July 1, 2013

KO Digest Interview: Paulie Malignaggi - "I beat Adrien Broner"

The Magic Man of Boxing
Stars in boxing make their mark in their division and in the sport’s history in different ways. Some are recognized through a particular asset, a punch or a style, while others are closely linked to a particular fight that captivated fight fans and made an indelible mark on their legacy. In the case of junior welterweight and welterweight titlist Paulie Malignaggi, the unfinished story of his career is best known for controversy, both of his own doing, as is to be expected with an individual who shoots straight from the hip; and due to the political nature of the sport which has thrust the Italian-American on the losing end of hotly contested decisions more than once.

Malignaggi has built a strong résumé by earning title fights against myriad formidable foes, the likes of which include Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton, Juan Diaz, Amir Khan, and most recently Adrien Broner, and his exposure outside the ring is as impressive as his ability inside the ropes. While Paulie is known for his slick, elusive game plan during fights, he’s equally as comfortable while much more forthright behind a microphone. As his fighting career soldiers on, Malignaggi has signed on to color commentate for Showtime Championship Boxing, bringing his enthusiasm and outspoken nature to the boxing masses to an even higher degree.

In this July edition of the KO Digest Interview, Malignaggi opens up with remarkable candor about the clash with Broner, the edgy and vitriolic trash talking perpetrated by each combatant about each other and the company they shared, his marketable personality, and the constant struggle to fight the good fight in a sport smeared by bad intentions.

KO Digest's Joel Sebastianelli: Heading into the lead up to your fight with Adrien Broner last month, you said that this was the most important fight of your career. You fought hard and the bout was close, but you lost by split decision. After the bell tolled on the twelfth round, did you believe that you had won the fight? What were your thoughts upon heading the judges score totals?

Paulie Malignaggi: I knew the fight was close, but I felt like I outworked him. I said in my mind “OK, it’s close, I worked a lot harder than he did, I threw a lot more punches, I basically made the fight by throwing all of these punches, I’m in my hometown and I’m the champion—I think I can get the decision.” The only thing that crossed my mind negatively was the thing I was saying throughout the whole promotion: he’s with Al Haymon, and Haymon can get him the decision. All of that crossed my mind after the bell rang.

The Al Haymon of Boxing
KOD: You’ve talked a lot about Al Haymon. What advantage does being associated with Haymon give a fighter, and what is it about his character that makes him a cause for concern for some in the sport?

PM: It’s about him as a connected guy. He gets his fighters a lot more TV dates than other people can achieve, he gets his fighters paid more. He’s basically got a lot of pull. His fighters seem to get the close decisions and his fighters even seem to get a few decisions they don’t deserve. You see a lot of patterns when you’re in this type of business, and I noticed the pattern even before I fought Adrien Broner, so I wasn't too keen on the fight being close. One thing you can say for sure: you won’t see Al Haymon fighter get robbed. You’ll see fighters of his rob other fighters, but you won’t see an Al Haymon fighter get robbed. That's not by coincidence.

KOD: You started out very strong and controlled the first third of the fight, but then Broner rallied and won several of the middle rounds. Was your opponent’s success a result of him finally getting comfortable after a slow start, or was it because of a flaw in your game plan as the contest carried on?

PM: One thing you’ll notice about Broner as the fight goes on is that he starts to throw more arm punches. He’s not throwing as hard as the fight goes on because he was throwing too hard when he was missing me. He was taking the sting off the shots himself. That was the biggest myth about the fight for the people who think Broner won the fight. They give you the reasoning that Broner was throwing the harder punches, but he in fact was not throwing very had punches. My head does snap back when he lands clean but he’s throwing a lot of the arm punches, and the reason for that is because he’s not landing very hard punches when he’s loading up. He figured that out and realized that if he’s going to hit me and hit me clean, he has to take some weight off the shots or else he’s going to risk missing me consistently.

 The Reality of Boxing
KOD: It seemed as though both you and Broner fought exactly the style of fight you wanted to fight and each had plenty of success doing so. In hindsight, is there anything that you would have changed about your approach to the fight considering that you now know its end result?

PM: I don’t think I would've changed anything but there are one or two things I would add to what I did. I wouldn’t say anything drastically different, you make adjustments based on what’s in front of you. There are adjustments I probably could've made during the fight. When I saw it on video, I said “there are a couple things I see very clearly here.” We’ll see if I get a rematch so I can try to implement them.

KOD: Broner-Malignaggi was vicious outside of the ring from the moment the fight was announced. The marketing for the fight by Showtime seemed to focus on the personal feud, trash talking that ranged from jabs at eachother’s fighting ability to even the women you’ve been associated with outside the ring. After the fight, the war of words continued with Broner insinuating that he took your title and your girl. Could you explain how that all started?

The Side Piece of Boxing

PM: I literally had myself a fatal attraction situation there. She was never my girlfriend, but I had a loser to the hundredth power who would not get off me, to the point where she made up pregnancies, to the point where I found out recently she actually had bank account statements of mine and that means she was going through my clothes when I was spending time with her—there were one or two times I left my jacket at her house.

She was a girl that I used to hook up with. I have many girls, you know? I hook up with several different girls, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’m friendly with all of them and they’ve always been friendly with me. They know the deal. I had myself a very bad situation and I’m continuing to find out new things that I didn’t know. I had gotten rid of that situation, and Broner bringing it back to the forefront for the promotion was pretty amazing. It didn’t surprise me that she reached out to his team because that's the type of person she was. She wasn’t a girlfriend, but she’s the type of person who has to win at all costs. I realized once I slept with her a few times that this was going to be a problematic woman. I realized that when the promotion began and Broner brought her into it that it was going to be a big problem. June 22nd was going to come and go, but Adrien Broner had given this person new life to continue this onward after June 22nd. I’m still dealing with it. I told my team I would have to deal with this because this guy brought this girl back in. I’m in the process of getting some stuff together for my several different lawyers because I’ve got to do something legal about it. She slandered my name, made many false statements, stolen bank statements—there’s many things that I’m finding out more and more about every day.

The Promotion of Boxing
KOD: At any point during the fight’s buildup did you think that perhaps the trash talking had gone too far? Is this the sort of image for a big fight that boxing benefits by promoting on a mainstream level, or does that help sell interest in the fight?

PM: I think it sold interest in the fight, but it could have done without it. Adrien Broner is a loser in every way though. He’s been handed two of the three world titles he’s won in his career. He’s gutter trash to the highest extent. He’s throwing $15,000 at strippers, flushing money down the toilet, and his mother still lives in a hole in the wall project house. This is a guy who has no priorities and is a total loser no matter how much money they hand him—and I say “hand” because he didn’t earn any of it. So, it didn’t surprise me that he took it there. It spiraled out of control and it takes two to tango, but it’s kind of hard be involved without getting dirty.

KOD: The bout with Broner was not the first time you’ve been on the losing end of a controversial decision, although a majority favored Broner as the winner. Why do think you always wind up in such controversial outcomes?

What's the Problem Paulie?
PM: The scoring system isn’t the problem; the system of boxing itself is the problem. The ten point must system is just an excuse to cover up the bigger problem, the politics of it. I’ve never been the more connected guy. The politics of boxing dictated it that way. You try hard to just keep it sporting, but unfortunately, the pattern in boxing is that the more connected fighter wins the close decisions and sometimes he’ll win the not so close decisions. Going into every fight, you need to ask yourself not who’s got the better left hook or who’s got a better right hand or better style. You need to ask yourself the first question “who’s more connected out of these two fighters?” If they’re connected the same way, then who do the people who have them both signed want to get ahead more than the other? More than likely, you will find your winner in answering those questions, unfortunately.

KOD: You’ve long called for a re-evaluation of boxing in an attempt to clean up the corruption and controversy that has long been associated with the sport. If you were in a position of authority that oversaw the sport, where would you begin in your quest to purge boxing of its evils?

PM: TV networks giving promoters their own dates makes it difficult. Giving one or two people the power as opposed to spreading it out evenly contributes to it. Not every fighter is signed by a top promoter. Sometimes guys slip through the cracks and get signed by second or third rate promoters. Those good fighters won’t get a chance though because they don’t have the right connections. I want to see the best fighters get a chance regardless of who they’re signed with because a lot of times, people only find out about the fighters that are signed with top guys. Those top guys sign good fighters, don’t get me wrong, but there’s also other good fighters who if they aren’t signed by the top promoters and managers, they may not get a chance. In the NFL, you can have Tom Brady getting drafted in the sixth round and have Hall of Fame careers and win Super Bowls, but in boxing, if a guy is not going to have the right connections, he can develop into a good fighter but it won’t really matter because not having connections will really hurt his career.

The Muckraker of Boxing
KOD: While a lot of fans seem to think the Broner fight was a closely contested decision, many members of the media have been outspoken about the bout favoring Broner. Teddy Atlas of ESPN said you’re a boy crying wolf, and that the only scorecard that should be investigated should be the one that favored you. Does the media perception bother you, or do you attempt not to pay attention to much of the media’s opinion?

PM: All that talk coming from the media doesn’t surprise me. I think there are some very powerful people in boxing who had me winning the fight. I spoke to Michael Buffer and Ron Borges, they had me winning the fight. I think the fans vote is an 80/20 split. I think the media is trying to cover for themselves. This is a fight where everyone and their mothers predicted I would be stopped inside seven or eight rounds, so all of a sudden, the decision comes into question and how do you cover your bases after you looked so foolish? You don’t want to look like a moron so you say Broner won the easy decision. The scoring is definitely subjective, it’s definitely what you like or what you prefer. I don’t think that 117-111 either way is a fair scoring assessment. I can see it being close one way or the other, leaning towards me because I’m the champion and the hometown fighter, but anyone in the media that had it 117-111 is just trying to cover their behinds about certain comments they made before the fight about the fact it was going to be easy. As a matter of fact, I saw Dmitriy Salita earlier this week. He’s a Russian-Jewish fighter and he watched the fight on Russian satellite TV, and he told me the Russian broadcast team had me winning the fight. The Russian broadcasters, Buffer, and Borges don’t owe me anything. These are people that watch big fights all over the world. I think it’s unfair to say it’s crying wolf that I’m crying about the decision and that if you had me winning you should have your eyes checked. In the grand scheme of things, the highest percentage of people had me winning the fight rather than losing it. It may not be the majority of the media, but the majority of media in America doesn’t really go far when you consider the majority of the media in the world. The American media is going to be very biased towards certain fighters and certain people they have connections with. Like I said, they don’t want to look like they don’t know anything because, for the most part, they don’t know anything and it comes out every week that they don’t know anything. Anytime they can cover their behinds, they will, and this is a case where they were.

The Judges of Boxing
KOD: In October of 2012, you retained the WBA welterweight title with a victory over Pablo Cesar Cano—another Paulie Malignaggi fight, another controversial split decision. Did you feel the fight was as close as the majority of fans saw it? How did it feel finally being on the winning side of a tightly contested decision?

PM: I thought 114-113 was actually the score so I don’t think they did me any favors. I remember through seven or eight rounds thinking that either I had won every round or only lost one round, and I remember going back to my corner and my corner was as cool as a cucumber. After the eighth round, there were some hiccups and we faded late.

If you actually score, for argument’s sake, one of the first eight rounds for Cano, which is basically all you can give him—that’s the way we saw it and we were fighting the fight, and then you give Cano all four of the last rounds, you would have 114-113. That’s what two of the judges had as their score, 114-113. I don’t think that fight was very difficult to score, especially when you consider that Glenn Feldman, the guy who scored it for Cano, admitted he made a mistake when he went to the WBA Convention a couple weeks later. I think people will look at CompuBox and ShoStat numbers, and they put too much emphasis on them after the fact because they have a fancy name. Do you know how many people think that there’s a chip in the glove that counts punches landed and don’t realize it’s actually some guy playing Nintendo and pressing buttons? You’d be amazed. They just give it some fancy name like it’s not some guy playing a Nintendo video game deciding what lands and what doesn’t. When you watch that fight and you score it just like we were scoring it as we were fighting it, we were pretty comfortable. When I got dropped in the eleventh round, I still felt comfortable I was going to get the decision. I don’t think there was anything controversial about that decision at all. You’ve just got to stop looking at ShoStats and CompuBox numbers and watch the fight for yourself and it becomes much simpler.

The Little Mac of Boxing
KOD: Your exposure outside of the ring is matched by very few in the sport today. You’ve been featured in articles published in Esquire and Playboy, had a documentary made about you, “Magic Man,” which aired on Showtime, and Nintendo supposedly used you to model the “Punch Out” character Little Mac. What qualities have made you such a marketable fighter?

PM: It’s funny, because the “Punch Out” game called up and asked for me to do the commercials, so it was a pretty fun experience. As far as the other things are concerned, it helps every little bit. I think I could have used a little more marketing at times to get me more exposure, but when it did come my way it definitely helped. The things that have come my way outside of boxing, nobody has helped me get them, they've just kinda fallen onto my lap. It helps, because the more exposure you get, the better, but I’m probably the most if not one of the most charismatic fighters of the last decade. When you look at it like that, I’ve probably been under marketed overall as a whole, but I’m still around.

KOD: Your reputation in boxing is that of a pure boxer, a runner with a slick style that lacks power to hurt his opponents. Your record backs this up, with just 7 of your 32 wins coming by knockout. Especially in the earlier stages of your career, before you became a title fighting commodity, was it ever difficult for your promoters to make and sell your fights?

PM: Not really, I just kept breaking my hands at that time, which is why I didn’t develop the knockouts like everybody else did early in their careers. I had three hand surgeries in the first four or five years in my pro boxing career. It became very difficult to get a lot of knockouts, especially in those days when I probably could have taken a couple of losses if I wasn’t so slick and wasn’t able to adapt and fight one handed in a lot of those fights. It never was a problem. I always had a bigger-than-life personality, so I don’t think coming up that there was an issue marketing me and getting me dates. Coming up, the issue was how busy I could be when I was constantly getting injured. In 2005, I only fought one time, and that one time I actually broke my hand coming off of a bad surgery, so that’s why I only fought one time to begin with. That one fight I had, I was hoping I would be OK and it broke again.

The Misconceptions of Boxing
At that point, there was a time that I wondered if this could be it. People that talk about me and say “hey, this guy doesn’t have a lot of power” are still talking about me despite the injuries that many fighters wouldn't get past, I would still win fights even shattering my right hand—it took nine hours to reconstruct it. It’s a compliment to me, the fact that people are still here talking about me. I don’t have a lot of power, but the fact that I was still winning was amazing when I look back on it. People don’t know that part of my career, they just look at the knockout ratio and say there’s not much power there, but when you’re winning fights one handed, you’re probably not going to score many knockouts.

KOD: In August of 2009, you hit the road in Houston to face off against Juan Diaz. Most thought you handily defeated Diaz, but the Texas judges saw the fight the opposite direction, including Gale Van Hoy, who scored the contest 118-110. Did that defeat, perceived as unjust, change you as a fighter or as a person?

PM: No. I had already had it with boxing at that point. You need to sleep with one eye open when dealing with boxing politics. I was already at that point before that fight after dealing with other things outside the ring. As a matter of fact, I was actually calling it going into the fight that I was going to get robbed that night, so when it happened, I can’t say I was shocked. I was a bit shocked at the audacity they had to rob me.

KOD: Are you seeking a rematch with Broner or are there other fights you would rather accept at welterweight?

The Problem of Boxing
PM: The Broner fight is the fight I want to get. Even for himself, he should want it again. This is a guy that emulates Floyd Mayweather every way he can. Floyd Mayweather had one controversial decision in his career and he asked for that rematch and wanted it the same year. It was similar to Adrien Broner and Daniel Ponce De Leon. Broner had a chance to do the rematch that same year and try to right that wrong because a lot of people thought he lost it the way they thought Mayweather lost to Jose Luis Castillo the first time. Floyd did the right thing: he did the rematch with Castillo and won it more definitively the second time. If Broner is any kind of man, any kind of competitor, if he’s as good as he pretends that he is, he should want that rematch himself. If we don’t get the rematch, I’m sure that we’ll be offered a lot of other fights coming off of that performance. It will be up to me and my team to discuss internally and see what happens, because right now, the main thing on my mind is the rematch with Broner.

The Future of Boxing

KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli

Joel joined KO Digest in January 2013 and has been a fixture on press row in the New England area for three years. In 2012, he served as the host of “The Boxing Fix” on Leave it in the Ring Radio.
Sebastianelli is the future of boxing journalism and broadcasting.  

Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli