BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Paulie Malignaggi generally subscribes to the age-old boxing principles that it never pays to hook with a hooker or jab with a jabber. As a power-deficient technician whose own seldom-employed hook won’t ever remind anyone of Gerry Cooney, who was at ringside, or the late Joe Frazier, Malignaggi figured his best chance of upsetting 6-to-1 favorite Danny Garcia here Saturday night at the Barclays Center was to outjab the former WBC/WBA super lightweight champion, who was making his debut as a full-fledged welterweight.
It was a sound fight plan, at least on paper, except for one thing: Garcia’s jab was harder and better than Malignaggi had anticipated, and so was the Philadelphian’s patient, controlled strategy. It all led to Garcia (31-0, 18 KOs) systemically breaking down Malignaggi (33-7, 7 KOs) en route to a ninth-round technical knockout victory in the scheduled 12-round main event of the “Premier Boxing Champions on ESPN” telecast.
The outcome had pretty much been decided on the official scorecards (798-73 twice, 78-74 on the other) when Garcia landed a ripping overhand right to Malignaggi’s left ear in the ninth round, scrambling the battered Brooklyn native’s equilibrium and prompting referee Arthur Mercante Jr. to step in and wave the proceedings to a halt at the 2-minute, 22-second mark. It was a proper call; at the time of the stoppage, the “Magic Man’s” face was lumped and reddened to a fare-thee-well, and his likelihood of winning on a late knockout shot, given his negligible power, was about as long as winning the PowerBall and MegaMillions lotteries on the same day.
“I wasn’t going to give in, but little by little he broke me down,” Malignaggi, a former super lightweight and welterweight champion who was one of boxing’s biggest overachievers and is now likely to retire, said of the rising, choppy waters he was trying to navigate with little success.
Although Malignaggi’s supporters – that would seem to be the majority of the 7,237 spectators, although Garcia (five appearances) actually has fought more in the Barclays Center than homeboy Malignaggi (four) – screamed their disapproval at Mercante for what they believed was a too-quick termination of the bout, the 34-year-old object of their affection agreed that it was the proper call.
“At first I was mad about the stoppage, but in hindsight, it was fine,” Malignaggi said. “I’m not the 25-year-old kid who fought (future Hall of Famer Miguel) Cotto anymore.
“I went from being a championship fighter at one time in my career to just being a pesky guy it’s hard to look good against. I feel like I can still compete, but against this level of fighter I came up short, you know? So it’s a tough decision to keep going.”
Garcia, 27, doesn’t have nearly as many pothole-hazard on his boxing odometer as Malignaggi, but there are those who wondered if he had lost some pep in his step since maybe the most impressive performance of his career, when, as an underdog, he schooled Argentine power-puncher Lucas Matthysse in winning a clear-cut unanimous decision on Sept. 14, 2013. But the strain on his body of trying to continue paring down to the super lightweight limit of 140 pounds sapped his strength and energy, and, after a desultory and disputed majority decision over Mauricio Herrera in his father-trainer Angel’s homeland of Puerto Rico, his last title defense, he lost some career momentum in blowing away no-chance longshot Rod Salka in two rounds in a non-title affair and winning a disputed majority decision over fellow super lightweight champ Lamont Peterson in a catch weight bout.
“Man, I feel great,” said Garcia, who in his official welterweight debut came in a tick below the 147-pound welter limit at 146.6 pounds. “We went hard in this training camp for eight weeks straight. I never felt weak. We were able to cut off the ring, use the jab. We were able to execute everything we4 worked on. Chased some chickens (remember that scene from “Rocky II”?). Everything just came to life today.” There are those who will say that Garcia didn’t make an exclamation-point kind of statement against Malignaggi, who lost for the third time in his last four bouts and was stopped in four rounds by then-IBF welterweight champ Shawn Porter in his most recent bout, which was 16 long months ago. And while all that is true, to some extent, neither did Garcia make the mistake of thinking he could just walk through a crafty veteran who has had a history of making other very good fighters look bad at times.
Malignaggi was to have taken a tuneup bout against a lesser opponent in Danny O’Connor (26-2, 10 KOs) on May 29, but that fight fell through when Malignaggi suffered a cut eye in training. With the alternative of returning full-time to his job as a highly regarded color analyst for Showtime (he was voted the winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Sam Taub Award, for excellence in broadcast journalism for 2013), Malignaggi might have decided to retire then. But when the opportunity of testing his hand against someone of Garcia’s caliber suddenly presented itself, the old itch returned.
Now that itch has been scratched, apparently for the final time.
“I’m gung-ho,” Malignaggi explained. “I go from zero to 100, you know? I didn’t just come back for a tuneup. I had a tuneup scheduled for May, a decent fighter in Danny O’Connor. But I just wanted to jump back in the big mix. In hindsight, maybe taking on a lesser fighter would have been good. Maybe taking on Danny Garcia after 16 months wasn’t so smart. But you know what? I don’t regret it, man. I was happy to share the ring with a great fighter. I’ve shared the ring with many great fighters in my career. I didn’t take any shortcuts, that’s for sure.”
Malignaggi had hoped to get under Garcia’s skin, like a nagging rash, with the sort of trash talk that he speaks as fluently as, say, a Bernard Hopkins or Floyd Mayweather Jr. He had boldly predicted that “No one from Philly is going to come into my house and school me.”
But Garcia didn’t take the verbal bait. Angel had instructed him to stay with the program, and, in time, Danny’s advantages in youth, power and talent would begin to pay dividends.
“I knew Paulie was going to use his jab and try to throw off my rhythm,” the younger Garcia said. “I’m pretty sure he watched tapes of some of my other fights against guys that had a little bit of success. But we prepared perfect for this. We prepared to stay calm and not get desperate … to, you know, just break him down.”
Garcia was already controlling the action, but even more so in the middle rounds when he began jabbing, accurately and with snap, to Malignaggi’s left shoulder and chest. That disrupted the timing of Malignaggi’s jab, forcing him to take small backward half-steps and recalibrate when he had hoped to counter Garcia’s jab with quick overhand rights.
“I still have an annoying style, but Danny made little adjustments in there,” Malignaggi said. “I was trying to win the jab war. It was going back-and-forth. I felt that Danny had a slight advantage in the rounds, but I couldn’t gain complete control. I had my moments. I was grasping at it, but then he’d take it back. It’s a testament to his character.
“His hard jabs to my chest and shoulder rocked back my momentum. His jab was real heavy. It gave him command of the pace of the fight.”
And the jab wasn’t the only weapon in Garcia’s arsenal that packed some pop.
“I’m not going to tell you he’s the hardest puncher I ever fought, but he carried his power well,” Malignaggi said. “Danny’s got some solid strength, some solid power. He’s one of the better punchers.
“Danny Garcia is a good fighter. I think he’s going to move on to good things. This is the kind of fight that will make him better. He was forced to think in there, to make some adjustments. I’m a pesky guy. I’m a But he stayed calm and he didn’t show frustration. I just want to give him his props.”
For Malignaggi – a singles hitter in a home-run sport whose brash manner and antics – who can forget when he began to lose his hair extensions in a close 2008 points nod over Lovemore N’Dou? — the next step is to continue to improve his already celebrated commentating skills. Garcia has plenty of options in a deep welterweight division, but both he and former IBF welterweight champ Shawn Porter (26-1-1, 16 KOs) are part of adviser/manager Al Haymon’s even deeper stable, and Porter was on hand to “scout” Garcia as well as to call him out. For his part, Garcia had previously stated that Porter was “tailor-made” for him.
“If Al Haymon wants Danny Garcia-Shawn Porter, we can do it,” Garcia.
Said Porter: “We heard from the grapevine I’m tailor-made for Danny Garcia. Words from his mouth. I want to answer those words.”
In the co-featured bout, WBA middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs (30-1, 27 KOs), who traded knockdowns with Sergio Mora (28-4-2, 9 KOs) in the action-crammed first round, scored a second-round TKO when he again floored Mora in the second roud, causing Mora’s right leg to twist grotesquely under him. Although Mora beat the count, he immediately knew that he had sustained a severely sprained if not broken right ankle, at the least, and possible damage to his knee. He informed referee Gary Rosato that he was not able to continue, which seemed the proper call. After Mora was examined by ring physicians, he was taken by ambulance to a local hospital for an MRI to determine the extent of his injuries.
“He took the only way out that was available to him,” said Jacobs. “I really wanted to stop him,” Jacobs said of the hobbled Mora. “I didn’t want him to quit on his stool. I wanted to beat him on my own. But I think he knew the outcome would have been the same a few rounds later, anyway.”
Of course. Mora clearly had resorted to the old use-a-broken-or-sprained-foot excuse.
What Jacobs would like is an all-Brooklyn showdown with Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin (31-0-1, 22 KOs), a good friend. But it’s pro boxing, and sometimes friendship needs to be put aside when a dollar can be made.
“I’ll leave it to my manager, Al Haymon, and see what he says,” Jacobs said when asked what was next for him. “I think Brooklynites deserve something special and I think me and `Kid Chocolate’ would be that special fight here at Barclays.”