By Mitch Abramson
The Brooklyn-boxer Paulie Malignaggi has discussed retiring from the sport a number of times, due to his hand problems, frustration with decisions that didn’t go his way and just fatigue from the difficult business boxing. And so it came to pass again that Malignaggi came close to walking away from the sport following his loss to Adrien Broner in June. The back-and-forth trash talking between the fighters had taken its toll.
Though he was an active participant, Malignaggi didn’t look like he was having much fun discussing a former flame that Broner had befriended.
What’s more, Malignaggi wasn’t sure if he would get another big-ticket fight after the loss, thinking it might have been his last chance in the limelight.
But when he was approached by Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer about facing Zab Judah in Brooklyn at the newly designed Barclays Center this Saturday, in the home borough of both fighters (who now train elsewhere, though Malignaggi made his training camp in New York for this fight) it reinvigorated his way of thinking.
It also reinforced a bold and surprising business decision he made in the fall of 2010 when he left his long-time New York-based promoter Lou DiBella, buying his way out of his contract for $75,000. He then raised eyebrows by signing with the Los Angeles based outfit, Golden Boy Promotions.
But that was nothing new for Malignaggi, 33, who has proven quite capable at playing hardball in and out of the ring and making tough, savvy business decisions.
In an impressive career that has spanned over a decade and exceeded the modest expectation that were once set for him when he turned pro- few predicted he would be a two-time world champion and stand up to some of the top fighters in the sport- Malignaggi (32-5, 7 knockouts) has proven himself to be a world class fighter over and over. But he’s also demonstrated himself rather adept at navigating the often shifty waters of boxing (while sometimes ruffling feathers).
He has taken a proactive, hands-on approach to his career, from switching promoters and managers to swapping trainers, to even working with those he may have blasted in the past if it means giving himself the best shot to win (and make big money).
“It’s not an easy business and sometimes you have to learn as you go along,” Malignaggi says. “A lot of fighters focus so much on the fighting they don’t pay attention to the other things. As fighters, we know how things work inside the ring, but the wheels are also turning outside the ring, too so you have to be alert, so you can be successful in life and not just in boxing.”
Time after time, Malignaggi has managed to get big fights, from Miguel Cotto to Ricky Hatton to Amir Khan to Broner to now Judah. Though Malignaggi lost to the aforementioned fighters, it never stopped his ability to remain relevant, through his competitiveness in the fight or his brash personality outside the ring. And he is again on the doorstep to a world title shot with a win against Judah, who is from Brownsville while Malignaggi was raised in Bensonhurst. In the world of boxing, Malignaggi has proven to having akin to nine lives. He's also proven to be tough businessman.
“Paulie does what he believes is in the best interests [of Paulie],” said DiBella, who guided Malignaggi to his first world title against Lovemore Ndou in 2007 and claims he made a “couple million” for Malignaggi in his career. “He’s a smart kid. Paulie does things that are in his economic best interests. If Paulie doesn’t feel it’s in his best economic interests- then he won’t do it.”
After spending nearly a decade under DiBella, Malignaggi stunned some by leaving the longtime promoter even though the two seemed like a match made in promotional heaven. His next master stroke? Signing a three-year deal with rival Golden Boy Promotions in September of 2010 just as Golden Boy inked a deal to promote shows in Brooklyn, in Malignaggi’s home borough. While Malignaggi calls his decision to sign with Golden Boy one of the most important moves he’s ever made, a "blessing," he also admitted it wasn’t easy to leave DiBella.
“It was obvious but it was tough, too,” Malignaggi said. “It was both because you had a long-standing relationship with the guy. We worked a lot of years together but it was also an up-and-down relationship and there were some pros and some cons to it. But I think my relationship with Lou ran its course.”
He believes there weren’t many options left for DiBella after his lopsided stoppage loss to Amir Khan in May of 2010. And he credits Golden Boy with keeping him visible by having him fight on televised Pay-Per-View undercards and putting him in position to win another title against Vyacheslav Senchenko last year in the Ukraine.
“I have big fights and I don’t have to worry whether I have a TV date next,” Malignaggi said of being signed with Golden Boy. “Being with a promoter that’s able to get you TV dates and is able to consistently offer you fights is important because a lot of times you find yourself in a position where you might be a good fighter but you end up waiting for a phone call somewhere because maybe your team can’t provide that. There’s not that political power.”
Despite railing against the boxing king-maker Al Haymon after his loss to Broner, Malignaggi added a new wrinkle to his business legend when he announced in October he was on the verge of signing with Haymon during the kick-off press conference for his fight with Judah (42-8, 29 knockouts).
Though he hasn’t signed papers with Haymon, who also handles Broner, Malignaggi now counts Haymon as part of his close-knit team, along with longtime advisor, Anthony Catanzaro, best friend Pete Sferrazza, attorney Steve Bash and trainer Eric Brown.
“I really respect loyalty and it means a lot to me,” Malignaggi says of his attitude he takes for who to surround himself with. Malignaggi has found it difficult showing the same type of allegiance to his trainers, however, though it’s not uncommon for boxers to switch trainers.
But Malignaggi seems to have changed trainers about as often as he changes his hair style, from Billy Giles to Buddy McGirt to Sherif Younon, and now Brown, a product of the Wild Card gym in Los Angeles.
Malignaggi admits it’s never easy to dismiss a trainer, but if it means advancing his career and getting someone better fitted for his boxing-first style, then it’s a decision he’s willing to make. After all, Malignaggi, can’t box forever and every fight is loaded with significance; every fight involves business decisions that affect the bottom line.
“It’s never easy,” Malignaggi said of telling a trainer he’s moving on. “It’s not easy especially when there’s money to be made and now they can’t be a part of that. But sometimes relationships run their course. I got to feel like I’m still learning. If I don’t feel like I’m learning, I don’t see a point in giving you that percentage because it’s a lot of money.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.