By Keith Idec
There didn’t seem to be anything about Adrien Broner that Paulie Malignaggi admired.
Malignaggi admits, though, that he looked up to fellow Brooklyn native Zab Judah when he began boxing in the late 1990s. Judah’s success was among the things that drove Malignaggi to reach the championship level and earn the six-figure and seven-figure purses that come with it.
The 36-year-old Judah was 21 when he knocked out Wilfredo Negron to win his first world title, the interim IBF junior welterweight championship, in January 1999. Malignaggi was a 17-year-old amateur at the time, about 2˝ years away from making his pro debut.
“The admiration I have for Zab came from trying to follow in his footsteps coming up,” said Malignaggi (32-5, 7 KOs), who’ll face Judah (42-8, 29 KOs, 2 NC) in a 12-round welterweight bout that’ll headline Showtime’s four-fight broadcast Saturday night from Barclays Center in Brooklyn (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT). “I saw him accomplish things that I had the goal to accomplish. I watched Zab accomplish each and every one of them before me. It was an admiration and a motivator to see someone from my city, from my borough, accomplish these things and get some credibility and notoriety doing the same thing that I do.
“When somebody does it so close to home, they automatically get that admiration when they’re older than you and you see them accomplishing those things and you kind of want to follow in their footsteps. That admiration comes from being that younger fighter looking up to someone like that.”
Malignaggi, 33, eventually won world titles at junior welterweight and welterweight, the same divisions in which Judah was previously crowned champion.
A mutually respectful Judah recalled working Malignaggi’s corner during one of Malignaggi’s amateur fights at the Empire State Games.
“Even back then, as an amateur, he had heart,” said Judah, who grew up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. “He was gutsy. He came out and he was very scrappy.”
Judah followed Malignaggi’s development closely and liked what he has seen since Malignaggi made a name for himself by bravely battling heavily favored Miguel Cotto during a unanimous-decision defeat 7˝ years ago at Madison Square Garden. A year later, the confident kid from Bensonhurst became a world champion.
Malignaggi won the same IBF junior welterweight title Judah has held twice during his 17-year pro career when he dominated Lovermore N’dou in their 12-rounder in Uncasville, Conn. Like Malignaggi, Judah never thought they’d box, not until their representatives at Golden Boy Promotions suggested it following Malignaggi’s split-decision defeat to Cincinnati’s Adrien Broner (27-0, 22 KOs) on June 22 at Barclays Center and Judah’s unanimous-decision loss to Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia (27-0, 16 KOs) on April 27 at Barclays Center.
“Paulie is somebody that I’ve known for a long time,” Judah said. “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.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.Tags: Paulie Malignaggi , Zab Judah , Marquez vs Judah , Malignaggi vs. Judah