By Mitch Abramson
When he was holed up in the hospital following his brutal loss to Shawn Porter in April, Paulie Malignaggi received a message from an unlikely caller.
Though he is among the more popular and chatty boxers in the sport, only two “big-name fighters hit me out of all the ones I know” to pass along their concerns, Malignaggi said.
The first shouldn’t have come as a surprise; the former welterweight titlist Luis Collazo cut his teeth with Malignaggi in the amateurs and pros and he sent along words of encouragement.
That was somewhat predictable.
“And the other one was Adrien Broner,” said Malignaggi, surprised and touched all at once.
After all, Broner famously quarreled with Malignaggi before and after they fought in June of last year, claiming he slept with a former flame of Malignaggi’s.
So who would think his former antagonist would now be so interested in his well-being?
“When Adrien hit me up,” Malignaggi said, “it really, for me meant something because we had been beefing so much.”
Such are the twists and turns of the sport.
Fast forward to the present and another random question emerges: Who would have thought that Malignaggi would now be seriously contemplating retirement, concerned for his long-term health after getting assaulted by Porter, losing by a fourth-round TKO on April 19?
After all, if there's a fighter who loves the sport, who's a candidate to grudgingly fight until he's 50, it's Malignaggi, right? Is there anyone more skilled at selling a fight he's in, at dealing with the media and attracting attention?
But after absorbing the worst beating of his career, the first time when he couldn’t physically stand up to another fighter, the 33-year-old is now experiencing a crisis of confidence.
Does he retire to a plush (and safe) life of doing commentary work for Showtime, where he’s a natural, winning the “Sam Taub Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism” from the Boxing Writers Association of America in May?
Or does he continue fighting. Malignaggi said he received a “soft offer” to face welterweight European Boxing Union (EBU) Champion Leonard Bundu overseas, a proposition he’s weighing. He’s also considering other proposals in the media, such as possibly hosting his own radio sports show, he said.
Meanwhile, Porter is back in action on Saturday, defending his IBF title against England’s Kell Brook on Showtime. But Malignaggi won’t be working the telecast, citing a personal obligation and all but recusing himself from the situation to allow WBA “regular” middleweight champion Danny Jacobs to fill in.
Malignaggi is taking the time to mull his future, to figure out if he could be truly happy working as a full-time boxing analyst.
“I’m not going to say I’m officially done,” Malignaggi told Boxingscene. “Because there are some days when I have nothing to do and it would be nice to be training for something, just to be occupied and doing something productive, you know? Training for a fight puts me on a schedule.”
At the same time, Malignaggi is questioning for the first time whether he can hold up physically. Malignaggi had a scare following the loss to Porter, vomiting in the moments after the fight and visiting a hospital and staying overnight for observation. He said he was told by doctors he had a hematoma behind his left ear and that one more blow could have resulted in bleeding on his brain, giving him pause about whether it’s all worth it.
“You don’t want to put your health at risk,” Malignaggi said. “You want to maximize and preserve your health as a fighter as best you can and I’ve been fighting half my life and I’ve always taken a pretty good punch. But in that fight, unfortunately I didn’t take a very good punch at all so it makes you wonder if my health is deteriorating as far as my ability to fight. I feel fine outside the ring but you start to wonder: Do you consider to fight and take more damage? Is your body telling you it can’t take this damage anymore?”
Malignaggi has certainly been down this road before. After he was beaten badly by Amir Khan in 2010 in a one-sided performance, Malignaggi questioned whether he still had the skills to fight at an elite level. He openly talked about retirement. He did the same when he was stopped by Ricky Hatton in 2008 in a curiously submissive performance and when he lost to Broner last year by split decision. However Malignaggi has always been able to reinvent himself. He revived his career with a win against Vyacheslay Senchenko to claim the WBA welterweight title in 2012 after the loss to Khan. And he followed the disappointment to Broner with an impressive rout of Zab Judah last December in Brooklyn. So there’s precedence to suggest Malignaggi is just milking the moment, lying in wait before a good offer comes along. This time, however, his words seem a bit more ominous because of the health risks involved.
Malignaggi, who now makes his home in Long Island, described what might lead him to stick around in boxing.
“I’m not just going to come back for anything,” he said. “Something has to peak my interest. Something that pays high money or maybe if it’s not a big high money fight- something in Europe where maybe it leads to something else eventually. It would be cool fighting in front of those fans. Maybe something like that.”
“Then again, maybe not,” he went on. “Maybe I’ll just start training and decide, ‘I don’t want to do this every day.’ Who knows? I actually can’t tell you the truth for sure. But I do get that itch sometimes. So I’m waiting for something to come my way and then I’ll be able to make a decision.”
For the moment, Malignaggi is enjoying his time off. He’s next scheduled to call Showtime’s Sept. 6 bout between Broner and Emmanuel Taylor, where Malignaggi will get a chance to talk about a former adversary turned...dare we say friend in Broner?
In the moments following his loss to Porter, Malignaggi said that Broner had approached his cut man, Danny Milano about getting in contact with Malignaggi
“Danny wouldn’t give him my number,” Malignaggi recalled. “Finally Danny gave in, ‘I’ll give you Pete’s number,” he said of his close friend Peter Sferrazza.
“Pete happened to be next to me at the hospital and he got a text from Adrien,” Malignaggi continued. “’Yo, it’s AB, tell Paulie to keep his head up, I hope he’s okay, and let me know, hit me up if you need something,’” he said of the text Broner sent. Malignaggi was nearly speechless, describing it as “Just a good text, you know? And I was like, and Pete’s like, ‘Whoa, you’re not going to believe this.’ So for me that goes a long way. I look at people’s character. And as wild and crazy as Adrien is, there’s good in him.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.