By Jake Donovan, photo by Damien Acevedo
Adrien Broner is a 23-year old unbeaten fighter on the rise. The current lightweight titlist is leapfrogging two divisions for his next fight, and also jumping networks as evidenced by Showtime rolling out the red carpet ahead of this weekend’s main event.
Everything about the show sells Broner as the star. There’s just one issue – the “what’s his name” entry on the other side of the equation is the fighter whose belt is at stake.
The bout also takes place in his home borough of Brooklyn, and on a network for which he regularly serves as a color commentator.
Paul Malignaggi has been in this situation before. However, this is the first time where he brings this much to the table yet is still regarded as an afterthought.
“I know what this is. Adrien Broner is with Al Haymon, that’s all you need to know,” Malignaggi bluntly states. “I know in boxing, especially in the US for an American fighter, if you’re not with Al Haymon you can’t make your way up the ladder. I have a problem with that – I don’t have a problem with anyone having pull, but I have a big problem with him being the only guy with pull.”
The irony in the comments made is that Haymon’s influence is evident throughout the boxing schedule for Showtime, whom Malignaggi joined as a regular commentator last year. The Brooklynite has been reminded throughout the promotion of his responsibilities with the network, despite the fact that he’s employed as a fighter and not a broadcaster for Saturday’s headliner at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
There have been several cringe-worthy exchanges made between the fighters’ camps, bringing pre-fight smack talk to a whole new level (some will argue that level is the gutter). Few if anyone would have taken exception to anyone on the promotion – the network, Golden Boy Promotions (who promotes both fighters), Haymon, or even anyone from Barclays Center – telling both fighters to tone it way down and exude some form of professionalism.
Such comments have been made, but only to one of the two fighters.
“This guy makes it personal and brings it to a whole new level and nobody is telling him, ‘Hey, cool it.’ But when I respond, I’m being shushed and restrained,” Malignaggi explains of the hypocrisy. “I’m the type of guy who chomps at the bit, so of course I’m going to say something back. This guy says whatever the **** he wants, nobody says anything to him; everything I say is a problem.”
Verbal censorship is the least of Malignaggi’s problems, however.
“This guy is moving up to fight for my title, that I had to go another ****in’ country to win. He’s coming to my hometown. You think I’d at least have the crowd on my side,” Malignaggi theorizes. “So they give Haymon all the floor seats, all of the undercard spots – there’s probably as many guys on the card from Cincinnati as there are from New York.
“I tried to get my fried, a local fighter (name withheld) on the undercard. I even offered to pay his purse, knowing he’d get it back in ticket sales. They said no. How do you turn down a ticket seller for a neighborhood show? All my friends who want to buy tickets and support me, they’re going to be stuck behind a bunch of guys from Cincinnati.”
Malignaggi is no stranger to fighting in New York, but has yet to enjoy the A-side of a major promotion in his home state. Showdowns with Miguel Cotto and Amir Khan also saw the Brooklynite reduced to the role of supporting player.
His June ’06 bid against Cotto saw an earlier-than-normal weigh-in time that favored the Puerto Rican, who – while never officially missing weight at any point in his career – was struggling to make the 140 lb. limit at the time.
The ring size and promotion as a whole were also geared towards the visiting titlist, as was the case in May ’10 when Malignaggi was forced to welcome Khan to town in the Brit’s stateside debut. The weigh-in for that fight saw a posse literally known as Khan’s Army massively outnumber the modest cast of supporters Malignaggi was permitted to bring to the event, a scenario that nearly became costly once a mini-riot ensued.
While both of those situations could be deemed as problematic, Malignaggi entered both fights as the challenger and thus “only” as the hometown fighter. He understood the nature of the business involved in those fights, though his loss to Khan was his last under original promoter Lou DiBella.
“That was like my fifth fight in two years on a Golden Boy card,” Malignaggi recalled of the nature of the business at the time, which included his epic post-fight rant following a controversial points loss to Juan Diaz in Aug. ‘09. “I figured, they had the pull and I was getting my salary from their shows, might as well join them.”
The move made plenty of sense. Plans were already in place for Golden Boy to stage a regular boxing series at Barclays, which at the time was still in the process of being built. As long as Malignaggi kept winning, he would become an integral part of the series.
Malignaggi has since won five straight, including a welterweight belt though almost in spite of his promoter. The former 140 lb. titlist worked his way to a mandatory ranking for a shot at then-unbeaten titlist Vyacheslav Senchenko. When it came time to bid on the fight, Senchenko’s handlers apparently wanted it far more than anyone else.
The purse bid left Malignaggi with two choices: update his passport and travel to hostile territory in an attempt to win the belt, or hope that Golden Boy had something better in store to justify passing on the title fight.
Ignoring the bad memories of being robbed in Texas the first time around against Diaz, the decision was made to travel abroad. In his mind, it was the best – if not only – way to prove that his move to Golden Boy was meant as something far more than cannon fodder for their rising stars.
“I’m a two-time champ and earned my place here,” Malignaggi insists. “When I first got to welterweight, nobody gave me a chance. Everyone said I was going to get smashed, that I had no power and was just a steppingstone for Golden Boy’s prospects. I went to Ukraine and won my title the hard way.”
Malignaggi left no doubt, offering arguably a career-best performance in dominating every round before forcing a cuts-induced stoppage in the ninth round.
The verdict serves as Senchenko’s lone defeat to date, having since resurfaced with a knockout win over a comebacking Ricky Hatton last November. Malignaggi was live at ringside for that bout, serving as a commentator but also as an interested observer, since there were talks of a rematch with Hatton in hopes of avenging a Nov. ’08 stoppage loss.
Instead, Malignaggi – one month removed from a disputed points win over Pablo Cano at the same arena hosting this weekend’s festivities – was forced to look elsewhere for his next payday. He was granted the promise of returning to Barclays, and offered another faded legend – former three-division champ Shane Mosley.
The bout was nearly secured, only for Golden Boy to come up short on its contractually promised minimum purse for such an event. Rather than reach an agreement, Malignaggi was instead forced to sit on the sidelines until a better opportunity came along.
That opportunity came in the form of his being offered as the titlist of choice for Broner’s welterweight debut. It’s phrased that way because the fight was in fact offered and not so much the promise of a televised homecoming should he choose to go in another direction.
“I’m lucky I came up in a generation before this,” Malignaggi says. “I’m already a proven commodity, even though I’m still dealing with this now. But as a fighter based in America, if you’re coming up now and you’re not with Al Haymon, there’s nothing that anyone can do for you. You can’t make a name for yourself. And if it’s a close fight, don’t expect to win a decision.”
Malignaggi points to Broner’s first major televised fight – a disputed points win over Daniel Ponce de Leon – in support of an argument suggested by many in the sport. It was the only close fight Broner has endured thus far, having since won two titles in as many weight classes and now in search of a third belt in his first ever fight above the lightweight limit.
There’s also another irony to Malignaggi viewing this as a battle against Haymon as much as the fighter standing in the opposite corner. The 32-year old won his first title against a Haymon client, soundly outpoining Lovemore N’Dou in their first fight just over six years ago to claim a 140 lb. belt.
“I beat his guys before, and I know I can do it again,” Malignaggi insists. “I had a really good camp and look forward to this fight. We’ll see what happens. I plan to beat his ass and leave no way for the judges to steal the fight from me. If I do beat his ass and this guy still gets the decision, everyone will know why.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox