By Keith Idec
NEW YORK — Paulie Malignaggi’s bandwagon was far from full after his last fight in his hometown.
Critics contended “The Magic Man” was all out of tricks, that his one-sided, 11th-round technical knockout loss to British star Amir Khan was an indication of what was to come if he kept boxing. The hangers-on in a sizeable entourage exposed themselves as such, and even Malignaggi seemed discouraged after losing that WBA 140-pound title fight.
The brash Brooklyn native lost three professional fights before that May 2010 bout against Khan in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. But those losses either were close (Miguel Cotto), controversial (Juan Diaz) or at least partially justifiable (Ricky Hatton) because Malignaggi knew he was with the wrong trainer.
Since Khan beat him, Malignaggi summoned some of that same determination that made him refuse to believe earlier in his career that he wasn’t good enough to thrive at boxing’s elite level. That’s what enabled Malignaggi (31-4, 7 KOs), known as anything but a puncher, to travel to Donetsk, Ukraine, the hometown of Vyacheslav Senchenko, and stop the previously unbeaten Senchenko (32-1, 21 KOs) in the ninth round April 29 to win the WBA 147-pound title.
The two-division champion will return to his native borough Saturday night to make his first welterweight title defense as part of the inaugural boxing card at Barclays Center (8 p.m.; Showtime).
“I think the only thing that was overrated was what people were saying about me being finished,” Malignaggi, 31, said, “and not having a bright future left and having my best days behind me and whatnot. If you look at since the Ricky Hatton fight [a unanimous decision loss in November 2008], other than the Amir Khan fight I’ve barely lost any rounds. I’ve continued to be dominant and I think it’s a testament to my mental strength, to my mental fortitude and to my stubbornness, even.”
If Malignaggi succeeds against Mexico’s Pablo Cesar Cano (25-1-1, 19 KOs) on Saturday night, Golden Boy Promotions chief executive officer Richard Schaefer will try to arrange a rematch with Hatton (45-2, 32 KOs) for sometime in 2013 at Barclays Center. Hatton, 34, will end a three-year retirement against Senchenko on Nov. 24 in Hatton’s native Manchester, England.
How Hatton fares against Senchenko will be the most important determining factor in who’s favored to win Malignaggi-Hatton II. Malignaggi prefers the underdog role, for fuel above all else.
Can you blame him?