Paulie fighting for fitting final chapter
Barclays Bout vs. O’Connor Could Be Farewell for Brooklyn Boxer
Happy endings are extremely difficult to orchestrate, especially if you’re a professional athlete.
John Elway had one, walking off the gridiron in Miami on a magical January night in 1999 as a two-time Super Bowl champion and first-time Super Bowl MVP.
But for every John Elway there are countless pros in every sporting arena who go out looking far less than their best.
Paulie “The Magic Man” Malignaggi doesn’t want to be one of those athletes.
The former IBF Light Welterweight and WBA Welterweight champion had a prime opportunity to go out on top on the night of Dec. 7, 2013 after out-boxing and out-foxing fellow Brooklyn boxing legend Zab Judah at Downtown’s Barclays Center to win our borough’s mythical championship.
He even got a specially designed belt from Barclays CEO Brett Yormark following the methodical unanimous decision victory, and the home crowd that had watched him toil his way from Bensonhurst street kid to world-class pugilist saluted Malignaggi en masse.
Well-established as one of the leading voices of SHOWTIME’s pro boxing broadcasts, and apparently making a comfortable living both in and outside the squared circle, Malignaggi had his cue to leave the sweet science behind forever that evening.
But the ring came calling again just 13 months ago, and Paulie answered the bell for the 39th time in his 14-year career last April, suffering a fourth-round TKO at the hands of then-IBF Welterweight champion Shawn Porter in Washington D.C.
With a career record of 33-6-0 and seven career knockouts, Malignaggi appeared ready to hang up the gloves for good.
But going out on an early round stoppage, albeit against a younger, stronger opponent who had dropped just one of his 26 career decisions, couldn’t have sat very well with the two-division champ, even if he begs to differ with that opinion.
“My last fight had no bearing on any of this,” Malignaggi insisted Wednesday during an international teleconference to promote his upcoming return to the ring at Barclays Center against fellow welterweight Danny O’Connor. “When I went into the fight with Shawn Porter I wasn’t thinking this is my last fight.
“It wasn’t really that particular result as far as me not being able to accept it,” the always-loquacious fighter added. “I was kind of on a good roll and I had one bad night. Do I really want to chalk up my career as one bad night? I still have a lot left. When you have a loss like that and you take a year off, I think people will draw their own conclusions.”
So come May 29 at Brooklyn’s home of pro boxing, Malignaggi might very well be taking his final swipe at a happy ending, if, in fact, he finally decides to retire after meeting O’Connor in the co-feature to the Amir Khan-Chris Algieri headline bout.
The fights, which will be televised live on Spike TV as part of the new Premier Boxing Champions series, highlight the 12th pro card at Downtown’s state-of-the-art arena.
Malignaggi helped christen boxing at the Barclays in October of 2012 when he earned a tough split-decision win over Pablo Cesar Cano. He dropped a disputed decision to then-unbeaten Adrien Broner in Brooklyn in June of 2013 before his epic win over Judah there six months later.
Watching the bouts as an analyst from his customary ringside seat gave Malignaggi some time to assess whether or not he was ready for the challenges that loom in the ring following the loss to Porter.
“At first I didn’t want to fight again,” the 34-year-old Brooklynite readily admitted. “Better these guys than me. I’m done. But little by little I started feeling better. … Before you know it, you start to hit the bag, and before you know it, you start feeling it. If you retire from boxing you should probably stay away from the gym.”
But he simply couldn’t.
So now the savvy veteran will have to contend with the 30-year-old O’Connor, who is hoping to use Malignaggi’s stature as a stepping stone to build his own resume.
“I’m very excited about this opportunity to fight Paulie and showcase my skills at the Barclays Center,” O’Connor noted. “I’m ready for the task at hand. Anything can happen on any given night in boxing. I’m expecting Paulie at his best. The better he is the more excited it makes me. That’s what I’ve been working my whole career for. That shot at something big.”
Malignaggi has already had several “something big” moments during his long, illustrious career.
He captured his first world title with a unanimous decision triumph over light-welterweight champion Lovemore N’dou in 2007, and claimed his 147-pound crown with a devastating ninth-round knockout of Vyacheslav Senchenko in 2012.
But after three solid-to-strong showings at the Barclays Center, Malignaggi found himself stopped cold by Porter in the nation’s capital last year.
He also realized, after some time off, that he had to get back into the ring, not to script the perfect ending to his career, but rather to feel the one thing that has fueled him throughout this at-times grueling journey.
“To me living is feeling that adrenaline rush,” Malignaggi said. “That’s more what was the motivator. I’m not dead, so I choose not to live like I’m dead.”
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