- Michael Woods, Boxing
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I watched and listened to Paul Malignaggi tell me on Friday that he's done with trying to please all of the people all the time. In the near-empty Fight Factory in Gravesend, Brooklyn, he said he's quite content putting it out there. He fights for a living, for a check and not for legacy. He was almost convincing.
Malignaggi (32-4 with 7 KOs) is eight days away from his June 22 Barclays Center clash against Adrien Broner, who is an 11-to-1 favorite to beat the WBA welterweight champion. He is clearly rankled and feels that he doesn't get due respect. "I'm one of the longest-lasting of my generation of fighters," he told me, while conditioning advisor Vincent Calloway and trainer Eric Brown looked on.
You can't please the haters, he said. No matter what he does. He went to the Ukraine to beat an unbeaten champion (Vyacheslav Senchenko) and stopped him (TKO9), even though he's allegedly pillow-fisted. Malignaggi says he might as well simply fight for the money, and leave the legacy talk to others. "Why fight for legacy? There's no reason, no reason to get frustrated," he insisted. "But if I keep winning, it has to be addressed, because you guys will be wrong again."
Yes, despite the protests, it is clear he uses "you guys," to refer to people who look at him and don't see primarily a success story. He uses people that see the holes in his game to fuel him.
Malignaggi said his last camp, going into his last fight, against Mexican Pablo Cano, was just so-so. He broke his thumb and did half his usual rounds of sparring. "I knew it wasn't a good camp," he admitted. And it wasn't his sharpest outing. He won a split decision, with one judge seeing Cano the better man, and the other two Paulie a narrow victor. This camp, he says, is all systems go.
He turns 33 in November, and turned pro in 2001. So the repetition in preparation can be numbing. Many fans can't understand this. They can't fathom why he might need an extra boost to his fuel pump. It makes sense to me. It makes sense he needs a major-league challenge to push himself the extra yard, so he can fight the 26-0 Broner and know, win or lose, there are no excuses.
The vet also understands this opportunity might not have come about had he looked ultra-sharp against Cano, however. It's a funny sport, this boxing. A middling outing can improve ones' chances for a better matchup next time. "If I had destroyed Cano, Broner would never have fought me," he told me.
There is buzz among the "you guys" that Malignaggi has been talking retirement and that is an indication he's as good as retired. No sir, he told me. The Showtime analyst gig is a gas, but he's not ready to transition to that full time. Of course, the transition isn't utterly seamless. He knows to remember to keep the corporate filter in place when he gets into fighter's trash-talk mode, because what is acceptable from a pugilist isn't as an analyst.
There will be a time when he won't have to juggle. Frankly, I don't know if that time might kick off on the night of June 22. I suspect he doesn't know, either.