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NEW YORK -- There was no world title on the line when former welterweight titleholders Zab Judah and Paulie Malignaggi squared off on Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but it didn't matter.
There was still something very important at stake: Brooklyn bragging rights. Barclays Center officials even commissioned a special Brooklyn championship belt to present to the winner -- Malignaggi, who bounced back from losing his world title to Adrien Broner in June in a close fight at the same arena to win a clear unanimous decision against his neighborhood rival.
Now Malignaggi (33-5, 7 KOs), is king of the 'hood after putting on a boxing exhibition against Judah, with whom he has been friendly for many years, before 9,363 fans who took turns cheering both fighters.
"This is an emotional win for me," Malignaggi said. "Walking to the ring was pretty surreal for me. As a teenager I saw Zab fight, and [now] I was walking to the ring to fight him. Not that I didn't expect that to happen or that I would be successful, but it was still surreal."
Despite suffering a flash knockdown in the second round, Malignaggi had everything going as he outworked Judah and never allowed his more powerful opponent to land anything truly serious.
The win probably puts the 33-year-old Malignaggi back into position to challenge for another 147-pound world title in one of boxing's deepest weight classes. The judges had it 117-110, 117-110 and 116-111. ESPN.com also had it for Malignaggi, 117-110.
"Paulie looked incredible," Golden Boy vice president Eric Gomez said. "He looked sharp. He looked like a young kid. I was sitting with Bernard [Hopkins], and he was like, 'We have to get him a sponsorship with Energizer because he just doesn't stop going.' He looked rejuvenated."
Before the fight, Malignaggi said that all he wanted for Christmas was a win against Judah, and he got just that. He was the far busier and more accurate fighter, landing 220 of 607 punches (36 percent) while Judah connected on 121 of 498 blows (24 percent), according to CompuBox statistics.
"I was very motivated for this fight," Judah said. "I came to fight and so did Paulie, but it just wasn't there. I had to step it up. It was a great opportunity and a great situation. I wanted to be the king of Brooklyn. Now I have to go back, put it all together and see what's next."
The loss was Judah's second in a row. He had most recently lost a hard-fought decision to junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia at Barclays Center in April. Although Judah, 36, was once the undisputed welterweight champion, he dropped down to junior welterweight a couple of years ago and reclaimed a title there, his third stint with a 140-pound belt. But after the loss to Garcia and the offer to face Malignaggi in a turf-war fight, he moved back up to 147.
Judah (42-9, 29 KOs), started quickly and reddened Malignaggi's left eye in the first round. He scored a flash knockdown in the second, although Malignaggi complained bitterly to referee Michael Ortega that it was a slip. Replays showed that Judah hit him with a clean left hand, although the fighters' feet also got tangled. After the knockdown, Malignaggi took over and dominated the rest of the fight.
Malignaggi and Judah banged heads in the third round, and Judah seemed to get the worst of it, coming away with a cut over his left eye. By the time the round was over, Malignaggi was also bleeding from a cut over his left eye.
But despite the blood, Malignaggi was quick with his hands and beat Judah to the punch. He was getting off combinations, and although they didn't have a lot of pop on them, they were landing.
Malignaggi continued to fire shots and connected often with a crisp jab. Judah, whose face was marked up, was clearly frustrated in the seventh round.
"I think Paulie's speed just threw him off," Gomez said.
Malignaggi clearly felt he was in control when he began to play to the crowd in the 10th round, cupping his ear to hear their cheers. But Judah wasn't impressed.
"Paulie wasn't tougher. He didn't want to engage and he stayed on the outside a lot," Judah said. "It was different than I thought it would be. He worked his jab and stood on the outside."
Malignaggi knew how important a victory would be for him. Another loss, he believed, would have been a career-killer.
"This definitely allows me to continue boxing," he said. "With a loss, I don't know that I would have wanted to continue. This big win puts me in the right spot to fight in the talented welterweight division, where there is lots of money."
Indeed, it's the weight class that is the primary home of pound-for-pound king and champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., not to mention several other top 147-pound fighters represented by Golden Boy, including Broner, newly crowed titleholder Shawn Porter, who won a belt on the undercard, and interim titlist Keith Thurman.
Malignaggi said his preferred opponent is the winner of next Saturday's fight in San Antonio between Broner and Marcos Maidana.
"There's a very important fight next week between Broner and Maidana," Gomez said. "Maybe Porter with Paulie, or maybe Paulie can fight the winner of next week's fight. We all know he wants a rematch with Broner. And there is also Thurman, who fights next week against [Jesus] Soto Karass, so the winner of that fight is another option.
"There are so matches we can make. It's gonna be fun."