Zab Judah and Paulie Malignaggi, two of boxing's biggest-name fighters, who have been friendly with each other for years, have both held world titles at welterweight and junior welterweight. Each has been in a number of major fights and each hopes to someday wrap another world title belt around his waist.
But perhaps even more important to each man than winning a world title is protecting his home turf. Each wants to be the king of Brooklyn, N.Y. -- the unofficial title that will be on the line when they square off in a 12-round welterweight fight for hometown bragging rights on Saturday night (Showtime, 8 ET) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
"It's a battle of Brooklyn, it's for the pride of Brooklyn," Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer said.
When Schaefer and Brett Yormark, chief executive of the Barclays Center, made a deal under which Golden Boy would be the exclusive promoter of boxing events in the building, they envisioned bringing major world title fights to the arena -- and they have -- but they also envisioned this sort of old-fashioned neighborhood match to get New Yorkers excited.
The fighters are certainly pumped for it.
"I'm just excited to come back home and be crowned the king of BK," Judah said.
Said Malignaggi, "Zab is right: There can only be one king.
"A win over Zab Judah is what I want for Christmas. That suffices. It's not a world championship fight, but it still has that feel and that vibe. On Saturday night it will feel like it's a championship fight in Barclays Center. If you're not motivated for this, you better check your pulse to make sure you're alive."
Besides the battle for Brooklyn, there are three title fights on the televised quadruple-header. But the turf war trumps them all, which is why it's the main event -- one the fighters could see coming after their previous fights at the Barclays Center.
Malignaggi was on the card that opened the arena for boxing 14 months ago, when he squeaked out a split decision to retain his welterweight title against Pablo Cesar Cano. Malignaggi fought there again in June, and although he fought well, he lost his belt by decision to Adrien Broner.
In April, Judah gave junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia a very tough fight but lost a decision.
"We each took a competitive loss in our last fight, and it's kind of a situation where you have to take a step back in away from world title fights," Malignaggi said. "But this isn't such a step back, because we're still world-class even with no world title on the line.
"It made a lot of sense from that perspective, and also for us both being from Brooklyn. Until the fight was made, I didn't think it would be more than Brooklyn talk, and that's all. I think in the last couple of years people started getting in my ear that people in Brooklyn wanted to see what would happen if me and Zab Judah got in the ring together."
With Malignaggi (32-5, 7 KOs), 33, and the 36-year-old Judah (42-8, 29 KOs) both coming off defeats -- and Judah signing with Golden Boy in August -- their meeting was inevitable.
"For me, this fight came about after the Garcia fight," Judah said. "In my preparation for moving forward to do what I do, they said, 'Paulie,' and I said, 'Paulie? Nah, Paulie is my homeboy.' But I was like, 'Hey, you know this is an opportunity that you've got to take for boxing.' So I guess we're here now. Like I said, this is a fight where there's no animosity or anything like that. It's just us going in there and representing for our city."
Said Malignaggi: "I'd like to echo the same sentiments as Zab. For a lot of years, I came up behind Zab and he kind of laid the building blocks for my generation. He was kind of the guy to look up to and to try to match his accomplishments. [Fighting each other] really didn't come to mind. We were in different weight classes and at different places in our careers, but people started mentioning it and talking around Brooklyn the past year or two. But I still didn't think the fight had any chance of happening because we were still in different weight classes and kind of had different goals for our careers."
Even though there is intense emotion in wanting to win to be declared Brooklyn's best, Judah and Malignaggi have been very respectful toward each other during the promotion. They've had a friendly relationship and talked about their respect for each other.
"It's nothing personal against Paulie," Judah said. "It's something that we've got to go in here and do. This is how we feed our family."
"As Zab said, there's nothing personal as far as a competitive aspect is concerned, but that's the guy in front of me and that's the guy I intend to be successful against," Malignaggi said.
Their attitudes are a bit different than they would be for a typical Malignaggi or Judah fight. Both are supreme trash talkers and are known for emotional outbursts. But not this time.
"Winning means everything to me," Malignaggi said. "Yeah, Zab is someone I respect and looked up to coming up, but winning means everything to me. I'm a competitor in anything I do, especially boxing. It's not hard to get up for a fight like this. You can still respect your opponent and still get up for a fight.
"Come on, man, we're both wearing eight-ounce gloves, so I'm sure once someone gets hit, we'll both be throwing arms at each other."
Said Judah: "Paulie is somebody that I've known for a long time. I've watched him, I've watched him grow and there have even been a lot of fights where I've supported him. So now, it's kind of crazy to be going up against each other, but it's the sport that we chose and, like he said, once the bell rings and the leather starts flying I think that anybody would come to their senses."
When the fight is over, the winner probably will be in position to once again fight for a world title, especially because Golden Boy is so deep in the 147-pound weight class, as it promotes titleholders Alexander and Broner, interim titlist Keith Thurman and works closely with division champion and pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr., not to mention several other top contenders.
"It's not just the pride of Brooklyn, but the 147-pound weight class is the deepest weight class, the biggest names are fighting there and that's exactly what Zab Judah wants," Schaefer said. "He knows he needs to beat Paulie Malignaggi to move on to those big world title fights in the division.
"Paulie still has unfinished business in the ring and he realizes what a win against Zab is going to do to him in that stacked weight class. So he's going to come to win."
Both are striving to be King of Brooklyn.