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The Hauser Report – Coming on the heels of Keith Thurman vs. Shawn Porter, the July 30 match-up between Californian Leo Santa Cruz and Carl Frampton of Northern Ireland was the second good main event in a row at Barclays Center.

Santa Cruz, age 27, came into the fight with a 32-0-1 (18 KOs) record. He’s an action fighter with a signature win over Abner Mares in which he claimed the WBA 126-pound title.

Frampton, also 27 and entering the bout undefeated (22-0, 14 KOs), held the WBA and IBF 122-pound belts by virtue of a split-decision victory over Scott Quigg earlier this year. The assumption going in was that both men would throw a lot of punches, but Frampton wouldn’t be able to hurt Santa Cruz as much as Santa Cruz would hurt him. Leo was an almost 3-to-1 betting favorite.

Santa Cruz-Frampton was contested in front of an enthusiastic, sometimes roaring, crowd of 9,062.

In the early going, Frampton was able to get inside, neutralize his opponent’s longer reach, and score effectively with hooks both to the body and up top. Santa Cruz landed well with straight right hands and, in round six, seemed to take control of the fight. But Frampton hung tough.

The action was spirited. Both men were willing to engage and fired back when hit. According to CompuBox, Santa Cruz outlanded Frampton by a 255-to-242 margin. But Frampton prevailed on a 117-111, 116-112, 114-114 majority decision. 114-114 was the most accurate of the three judges’ scorecards.

The Hauser Report

Santa Cruz vs. Frampton showcased boxing at its best. One of the undercard bouts – Paulie Malignaggi vs. Gabriel Bracero – showcased boxing as it shouldn’t be.

There was a time when Malignaggi was a world-class craftsman. But he’ll never be as good a fighter as he once was. Now 35, he entered the ring on Saturday night with a 35-7 (7 KOs) ledger. He’d had six fights since 2012 and lost three of them (including two “KO’s by”).

Gabriel Bracero, also 35, was coming in off a first-round knockout victory over Danny O’Connor last October. Thereafter, Gabriel was in the news when he was arrested for assault, criminal possession of a weapon, obstructing government administration, and resisting arrest. Prior to that, he’d been arrested twelve times on charges ranging from attempted murder to armed robbery and spent almost six years in prison.

Bracero and Malignaggi had trained together as amateurs and young pros. “When I was away,” Gabriel reminisced at the final pre-fight press conference, “I used to read boxing magazines. I read about Paulie on a regular basis.”

Malignaggi was then a world champion and Bracero was in prison. But that was then, and now is now.

Paulie shouldn’t be fighting anymore. The people who care about him the most (his brother Umberto, mentor Anthony Catanzaro, and longtime friend Pete Sferazza) have told him that time and time again.

But Malignaggi won’t quit. “I feel like I can still box very well,” he told David Greisman of Boxing Scene last December. “I have a very good sense of timing when I get the proper amount of sparring.”

That quote came in conjunction with Paulie’s explanation as to why he’d been knocked out by Danny Garcia at Barclays Center on August 1, 2015 (his most recent fight on American soil prior to facing Bracero). Paulie said he hadn’t gotten in enough sparring for the Garcia fight – only twenty rounds  – because he’d suffered a cut in May prior to a bout that had to be cancelled because of the cut and was wary about testing the eye.

“I’ve always been very heavily reliant on sparring,” Paulie explained. “I’m a reflex type of fighter. I always rely on my eyes and my reflexes.”

Four days before fighting Bracero, Malignaggi was more introspective when he spoke with writer Tom Gerbasi.

“Maybe it’s just a dream,” Paulie confessed. “We get into this sport as dreamers to better our lives. We’re all dreamers; we all come from garbage. Anybody else who laces on the gloves for a living is the same way. So maybe I just don’t want to stop dreaming. Whenever I’m in an arena that’s roaring and yelling, I don’t care if they’re with me or against me. I’m the center of attention, coming from a place in my life where I was never the center of anything. I didn’t have shit and people never expected me to become anything. So I can still take the stage and have all eyes on me, and maybe I just want to keep dreaming and feeling that a little bit longer.”

Paulie has fought in main events at Madison Square Garden in New York and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas against the likes of Miguel Cotto and Ricky Hatton. At Barclay’s Center on July 30, he wasn’t even deemed worthy of a slot on the three-fight Showtime Championship Boxing card. Instead, Malignaggi-Bracero was relegated to Showtime Extreme.

Against Bracero, Paulie wasn’t sharp. He moved as well as his 35-year-old legs allowed him to, circling out of harm’s way for most of the bout. He feinted and postured. What he didn’t do was fight well. There were moments when he established his jab and showed flashes of the fighter he once was. Bracero is a fading fighter too, and he was never as good as Malignaggi. But Paulie couldn’t sustain excellence for three minutes a round. And he got hit with punches he wouldn’t have been hit with a few years ago. He outlanded Bracero by a 164-to-134 margin and emerged with a 98-92, 98-92, 96-94 victory on the judges’ scorecards. But the best that can be said of his performance is that he beat a good club fighter.

Paulie can blame all sorts of things for his showing. He can say that Bracero is a slick veteran who didn’t want to engage. He can say he didn’t get the right sparring for the fight. He might even say that his reflexes were dulled by the aroma of weed that wafted through the arena on fight night and led to Barclays Center security personnel being called into action.

But a better coda for the fight came when Malignaggi was leaving the arena and a fan asked, “Hey, Paulie; who do you want to fight next?”

“I just want to go home,” Paulie said.

There are people who could stop Malignaggi from fighting again. Right now, Paulie is as good as any expert boxing commentator on television. The fear is that, if he continues to dance with self-destruction, his commentating skills will decline like his boxing skills have.

If Malignaggi’s words don’t come out quite the same in five years, the powers that be will simply replace him.

“We’re sorry, Paulie. You’re a great guy. We love you. But you know how things are. We have an obligation to our viewers.”

It would be better if these people insisted that Malignaggi stop boxing now.

A fighter shouldn’t wait until he’s showing signs of brain damage to stop boxing. By then, it’s too late.

 

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Muhammad Ali: a Tribute to the Greatest) was published in the UK by HarperUK and in North America by Pegasus Books. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

The Hauser Report – Checkout video results and highlights from the Barlcays Center at The Boxing Channel.

 

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