Paul Malignaggi is not universally loved in the fight world. Some fans don't take to that Brooklyn edge, the pride almost incessantly on parade with no apologies. But gosh, if you ponder it, you do have to respect his game, even if you don't adore his persona.
I watched the hitter work out on Friday, a little more than a week away from the biggest bout of his career, a June 22 title defense against young gun Adrien Broner, a possible heir to Floyd Mayweather, which is set to unfold at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. I came to the workout at The Fight Factory, in the Gravesend, Brooklyn neighborhood, with a fair amount of respect for the 32-year-old who is letting the up-from-lightweight challenger have a crack at his WBA welterweight title. And I left an hour later with a bit more respect for him, and a bit more of a cautionary flavor message to my readers: I wouldn't be so quick to assume that Broner has his way with the Bensonhurst-bred pugilist, just because he holds an edge in hand speed and power, or so it might seem. I saw a Malignaggi (32-4), and crew surrounding him, that didn't give off the vibe of people pulling a cash-in score, an exit-strategy gig. I sensed cautious confidence.
"I feel sharp," he told me while boxing a shadow in a near empty gym, while trainer Eric Brown looked on. "This has been one of my better camps."
Of course, I wasn't there long before Malignaggi started busting on Broner, saying that he had a title handed to him, that he'd beaten nothing but nonentities to this point, that his hoopla has been manufactured because he has an influential advisor, Al Haymon, in his corner.
I asked the significance of the red-hued Mohawk he sported, and the fighter said he was styled to harken back to his earlier days. He debuted as a pro in 2001, and said he's happy to provide some color to the promotion, because he feels Broner is a dud as an attraction.
I informed Malignaggi that believers in his prospects on June 22 are outweighed by doubters. I got the sense that doesn't bother him. Correct?
"I've gotten accustomed to people not believing in me," he said. "From the amateurs, they said I wasn't strong enough, that I run too much. ... I'm still here, aren't I? My whole career is proof. Naysayers are nothing more than an opinion."
He said after he lost to Amir Khan in 2010, and heard people saying that he was signed by Golden Boy merely to be fodder for their stars, he shifted his thinking. No longer, Malignaggi said, did he take to heart the critiques. "I instead focused on fighting instead of trying to make everybody happy," he declared. "I fight for money, not legacy. I want to beat Broner so I can keep making millions of dollars."
Now there was some of that candid talk which is deemed too pointed for some. But that fearlessness to offer the raw truth has made me appreciate Malignaggi as an athlete and interviewee, and put him on a path to stay relevant and busy post-boxing, as Showtime uses him for analysis on fights in which he doesn't participate.
Maybe the guy was doing a great sales job, but I found myself agreeing with him that he is under-appreciated. I mean c'mon, he has seven KOs to his credit. It is pretty rare that you have someone with below-average power, who isn't a Pernell Whitaker-level defender, stay in the realm where Malignaggi is.
Please check back from more straight talk from Malignaggi, as he addresses people who insist this is his last hurrah, and that he's about to transition full-time to the talking side of the sport.