photo by Kat
Brooklyn’s Paul Malignaggi moves through the streets of Los Angeles with the same ease he glides in the boxing ring. But things are different in Southern California than in New York for good and bad reasons.
“People can’t drive here,” claims Malignaggi. “But things are more laid back.”
No sooner than a flip of the coin Malignaggi (28-4, 6 KOs) has made Southern California his training base as he prepares for a showdown with Jose Miguel Cotto (32-2-1, 24 KOs) on Saturday April 9, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The fight will be shown on HBO pay-per-view along with several other captivating bouts.
The former junior welterweight world champion now fights as a welterweight and recently signed a contract with Golden Boy Promotions. A new world has opened up for the self-energized Brooklyn speedster.
“It’s a breath of fresh air,” he says.
Fighting professionally has never been easy for anyone who lacks knockout firepower. First, you need to protect yourself, second, you need to convince judges continually that you’ve out-pointed the opponent, and third, fans are very fickle about a boxer without knockout power.
It’s an art form that Malignaggi has mastered.
Throughout the history of professional boxing those fighters who knock out people are the ones more revered and idolized. Few remember the technical masters who simply beat up opponents unless they’re truly great.
Think Benny Leonard, Willie Pep, Max Rosenbloom, Wilfredo Benitez or Ivan Calderon. What these boxers and other accomplished by their pure skill cannot be measured. Can you imagine stepping in the ring against killers like Tommy Hearns and knowing that you need to win by decision while averting blows that could decapitate a horse?
Malignaggi has survived vicious wars with the likes of monstrous hitters like Edner Cherry, Lovemore N’Dou, Herman Ngoudjo and of course Miguel Cotto. Ironically, he now faces Cotto’s older brother Jose.
“When I fought Miguel, I was promoting the fight and I said I’m going to beat all the Cottos,” said Malignaggi, adding that he was joking and had to hype his own fights with verbal attacks and self promotion to gather interest. “I was just kidding. But this guy took it personal.”
Being disliked is also an art form for the Brooklyn speedster.
“It’s my (expletive) mouth that’s kept me in the public eye,” admits Malignaggi who’s been approached by Hollywood entertainment agencies. “I like the attention. Unless you’re Latino you don’t get followed. Sometimes you have to be disliked.”
Malignaggi has always had the ability to self-promote through taunts and biting comments. It’s a rare feat that few boxers outside of Ricardo Mayorga, Floyd Mayweather, and Fernando Vargas have been able to accomplish.
Many fans hate Malignaggi and many fans like him. His talking can raise the ire of fans supporting his opponents and spark interest in his fights. It’s also ignited interest from Hollywood buzz makers and producers who like the New Yorker’s gift for gab.
Several Hollywood entertainment agencies are interested in Malignaggi for varying reasons including a reality television program.
“To get to this point it makes me feel blessed,” Malignaggi says. “If everything goes well I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.”
On Saturday, he’ll face the pounding fists of Big Cotto who nearly floored current WBC junior middleweight titleholder Saul “Canelo” Alvarez when they fought last year. Can he survive another battle that pits a 44 magnum against a 32-caliber?
When it comes down to it, skill should prevail and Malignaggi has shown he has an ample supply.
“He’s looking pretty good,” said Eric Brown who now trains Malignaggi.
For the past three months Malignaggi has been training at the famous Wild Card Boxing gym that is home to several of the world’s best fighters pound for pound. From the first day he was welcomed.
“They’ve treated me like one of their own,” Malignaggi says.
Of course don’t expect kindness from Big Cotto.
“He had this look on his face,” chuckled Malignaggi. “He’s serious.”
It’s another Wild West fight this Saturday in Las Vegas.