MALIGNAGGI VS EGGINGTON — Paulie Malignaggi has more cross-currents and back (and side) stories than most boxers—one of them being that he is an outstanding and candid analyst for Showtime that really makes it unnecessary for him to fight on and continue to risk long-term injuries. But that’s in the eyes of the beholder. For Paulie, it’s a personal thing just like it was for Bernard Hopkins. It’s what he does; it’s in his blood. It is what he has been groomed to do.
He put it this way last July in an open letter to the boxing community: I know fighters don’t age gracefully. I know fighters get hurt. But I also know in my heart I got to fight. Why? I’ll tell you. Love. Not the normal kind no. More like a bad girlfriend. She’s broken my heart, she’ll do it again and I keep coming back for more. I love her despite her treacheries. My mind knows better but my heart doesn’t and it was my heart that got me here in the first place.”
Paulie turned pro in 2001 after winning a national amateur championship at 132 pounds. He won his first 21 pro fights doing plenty of self-promotion before losing a 12-round decision to Miguel Cotto. But that crushing loss gained him tremendous respect for his courage and durability. He then took the measure of Lovemore N’dou (46-9-1) to capture the IBF 140-pound crown. After two successful title defenses, he was dethroned by a relentless Ricky Hatton.
Then came the two fights with Juan Diaz. He lost the first but won the rematch. Most observers thought Paulie won both but then most observers were not aware of the way fights are scored in Texas.
More than three years after Hatton (forty-one months to be exact), Malignaggi traveled to Ukraine and shocked the boxing world by stopping undefeated and heavily favored Vyacheslav Senchenko (32-0) to earn the WBA 147-pound belt. (As an aside, Senchenko was the one who later ended Hatton’s comeback with a devastating body shot.) Then came a narrow and somewhat controversial points win over Pablo Cesar Cano on the first-ever fight card at Barclays Center.
After the Cano win, he lost a close split decision to Adrien Broner. This one had a side-show atmosphere thanks to “The Problem’s” classless behavior. As one of many examples, Broner proclaimed, “I beat Paulie. I lifted his belt and his girl.” At a minimum, Malignaggi exposed Broner as being overrated.
This was followed by a win over a listless Zab Judah and set him up for two brutal defeats at the heavy hands and fast hands of Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia.
Hopkins vs. Smith Redux?
Now, after three wins in a row, two-time world champion Malignaggi is putting it on the line in a March 4 tilt against 23-year-old Englishman “Savage” Sam Eggington (19-3) at the O2 Arena in London. The fight is on the David Haye vs. Tony Bellew undercard. At stake is Eggington’s WBC International welterweight title.
The “Savage’ is coming off an impressive TKO victory over tough Frankie Gavin (23-2) in an edge-of-your-seat thriller. The two met fire with fire, but it was Gavin who, after being knocked down twice, was stopped in the eighth as Eggington claimed the title.
While Sam reportedly has a bit of an issue dealing with slick boxers, especially southpaws, as shown in his loss to Bradley Skeete last year, his levels of punch resistance, power, strength and determination are not so much in question. However, fighting a “name” opponent who is on the downward slope of his bell-shaped curve might cause Team Eggington to view this tiff as a stepping stone and allow complacency to set in.
Malignaggi, 36, with a vastly superior resume (offset by his age and lack of good leg movement) looks to continue his three-fight win streak, though many think his concussive TKO loss at the hands of Shawn Porter in April 2014 signaled that Paulie no longer has the wherewithal to hold off eager and hungry young prospects. However, one often overlooked fact is that the “Magic Man” is 5-0 when fighting outside the US. Eggington beat Sebastien Allais in nearby Dublin but otherwise has fought solely in the UK.
The thinking here is that an aroused and ring-smart Malignaggi still has some tricks up his sleeve and could repeat what he did to Senchenko in April 2012. If he did, it would provide an opportunity for the perfect closure to a fine and honorable career, or it could also put him back on the map and provide a spark into these final stages of his career. Paulie is chasing a belt he has wanted for a long time and in so doing is willing to go into the Lion’s Den to claim it. There just might be something left in the tank.
Conversely, of course, he could be facing the fate of Bernard Hopkins who was blasted out by a much younger Joe Smith. The legs, reflexes, volume punching and ring generalship might not be there. In that case, he could find himself in a “No World for Old Men” scenario as did “The Executioner.”
Paulie has given considerable thought to how he wants his career to end. “I want to close it out in my way,” he says, “to where I feel in this grandiose plan that I walk away in an honorable way, and not the way a lot of great champions have been forced to walk away from it.”
I hope he does. He has been an honest fighter who deserves to go out in an honorable way.
Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records in the Grand Master class. A member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he enjoys writing about boxing.
Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.