Too Slick but Not Too BIG a Risk: The Malignaggi-Khan Predicament

boxingBy P.H. Burbridge - Boxing is a complex set of disciplines and mastering just a few of those disciplines requires a full on commitment. For anyone who has ever stepped into a ring you know first hand that the ease in which fighters avoid punches and their ability to counter based on rapidly closing openings is not as easy as it looks. It takes years to develop that skill and you have to start young so your body develops the appropriate muscle memory. It’s like learning how to read it becomes incredibly difficult the older you get. The most skilled of practitioners make what they do look easy and because of it the casual fight fan tends not to appreciate what they’re seeing. Boxers like Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker and Floyd Mayweather Jr have not only frustrated their opponents but they’ve frustrated a good many fans who don’t know enough about the mechanics of the sport to appreciate the nuances that make it nearly an art form. There is something amazing about seeing a smaller faster guy out wit and out maneuver a bigger more powerful fighter and personally I never get tired of seeing it. My preference has always been the Julio Cesar Chavez patient aggression and the methodical breaking down of an opponent bit by bit but when I see a guy dipping and poking in a flowing and graceful manner it also gets my attention. There is no one way to win..

You don’t have to be the strongest guy in the world and your face doesn’t have to look like your 40 when you’re actually only 26. The beauty of boxing is that if you’re really talented you and you take care of yourself then you can have a great career in the toughest of all sports and never incur any real or serious injury. Floyd Mayweather Jr and Pernell Whitaker are going to be as sharp at 60 as stock brokers because neither guy has ever truly taken a beating. (Mayweather still has a chance but I wouldn’t count on it!) Those two fighters in particular are famous for making it look easy and whose styles have influenced a whole generation of boxers. One in particular is the slick somewhat under appreciated Paulie Malignaggi, the latest in long line of old school boxers who is genuinely viewed as a serious pain in the neck in and out of the ring. Managers and handlers don’t like to put their prospect in with fighters like Malignaggi because of the potential for their guy to look bad or even worse, inept. Its bad business across the board but the biggest concern relates to a fighters psyche. Exposing a young fighter too early could set a bad precedent that he spends his entire career trying to overcome. Part of building a prospect is creating the illusion that he’s great not only to the general public but to himself. To be truly successful a fighter has to have a certain mentality that disallows for any kind of self doubt. The old timers have a saying, “if you don’t think you can beat anybody then you can’t beat NO BODY!” Well, that’s true.

Paulie “Magic Man” Malignaggi is a confident fighter who could vault to the next level if he can beat rising star, Amir Khan from Great Britain on May 15th. If he can’t then he’ll fall into the category of trial horse which is the point of no return for most professional fighters. Once you get that label it usually sticks! Paulie Malignaggi is determined not to let that happen and so is his promoter, Mr. Lou Dibella who has had his challenges in getting opponents willing to test their guy against the slick Malignaggi.

Malignaggi is viewed as a high risk, low pay out opponent and with his recent handling of the “Baby Bull” Juan Diaz he’s become radioactive. One thing that Paulie has done recently that has kept his name circulating in the press is coming out on the side of the Mayweather’s in regards to this whole PED controversy. People have come down hard on Paulie for his opinion but I think this a very clever promotional ploy which ties his name to the biggest stars in the sport. It’s also creating a rivalry between him self and Freddie Roach trained fighters. Some may find it distasteful but the truth is Malignaggi is very clever for doing it. Do I agree with it? No, but I’m an outsider looking in. You can’t dispute that anytime you link your name with established stars its good for your career. Malignaggi has even gone so far as to voice his “concerns” about Amir Khan and PED use. A little guilt by association if you will. Whatever his motivation is his words have kept his name in the mix of this very public controversy and for a fighter who usually doesn’t “WOW” people with his performances you’ve got find some way to make people react to you. It might just be a savvy self promotional tactic. Whatever it is, it’s working.

He got the Khan fight partially due to Roach’s desire to straighten him out!

There’s a high entertainment value to Malignaggi’s out of ring persona and we need guys like that because boxing is driven by personalities. Boxing needs glitz and showmanship to balance out our abundance of blue collar guys. We need a certain percentage of fighters who are perceived as “loud mouths” because it drives fan interest and creates a desire to see that fighter humbled. Ali mastered this approach and set the stage for all the guys using their vocal skills just as much as their fighting skill to get your attention. CONTROVERSY!! People have to realize that fighters like Paulie Malignaggi play with your emotions for the express purposes of putting himself on your radar. You may not remember his fights but you remember he was the guy who said he too believed that Manny Pacquiao was using “something”. He’s one of those fighters that is not only concerned with winning, he’s also concerned about how he “looks” when he’s doing it. If for no other reason I will forever remember Paulie Maliginaggi as the only guy I’ve ever seen get a haircut (hair extensions) in a fight. It happened against Lovemore N'Dou in May of 2008. CLASSIC!! This kid is from outer space but I like it and understand what he’s really doing.

Paulie Malignaggi first hit my radar back in June of 2006 when his name came up as an opponent for Miguel Cotto. It was like he appeared out of nowhere and I certainly didn’t think he had a chance in hell of competing with Miguel Cotto especially at a time when Cotto was having 140 pounders for lunch. I took a quick look at his record which had all of 5 knockouts on it. FIVE KNOCKOUT’S? What!?! Against Cotto!?! I thought Cotto was going to get this kid to the ropes and perform a little open heart surgery on him. I was NOT looking forward to that fight but as usual I watched. To my major surprise it wasn’t a complete blow out and although Malignaggi took a beating he took it like a man. It was his first world class opponent on the biggest stage of his career and he showed that he had the one ingredient that is required for all successful boxers and that’s a certain belief in him self. A certain type of toughness and the ability to hang in and navigate his way through difficult situations especially when completely out gunned. Malignaggi never stopped trying to win even though he sustained substantial injuries. It was the first loss of his career but it was also probably his most impressive showing to that point. That fight gave him a name and it was clear that he would be around for at least some time to come.

Fast forward to 2010 and Maliginaggi is an ex-two-time world champion who is still looking for that opportunity to take center stage. His recent rematch with Juan Diaz was quite possibly his most impressive performance and he was totally dominant. This after a TERRIBLE first fight in Texas where we saw another scoring travesty! Maliginaggi in my opinion won that fight too albeit in far less dominant fashion but the judges amazingly gave it to the Baby Bull. What can you say? You know you’re watching professional boxing when 99 % of the people can see it one way but one of the guys that really matters see’s it completely different. Paulie Malignaggi voiced off before and after that fight that he was going to get robbed. And guess what? He got robbed! Yes, it still happens. Well, now that he’s avenged that loss Maliginaggi is ready for a new challenge which will come in the form of Golden Boy Promotions latest golden boy, Britain’s Amir Khan.

Khan won a silver medal for Great Britain in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens at the young age of 17! He is a projected star in this sport but for American fans he’s still relatively unknown. In terms of his current set up Khan couldn’t ask for more. He’s got a great team and looking to make a big splash in the U.S. in 2010. But, his handlers are being very careful of who they match him with. Frankly, they have concerns and for good reason. Amir Khan was on the express way to the big time until he ran into a little known fighter by the name of Breidis Prescott in September of 2008. At the time, Prescott was undefeated and sported a tremendous knockout percentage of 89.48%. In 19 fights he tallied 17 KO’s! “Against whom” you ask? People you never heard of but regardless his KO percentage should have at least dictated he be shown a little respect especially early in the fight. Well, it didn’t and apparently, Khan’s handlers at the time simply believed Amir’s skill would nullify Prescott’s power. Jorge Rubio, who was Khan’s trainer completely underestimated Prescott and completely over estimated Khan because his man was blasted out in 54 seconds and when I say he was “blasted out” I mean he was BLASTED OUT! Go home, close the blinds, don’t answer your phone “blasted out”! It started with a little counter left hook that caught Khan as he was throwing his own left hook to the body. Amir lowered his right hand while he leaned to his left to deliver that shot and Prescott landed what appeared to be a simple little counter punch but it really hurt Khan who wobbled and then instinctively tried to stay close to fire back. He was then nailed with a hard straight right hand followed by a solid well placed left hook that made it look like Khan was hit in the back of the head with a “Billy” club. To his credit his conditioning allowed him to get back on his feet but it was clear his legs weren’t steady. The referee looked like he wanted to stop it but when Khan followed his verbal command and placed his guard up it showed that he was at least somewhat aware of what was happening so he was allowed to continue. Prescott then moved in and finished the job. Khan was left in a heap in his own corner. It was a nightmare and one that will probably haunt Khan for a very long time.

Now, he’s got the “China Chin” tag and there’s a long line of guys waiting to have their cup of tea with him. Roach knows this and has been working very hard on Amir’s defensive skills but working even harder to make sure Khan doesn’t get matched against another hard hitting opponent. I don’t think anyone is going to fall through the cracks on Freddie’s watch so don’t expect Khan to sign to fight Marcos Maidana or Victor Ortiz fight or even Lamont Peterson anytime soon or least until he gets his sea legs back. In fact there is such concern over Khan’s weak chin that Golden Boy Promotions is rumored to be protecting him by using their HBO alliance to ensure certain fighters do not pursue a match with him AND if those fighters fall in line they’ll be rewarded with HBO coverage. I found that pretty interesting. That doesn’t sound like a promotional company fully confident in their new star. It sounds more like a promotional company protecting a hype job if I may be so blunt. This has been going around the bend so to speak amongst boxing insiders and it has been reported that Marcos Maidana is the one fighter Golden Boy Promotions DO NOT want Khan matched with. Khan’s last victim Dimitri Salita is another example of a fighter who looked good on paper but who didn’t have enough power to test Amir’s chin. Now, he’s got Malignaggi a decent boxer with the same 5 KO’s on his record that he had back when he fought Cotto. The matchmaking alone should tell you what his handlers think about Amir’s chin.

So, what do we got here? Paulie no matter how entertaining his antics are doesn’t have the physical talent of Khan not to mention Khan has a great size advantage at Jr Welter so what do you think is going to happen? But, more importantly at the end of the day what does a win over Malignaggi prove anyway? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

I guess we should expect things to go this way. Khan is just a baby by prospect terms and his disaster against Prescott a fighter who he himself has looked weaker and weaker since his upset win over Khan makes this probably the best course of action. If Prescott came back and was knocking people dead then Khan would be somewhat forgiven for his lapse but he hasn’t and Khan ISN’T!

Really all Amir has to do is keep winning against name opponents even if those names don’t strike the fear of God in anyone. Boxing is a strange business and sometimes the best remedy is time. Who knows what the landscape looks like in a year. The Maidana’s, the Ortiz’s, the Peterson’s of the world may not strike fear in anyone at that point either and Khan might just be able to pick up some of their damaged pieces.

In boxing things have a way of just coming around.

The truth is the best 140 pounder in the world today is Timothy Bradley and when Khan directs his career aspiration THROUGH the “Desert Storm” then we should start paying attention.

Until then don’t be fooled.

Right now it’s all hype!

(Please feel free to contact P.H. Burbridge via email at with any comments or feedback.)

Article posted on 09.03.2010

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