto the satisfaction of seeing him being carted out.
Malignaggi was the second fighter from New York in less than a month to comport himself impressively in a championship bout only to come up short. The other was Luis Collazo, who pushed Ricky Hatton to the brink of defeat in a losing effort on May 13.