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Best I Faced: Paulie Malignaggi

02
Apr

Note: This feature originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of THE RING magazine. The recently retired Malignaggi fought four times following publication.

He is known as “The Magic Man” but the professional life of Paulie Malignaggi has been anything but an illusion. The charismatic Italian New Yorker annexed world titles at junior welterweight and welterweight and went out of his way to face some of the finest fighters of a generation.

Following 21 consecutive victories, Malignaggi earned his stripes in defeat to a peak version of Miguel Cotto in June 2006. Incorrectly labeled as a product of hype, he would endure a broken eye socket, a hostile crowd and a rampaging opponent to lose a competitive unanimous decision. The incredible bravery Malignaggi displayed that night has never been forgotten and his burning ambition only intensified.

He captured the IBF junior welterweight title from Lovemore Ndou the following year and, despite setbacks against the likes of Ricky Hatton and Amir Khan, clung to elite status like a man possessed.

An eventual move to welterweight would lead to a shot at WBA titleholder Vyacheslav Senchenko in the champ’s home country of Ukraine and, against the odds, Malignaggi claimed his second championship via a ninth-round technical knockout in April 2012.

Malignaggi (right) versus Cesar Cano.

A split-decision loss to Adrien Broner, in his first defense, was followed by an eye-catching win over fellow Brooklynite Zab Judah, which turned out to be Malignaggi’s final victory. This year, consecutive stoppage defeats to world-class opponents Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia have convinced him that the final curtain has fallen.

Not so fast.

“I’ve decided to have a farewell fight in Italy,” said Malignaggi, who will return to action on Sept. 26 in Milan. “The opponent is Laszlo Fazekas, who has 27 wins and 21 losses. He’s a run-of-the-mill opponent but it’s an opportunity for me to be seen live in my ancestral home, which is a priority.

“There have been rumors circulating that I would like to fight for the European title after this one but I haven’t thought about my next step. I would be interested in competing for that belt but I need to see how I feel when I get back in the ring.”

The affable Malignaggi, who is also an expert analyst with Showtime Boxing, agreed to speak to THE RING Magazine about the best he has faced in 10 key categories.

BEST JAB

Amir Khan: To be effective with the jab you must control range and when you get into position you rely on your hand speed. Amir had that down very well in our fight.

BEST DEFENSE

Adrien Broner: Adrien stays in the pocket so that he can roll and slip what’s coming his way and when he does catch a shot, it rarely lands flush. There is method to that Mayweather defense, although Floyd is a lot better at it. Both Gavin Rees and Marcos Maidana exploited Broner’s vulnerability to the overhand right and that’s because Adrien doesn’t bend at the knees.

BEST CHIN

Lovemore Ndou: Lovemore was never stopped as a professional and had a great chin. I did drop him in our first fight but that was one of the sharpest performances of my career. I won my first world title from him and was really on my game that night.

BEST PUNCHER

Miguel Cotto: Miguel was a consistently hard puncher. The guy hit me and I was actually asking myself if it was real. He broke my orbital bone in Round 2 and that’s damage you pick up in a car accident. Don’t believe all the bulls–t about an injury like that going numb either. The pain never goes away and it’s your adrenaline that carries you through.

FASTEST HANDS

Khan: When he found the range his hand speed never let him down. Amir could pull the trigger very quickly and in that sense, he’s like a gunslinger in the Old West. He was the fastest on the draw and very difficult to counterpunch. He also has a very deceiving rhythm, which makes it difficult to time him.

FASTEST FEET

Khan: Amir was the only guy who completely nullified my main asset, which is quickness. He took the lead in our fight and I couldn’t fall back on my speed because his speed topped mine. Very early I could tell it was going to be tough and it obviously was. Amir will be a nightmare for any opponent because he uses fast feet to acquire the range and then releases fast hands when he gets there.

Malignaggi was always in the best of condition.

SMARTEST

Cotto: Miguel is so good at making you feel uncomfortable and making you fight his fight. He takes you completely out of your comfort zone and even when you’re doing well against him, you still know you’re in danger. He cut off the ring, maneuvered me into certain areas, made me overthink, and that’s when panic sets in. He has excellent ring intelligence. You can’t tell how good Miguel is until you’re in there with him.

STRONGEST

Shawn Porter: He came from a higher weight and has a background in wrestling and football. Also, he has the type of physique where he can excel in that body-to-body contact. It was very difficult to maneuver on the inside against him and locate the correct punching angles. Shawn was very strong and tenacious on the inside and he kept the action there as often as he could.

BEST OVERALL SKILLS

Cotto: Miguel’s technical skill is excellent. If you see a still picture of him throwing a left hook, his right hand is always right by his chin. If he’s throwing the right, his left hand is by his chin. He has terrific balance, keeps his hands very high and is always in good position.

BEST OVERALL

Cotto: He had the power, the ring intelligence and the unique ability to know when I was hurting. Many times in my career I would catch a good shot to the head or to the body and play possum in order to kill the clock. The problem was Miguel always knew when I was hurt and would jump right on me. He had real killer instinct and that, combined with his power, technique and desire, makes him what he is. All these years later and I can say, ‘Hey, that’s the best fighter I ever fought.’”

Tom Gray is a UK Correspondent/ Editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel.  Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing

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