Admit it, you’ve once or twice or perhaps many more times than that thought Paulie Malignaggi was pretty damn annoying. The little guy with the big mouth could certainly grate a nerve. For a fighter who couldn’t punch, he could sure jack his own jaw.
I used to dread watching his fights. Because Paulie is genuinely smart and firmly aware of his limitations, a “Magic Man” fracas was likely to be full of dancing, pitter pat punches, and an increasingly aggravated opponent whose irritation would just maybe exceed that of the fight fan watching an exceedingly technical (read, boring) bout.
Even more frustrating was the knowledge that Malignaggi wasn’t going away. Paulie started out his career by winning his first 21 fights. All but five of those tilts ended in decisions. Out of the 39 professional fights on Malignaggi's ledger, only 7 of his 33 wins closed inside the distance. That’s a KO victory rate of 21%, folks. I can’t imagine what the jaws of those not so magnificent seven were made of. Crepe paper? Tomatoes? Old grapes?
Yet somehow, with very little in his gloves, Malignaggi held a world alphabet title multiple times in his career. He didn’t dodge anyone either. Paulie scored wins over some very good fighters, including Juan Diaz and Zab Judah. His losses were certainly not against any weak sisters either. Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton, Juan Diaz (in their first of two scrapes), Amir Khan, Adrien Broner, and finally, in his only real beating, against Shawn Porter.
I still remember that loss in his first fight against Diaz. In the post-fight interview, Malignaggi turned his Paulie up to 11, disputing the scorecards and when talking about his future prospects, repeating multiple times, “I’m just an opponent!” Paulie took on the judges, the sport, and quite seemingly, the world in that caustic, high-pitched, full on Brooklynese whine of his. Forget the fact that he was probably right, if you were watching, you just wanted “The Situation” to shut up. Yeah, fat chance.
Malignaggi could be a pip during the promotion of his fights too. His back and forth with Broner was more epic than the fight and even more unpleasant. The ever classy Broner brought a girl onto the dais and claimed she was Malignaggi's ex-girlfriend. When Paulie took the stage after, he rather crassly referred to the woman as “somebody I slept with,”—while she was in the room–and went on to say “Athletes sleep with a lot of women. It's 2013. It's what we do. All right?” Look, no one expects boxers to avoid hype in promoting their fights, but one would hope someone as genuinely smart as Paulie could have sidestepped this without being demeaning to women as a whole.
So with all that I’ve just said, how is it that I’ve begun to feel pangs of genuine affection for this trash talking, motor mouthed wise guy whose fights were seldom enjoyable to watch? I have to admit, my reversal has snuck up on me. When I found out Showtime had hired Malignaggi to call fights with Mauro Ranallo and Al Bernstein, I thought this could be the worst announcing trifecta of all time. Ranallo speaks at only one volume (very, very LOUD). Bernstein’s an old pro, but I saw him getting swallowed whole between Ranallo’s roar and the fastest, most abrasive mouth in boxing. Hell, I was ready to watch the matches with the sound off. But guess what? I was wrong. The three of them do pretty well together. Even more surprising is the fact that Malignaggi is the clear stand-out. He’s insightful, funny, quick, and—I can’t believe I’m saying this—he doesn’t talk too much.
Perhaps the best example of Malignaggi’s keen analysis was on display during the Chris Algieri-Ruslan Provodnikov fight last June. While most of us were caught up watching Algieri’s face get rearranged by the bruising Russian, Paulie, working for Sky Sports in the UK, kept pointing out the higher level of activity and connect rate of Algieri. While Algieri might not have been winning the beauty contest (a rarity for him outside the ring, I’m sure), he was winning more rounds, and therefore, the fight. So when the judges came back with a split decision in Algieri’s favor, not only was Malignaggi right, but by the time the announcer had given the third and deciding score, he was downright prophetic. I have to admit, I got caught up in Algieri’s bruised and battered mug and at the time thought Provodnikov had won. So I rewatched the fight. Only this time through Paulie’s eyes, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t convinced of his opinion.
So now I have to admit I’m all turned around on this guy. I’ve actually looked back on his fight career and realized something else. I missed it. I missed the fact that a guy who may not have had any stones in his gloves sure had two in his trunks. Imagine being a fighter in the ring with world class competition and knowing you had little to no chance of turning the fight around with a single punch. Or even punches. Paulie Malignaggi had to do it the hard way. He had to use guile, foot speed, hand quickness and a game plan. He had to box, and if that meant sticking and moving in the ring and running off at the mouth out of it to win and get you to pay attention, then that’s just what he was going to do.
So yeah, I blew it during Paulie’s first act, and shame on me for that. But I’m awake now and at full attention. I’m damn sure not going to miss out on the second.