Let’s get this out of the way: Paulie Malignaggi should have no business sharing the ring with the undefeated Danny Garcia.
But….Why does this fight, unfolding Saturday night at the marvelous venue that is Barclays Center, still feel like boxing’s mid summer must-see event?
Well for one thing, there’s not much competition for the spotlight, unless Sergey Kovalev’s quick destruction of Nadjib Mohammedi soothed your boxing jones. Aside from that, though, there’s something to this fight that makes it compelling. It’s certainly not because Malignaggi can win, instead it’s because he should be able to do enough to convince himself that he won.
The Magic Man is nothing if not a brilliant self-promoter. An under-skilled boxer with an oversized personality that has risen from status as a capable Jersey Shore stand-in to the freshest ringside analyst we’ve seen in boxing television in years. And he’s done most of it with hard work matched with an ability to feign casualness whenever the lights are on, because he’s smart enough to have figured out that fostering likability—from his pointed, incessant trash-talking, prodigious fan retweets, and absurd hair styles—is the secondary job of any boxer. Let’s face it, when measured against its inherent risks, there’s just not enough money in boxing for a guy of Malignaggi’s limitations to not to try selling himself in other ways. I doubt he’ll be accepted into Mensa any time soon, but in this corner’s opinion, Paulie’s meld of performance and entertainment betrays a guy with some mental chops.
In a recent interview, Malignaggi went so far as to point out his advantages: “I’m a thinking kind of a fighter and so I feel like if you don’t have the natural ability, a lot the natural ability is there, maybe not 100 percent of it, but if you make up for it with some kind of intelligence, which I feel like I have, you know you can balance it out.” It’s been almost ten years since Paulie fought Miguel Cotto, and he’s been in against top competition ever since, win or lose. He’s accrued up some veteran guile.
As such, there’s no way Malignaggi takes this fight unless he’s noticed some aspects of Danny Garcia’s game he thinks he can exploit. He’s had ringside seats for several of Garcia’s recent fights, including the Mauricio Herrera scrap in Puerto Rico where Paulie, like many observers, had scored the decision for Herrera. No doubt Malignaggi has reviewed the Herrera-Garcia tape a few times and is figuring to similarly slip in and out of Garcia’s attack.
In a strange way, Malignaggi has Herrera to thank for this marquee matchup on ESPN as that fight called Garcia’s hype into serious doubt. Herrera—minus on power but plus on defense and footwork—more than kept the champ off rhythm, he neutralized Garcia’s vicious left hook with an accurate jab and beat him up. It was only a matter of time before Garcia would be again faced with a boxer of Herrera’s ilk, and Malignaggi fits the role nicely.
But still, this is Garcia’s moment to reclaim status as a top 5 pound for pound fighter, moving up to welterweight to fight a guy everyone knows can’t hurt him. The Philly fighter has had a weird past year. The controversial Herrera decision exposed him as being overhyped, so Haymon fed him the sacrificial lamb known as Rod Salka to get his confidence up before matching him against Lamont Peterson—another narrow decision for Garcia where he failed to separate himself from Peterson as the elite fighter. Instead, it seems Swift is a flash fighter, someone who can hang in with anybody and stay dangerous, but only sometimes able to finish.
What Garcia doesn’t need is a decision win. While Paulie looks to borrow Herrera’s fight plan, Garcia should have the Shawn Porter-Malignaggi fight on replay behind his eyelids as he dreams. In the fight, Porter, who is more than an inch shorter than Garcia, stepped on the gas through and under Paulie’s ever-effective jab to launch a heavy power assault for which the Brooklyn fighter had no answer for. Evading the crafty elder fighter’s attempt to clinch, Porter was able to surprise Malignaggi with an inside power game and the ability to launch and land left hooks from a distance—it was one such punch in the second round that changed the fight for Porter and robbed Paulie of his legs.
Garcia could well use an emphatic win, one that clears the decks for him to fight other top welters in Haymon’s stable and create some star power in the vacuum being formed around Pacquiao and Mayweather’s black hole.
Malignaggi might have the physical conditioning to go 12 rounds, but he doesn’t have the legs he once had to get out of the way of a quick-handed fighter. Compare last year’s Porter fight with 2006’s Cotto fight—that evasiveness just isn’t there anymore for Paulie. Garcia has been more of a plodding power striker with a devastating left hook than a speedy volume puncher like Porter, so perhaps that’s why the late-career Malignaggi has accepted the strong possibility of getting beat up on ESPN just as his star is rising for his exploits beside the ring. Of course he’s getting paid well, but you still have to hand it to Malignaggi for accepting such a challenge for what could be his last fight, especially after things went so poorly last time he fought.
On paper, there’s no way Brooklyn’s Magic Man can win this fight. Underneath his original style of fighter’s bluster, he probably knows that too. His goal is to last 12 rounds and do enough to eke it out on points, but he’d be more than happy, perhaps, with a decision loss that would lay the groundwork for Garcia’s eventual undoing, just as his 2013 loss to Adrien Broner led to Broner’s humiliating loss to Marcos Maidana.
In that case, he’ll be able to cover that fight ringside for Showtime, and remind a million viewers that he knew all along that Garcia wasn’t as special as everyone said he was. For Paulie, this counts as a win.