By Mitch Abramson
Paulie Malignaggi wore a white construction hat tilted slightly to the side and enough jewelry around his neck and wrists to light up a dark room. The Brooklyn-born Malignaggi was back home on Friday to discuss his title-winning effort a month ago against Vyacheslav Senchenko.
He was also in downtown Brooklyn to hype up the monthly boxing series that is set to kick off on Oct. 20 at the soon-to-be completed Barclays Center. But he was also in Brooklyn to make a case for himself as the headliner of the first boxing show of the arena’s three-year deal to do monthly shows with Golden Boy Promotions. While a formal announcement has yet to be made on what bout will headline the first show in Brooklyn, Malignaggi, following his surprising stoppage of Senchenko in nine rounds to pick up the WBA welterweight title on April 29 in the Ukraine, appears to be the odds-on favorite to get the nod.
While there are bigger names, to be sure in the sport, there are no better salesmen than the fast-talking, highly opinionated Malignaggi, who would seem a good fit to perform on opening night and sell the entertainment value of the fight series to the local fans. When the deal was first announced between Golden Boy and Barclays in 2010, the idea was for Danny Jacobs, another Brooklyn product, to defend his middleweight title in the arena’s inaugural main event. But his stunning knockout loss at the hands of Dmitry Pirog for a title nearly two years ago dashed those plans. Now that Malignaggi has a belt to his credit, he would seem a good bet to be the new option for opening night.
“I’m obviously thrilled that he won the title,” said Nets CEO Brett Yormark, who runs the day-to-day operations of the Barclays Center. “And if he defends it here, that would be terrific.”
On Friday, Malignaggi stood on a concourse overlooking the bare arena floor with a small group of reporters and went to work on why he should headline the first show.
“I grew up not far from here,” he said. “The fact that this arena got built, and it’s coming along at a perfect time when I just won a world title- the pieces couldn’t have fallen into place better.”
Malignaggi is not a lock to be the main event, but he took time on Friday to lobby for the Orthodox Jewish fighter, Dmitriy Salita to get the nod as his opponent for the first show. Salita, who is also from Brooklyn, has campaigned hard to get the bout with Malignaggi. But even Malignaggi admitted securing Salita as an opponent is a bit of a long shot. In his only title attempt, Salita was dismantled by Amir Khan in just 76 seconds in 2009. Salita has won three straight but hasn’t fought in over a year. Still, Malignaggi, who now lives and trains in L.A., made a compelling case for having Salita as an opponent. Salita did not immediately return a call for comment.
Amir Khan, Zab Judah, Devon Alexander, Miguel Cotto and Erik Morales have also been mentioned as possible opponents for Malignaggi on opening night.
“Hopefully this summer he gets himself back into contention,” said the 31-year-old, who plans on transferring his allegiances to the Nets after growing up a Knicks fan. “I think me and Dmitriy would be a huge event in Brooklyn. We’ve both become pretty popular within our two hoods. If you join those two camps together, you could get an exciting night in October, so it’s definitely a possibility. We’ll see how it works out.”
Malignaggi urged Salita (33-1-1, 17 knockouts) to fight again this summer against a recognizable name to upgrade his profile to improve his chances of winning the assignment. Kurt Emhoff, Salita’s attorney, agreed with Malignaggi, and is working on a bout for Salita, perhaps in July to “get the rust off.”
Emhoff said he has reached out to Golden Boy concerning the potential bout with Salita.
“It’s all very preliminary at this point,” Emhoff said. “We’re pursuing it. It’s a fight that both fighters want. Now, it’s up to Golden Boy whether they want the fight.”
Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy, did not immediately return a phone call for comment. At one point, Emhoff represented Malignaggi early in his career when both he and Salita were undefeated. There was talk then and interest from HBO to make a fight between them, but both fighters agreed to wait until their careers had progressed, Emhoff said.
Malignaggi has done a complete 180 on his career since getting stopped at the hands of Khan at Madison Square Garden in May of 2010 when he even discussed the possibly of retirement following that bout. Not long after, Malignaggi signed with Golden Boy in Sept. of 2010, and the two set about rebuilding his career with the idea of one day possibly fighting in the new Brooklyn arena after Golden Boy secured the three-year deal with Barclays in July of 2010.
“I handled my business in the ring and [Golden Boy Promotions] handled my business outside of the ring,” Malignaggi said. “It’s been perfect and here I am. I can hardly believe it myself. I can hardly believe this arena is being built let alone that I have a chance to headline it.”
Malignaggi admits his career has been filled with peaks and valleys and that such an up-and-down career path has given him a better sense of his mortality within the sport.
“It’s good to be on the higher end right now,” he said. “I put it more in perspective, having been up and down. I think I’m more humble about it now. I think I understand more clearly, what goes up must come down and eventually this will all pass again. I’m also under the impression that most people didn’t think I’d ever be here again. It’s almost like bonus time. So I’m going to enjoy it and work really hard and make these years worth it.”
Malignaggi said he wasn’t thinking he would have to knock out Senchenko before his bout since he’s more of a finesse fighter than a knockout artist. But as the fight progressed and Malignaggi began to find a frequent home for his jab, he noticed Senchenko’s body language getting worse, and he noticed the swelling around Senchenko’s eyes starting to spread.
“The stoppage just came,” Malignaggi said. “I just kept the game plan going. I hurt him with a bad body shot in the eighth round. From halfway through the eighth round, I knew he was going to go. I just felt he didn’t want to fight anymore. And then he came out for the ninth for no reason. They should have just kept him in the corner.”
Maliganaggi was asked if he would face Devon Alexander in October on opening night. Malignaggi said that Alexander is a worthy opponent for him to open the Barclays Center but that he may not be enough of a draw to warrant such a position.
“I don’t feel like Devon is a guy who’s going to sell a lot here,” Malignaggi said. “He’s a boring guy. Then again, you could say that about a lot of guys. Does he deserve a shot? He’s definitely a top fighter. But I feel like I want to fight a fighter where everyone’s going to be excited about the fight.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the NY Daily News and BoxingScene.com.