In some ways, it’s hard to think of Paulie Malignaggi as a “veteran.” It seems like yesterday the brash Brooklynite was trash-talking Miguel Cotto and earning every fight fan’s respect with the brutal beating he endured, performing wild antics like wearing dreadlock extensions to the ring, and boldly calling out the corruption of the Texas Athletic Commission after a robbery “defeat” to Juan Diaz. But in reality, some of those signature moments from Malignaggi’s career came over six years ago. The Magic Man is now in his early 30s, a situation where every athlete, and especially boxers, realize time is not on their side. It’s fitting that at this last stage of his career, Malignaggi comes home to Brooklyn in the newly-opened Barclays Center to defend his WBA welterweight title against tough Mexican slugger Pablo Cesar Cano. No, this isn’t the same Malignaggi that emerged professionally from Brooklyn over a decade ago; the footspeed isn’t as quick, the hands not as fast. But in a game where the overwhelming importance is mental, Malignaggi explains why in 2012, he’s better than he’s ever been.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: It’s very noticeable that you’ve become less cocky and loud in recent years, signaling a newfound maturity and focus. Is there one particular moment you can pinpoint that brought about this transformation?
Malignaggi: When I lost to Amir Khan; it was a make or break point for me. I knew that if I’m going to continue with my boxing career I had to make certain changes and start approaching things differently. I looked around myself and changed the people and the surroundings. That’s exactly what I did and it’s made a change for the better.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: A few days ago on the conference call you mentioned that even though you’re not in your physical prime anymore, you consider yourself a much better fighter at this point. What differences have your noticed that make you believe that and also that you’ve passed your absolute prime?
Malignaggi: I don’t recover as fast from my workouts. I have had to know my body a lot better. I got away with a lot when I was younger just on physical talent, natural ability and just being young. My body could recover. At this age I can’t just do what I want because my body will let me know the next day. But you get smarter in that way. It would have been nice to have these mental notes when I was younger.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: A lot has been made of your recent stoppages, which have been rare throughout your career. Out of everything, from actual power to speed and technique, what do you believe is the biggest reason you’ve been able to get guys out of there?
Malignaggi: I think it’s the healthy hands, y’know? I’ve had four hand operations in my career. We’ve been blessed with healthy hands the last few years. For the most part I’ve battled hand injuries most of my boxing career. You’ll notice a big part of the stoppage in the last fight was a result of Senchenko’s eye being closed. It was not just my jab but being able to throw the right hand, a punch that I didn’t consistently have before because I was always breaking it.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: From the bloodbath he had with Erik Morales, we know that your opponent Pablo Cesar Cano is a tough fighter. What are you expecting out of him Saturday?
Malignaggi: I expect him to try and pressure me and be aggressive. That’s going to be easier said than done. I expect a guy who’s young and excited about the opportunity he’s got. I’ll have to work pretty hard in the early part of the fight but I’ll put him in his place as the fight goes on. Little by little I’ll have to break his will. He’ll have a lot of will, but little by little I’ll take it away.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: There’s been a lot of deserved praise for your commentating ability we’ve seen on Showtime, but you’ve also acted before. Will that be something you’ll continue to pursue in retirement?
Malignaggi: It’s cool; I don’t have an acting agent per say but I have fun doing it. It would be something cool to explore if those doors open. I’m not against any of it. I try to be an ambitious, driven and well-rounded person in my life.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Would I be wrong in saying you’ve never truly gotten over the loss to Ricky Hatton. Out of your losses, it seems that’s the one that you just have to avenge somehow.
Malignaggi: Yeah, that’s a fight I shouldn’t have lost. I don’t think Hatton won it; I lost it. It’s very clear if you look at any of my fights in 2008, it’s obvious the trainer I had (Buddy McGirt) wasn’t fitting the bill for me. It was a contrast of styles; the pieces weren’t fitting but he was still trying to make them fit anyway instead of adjusting to my strengths. In the end I paid the price with three terrible performances [that year] although I won two of them and lost the Hatton fight. I’m my own worst critic; all three were just brutal performances. None of them made me happy.
Even though I’ve took two losses since then, and one wasn’t really a loss in [Juan] Diaz because everyone knows I got robbed, I’ve only had one bad performance and that was to Amir Khan. The only thing that told me is that I had to leave 140 pounds. I believe I made my point and I’d like to make my point to Ricky Hatton, to show him the guy he fought wasn’t the guy the rest of the opponents in my career got to fight. I’d like to show him who Paulie Malignaggi really is. But, one thing at a time; Cano comes first and then we’ll see what happens. It’s definitely something I’m interested in.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You mentioned the Amir Khan fight. You had some really entertaining trash talk before that fight and even went as far as printing up and selling “A Mere Con” t-shirts. That was really entertaining. Will we ever see things like that from you again?
Malignaggi: It’s all spontaneous; if I think of ideas I’ll do them. I’m definitely not against it. It’s entertaining and I give myself a laugh. If people get a kick out of it it’s cool too. But I never want to think of it too much because it’s spontaneous.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: One thing I’ve always had immense respect for concerning you is that essentially because of the power deficit, you have to fight the perfect fight every time out and not get too down on the cards. In the times you have been down big, you’ve never quit or looked discouraged. How do you mentally stay focused knowing the climb back is near impossible?
Malignaggi: You just try to take it second by second, minute by minute. You can’t look ahead too much. You realize a fight’s not going your way but if you start to look at the long haul [ahead], like “it’s going to be a long night,” mentally you’re going to fold and break. You try to look at it in the moment of where it’s at. Try to win every moment and the one afterward. If the knockout comes, you take it. If you think too deeply, you’ll break. Avoid that at all costs.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You’ve admitted that you won’t be able to achieve all your career goals in the few years remaining in your career. What are the ones that you think you can still get done?
Malignaggi: I wanted to be world champion in three classes. Originally I turned pro at lightweight and told myself I’d be champion at lightweight, junior welterweight and welterweight. I couldn’t make lightweight [long enough] and had to move up to 140 pounds in a year of my pro debut. If the right opportunity came at junior middleweight I would try and shoot for a world title there. These are very tough goals I set for myself.
I wanted to be in the Hall of Fame but I’m not sure if I can achieve that anymore. There were some key losses so it’ll be interesting to see what I achieve from here on out. I try to approach every fight with that type of hunger and determination to leave my mark on the sport.
And obviously, to make as much money as I can in the sport. I figured being successful would always create revenue, so just maximizing these world title wins with as much income as I can.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Thanks for your time, Paulie. Welcome home and best of luck tonight.
Malignaggi: Thanks man, I appreciate it.
World championship boxing returns to Brooklyn with an inaugural night of fights at the new Barclays Center on October 20 headlined by Unified Super Lightweight World Champion Danny “Swift” Garcia against future Hall of Famer Erik “El Terrible” Morales presented by Golden Boy Promotions and supported by Golden Boy Promotions sponsors Corona, DeWalt Tools and AT&T. In the co-featured attractions, Brooklyn’s own Paulie “Magic Man” Malignaggi puts his WBA Welterweight World Championship on the line against hard-hitting Pablo Cesar “El Demoledor” Cano, undefeated number one rated WBO middleweight contender Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin of Manhattan takes on unbeaten Hassan N’Dam for N’Dam’s WBO Middleweight World Championship and Devon Alexander “The Great” faces Randall Bailey for Bailey’s IBF Welterweight World Championship in a bout presented in association with DiBella Entertainment. The SHOWTIME® CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING telecast begins live at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast). Preliminary fights will air live on SHOWTIME EXTREME® beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast).
The undercard is loaded with many of New York’s top fighters, including Brooklyn’s hot middleweight prospect Daniel “The Golden Child” Jacobs, former World Champion Luis Collazo, the Bronx’s rising star Eddie Gomez, former world title contender Dmitriy Salita and Brooklyn prospect Boyd Melson.
Tickets pricedat $300, $200, $100 and $50 are available for purchase at www.barclayscenter.com,www.ticketmaster.com, the American Express Box Office at Barclays Center, all Ticketmaster locations or by calling 800-745-3000.