By Thomas Gerbasi
As far as Paulie Malignaggi was concerned, it was a good enough way to go out. Seen as the underdog’s underdog for so many years, only to silence the critics time and time again, the two-division world champion had the WBA welterweight title and the home ring advantage in Brooklyn heading into his June bout with Adrien Broner, but little else in the way of support.
Again, he was supposed to lose, this time to the latest “next big thing.” And he did, but the performance he gave in dropping a split decision to Broner didn’t just raise his stock, it proved that he still had more to give to a sport that only gave back to him when he made enough noise to demand it.
But a loss is a loss, and glossy records earn television dates, meaning that a return to the top of the welterweight division for Malignaggi would likely be attached to a rebuilding plan. And at 32, with a couple nice commentating gigs with Showtime and FOX Sports 1 in hand, along with all his marbles, rebuilding just wasn’t what he had in mind.
“I really was convinced through the summer that I was done and that I wasn’t going to fight again,” he said. “I was content. I wasn’t happy with the way things ended, but I was content. I had a decent career, and I have a good job I can transition into. I felt like I had more to give but if the opportunities aren’t the right ones, I’m not gonna push myself to be that hungry guy who has to rebuild just to prove to people something that I already know, which is that I’m still an elite fighter who can still compete at a high level. I didn’t want have to work to convince people of that when I knew that was still the case. I got sick of that. Why should I care what people think? I’m done.”
And he was content. Running into Malignaggi over the summer, it was clear that he knew he shocked the naysayers in the Broner fight and he was ready to move on. He fought the good fight, but as the years went on, the fights outside the ring were more taxing than the ones inside. Most notable, even beyond his bouts with injuries, trainers, and the critics, was his no holds barred verbal blitz on uber-adviser Al Haymon before the Broner fight. So how shocking was it when Malignaggi got a call from Haymon’s right hand man, Sam Watson, to discuss possibly working together?
“They approached me even knowing that I had said certain things about them,” said Malignaggi. “I was very angry about everything and they still approached me and wanted to work with me, and I was taken aback by that. The last person that I thought would call me to want to sign me to Team Haymon was Sam Watson.”
If anything, boxing will surprise you, and this was quite the surprise for Malignaggi. So when he was approached by his promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, about an all-Brooklyn battle with Zab Judah on Saturday at Barclays Center, with the idea that a win will lead to even bigger and better things, the wheels started moving again.
“I had some upbeat conversations with Sam, I spoke to Al one time, and they seem to have a plan for me, pending my victory over Judah,” said Malignaggi, who hasn’t signed with Haymon yet and will still work with his current team even if he does. “I have a pretty good road ahead of me; it’s up to me to be successful. So it opened up the floodgates once again. My mind started imagining things again: winning big fights, being in big fights, being in the mix again. I said okay, there’s some opportunity here, and you can’t walk away from a good opportunity because when you shut that door for good, you can’t reopen it again.”
Subsequently, Malignaggi accepted the fight with Judah, and here he is once again, going through the rigors of a fighter’s life. And after a damn good summer as a civilian, putting those gloves back on wasn’t the easiest task.
“It’s funny because I’m not 21 anymore,” laughs Malignaggi, who just turned 33 on November 23rd. “I said ‘okay, let’s do it,’ and you get back in the gym and you think you’re just gonna go right back into it like you’ve always done, and every year you get a little older and things don’t just come back that easy. After the Broner fight, I had done nothing. I was out of the gym and I hadn’t been looking out for myself physically. I had a good time in the summer. (Laughs) So you get back in the gym, and there were a couple of days where I was like ‘why did I decide to do this again? What am I, nuts?’ Then you start sparring and there were one or two times when you think ‘why did I let myself get talked into this?’ But then you start getting the weight off, you start getting sharper, and before you know it, it’s here we are again, and you get excited all over again.”
There’s plenty for Malignaggi and fight fans to get excited about with this fight. It’s battle between two local (but friendly) rivals in a local venue, and there are high stakes involved that have nothing to do with a world title: future earning power, bigger fights in the future, neighborhood bragging rights, all that fun stuff. To get even more into the whole Brooklyn atmosphere, Malignaggi - who has been training out in California for a while - stayed home for this one, flying in trainer Eric Brown and conditioning coach Vincent Calloway while revisiting pad work with veteran Orlando Carrasquillo. It all sets the stage for a fun fight with the erratic but still dangerous Judah, a fighter who showed in his April bout with Danny Garcia that he still has plenty of bullets left in his gun at 36.
“I don’t know if Zab has plenty of bullets, but what I’ll say is that he’s got strong bullets,” said Malignaggi. “The magazine isn’t full. He’s got some big bullets in there, but he only has so many. I look at him as a dangerous guy that has failed to put it all together at various points in his career but has the dynamite to put it all together when he needs to. It’s up to him how deep he wants to dig. But I train for the best of the opponent that I’m fighting, so I train harder.”
Malignaggi knows that a loss is a career crippler at this point, but truth be told, he didn’t think he would even be having this conversation between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2013. So anything that happens from here on out could be seen as gravy in a career that may not have been the one he pictured having when he turned pro 12 years ago, but one he can certainly be proud of. And it’s not done yet.
“My whole career’s been a rollercoaster,” he said. “It’s been 12 years of a rollercoaster. And I get motion sickness. (Laughs) I almost got sick enough to stop after the Broner fight, but I’m back again. Boxing is like a bad girlfriend. You hate her, but you love her, and you can’t completely walk away all the time. You find your reasons to convince yourself or be convinced to keep putting yourself through this. And here I am again, and right now, when the fight gets close, it’s back to that part that you love.”