by James Slater — Brooklyn’s Paulie “The Magic Man” Malignaggi has almost everything you could want in a fighter. Almost everything. Blessed with superb speed of both hand and foot, excellent accuracy, an extremely reliable chin, a fearless attitude and a willingness to take on the best fighters available, what more could you want from a fighter? Well, there is one thing – that big equaliser known as a KO punch..
Unfortunately, in the sport of boxing – not only today but seemingly ever since the sport was born – fight fans have always warmed most to a boxer who has the capability of putting his opponent in a dark room. One fighter knocking a rival senseless is a spectacle that simply turns the fans on. Paulie Malignaggi, despite his other, considerable gifts, does not have that ability. It’s a crying shame, for but for his lack of pop the 27-year-old has every ingredient needed to be a true superstar.
A natural talker who feels as much at home in front of a camera or a microphone as he does working out at Gleason’s Gym, Malignaggi rates right up there with the very best in history when it comes to silver-tongued showmanship. Capable of making a whole lot of sense as he fires off what seems like a thousand words a minute, Malignaggi engrosses his subject – even if whoever it is that’s interviewing him doesn’t necessarily agree with his viewpoint. Malignaggi doesn’t make you listen, his quick talking is such that you WANT to listen.
Anyone who has seen his quite excellent movie “Magic Man” will know all about the witty sound bites Paulie can give. But the 27-year-old with the IBF light-welterweight title and a pro record of 25-1(5) is not just a colourful mouthpiece. Far from it. Malignaggi can fight – extremely well. When he’s on top form and isn’t preoccupied with the desire to make a statement – as he unfortunately was in his last fight, the return with Lovemore N’dou when Paulie’s hair was the talking point of the fight – Malignaggi can be masterful.
Possessing subtle moves that demand close attention to be appreciated, “The Magic Man” lives up to his nickname. Hard to hit, adept at controlling the movement in the ring and a natural when it comes to letting go with dazzling, bang-on-target, combinations, the Brooklyn man can be a joy to watch – at least for all those fans who care more than just seeing a man fall. Yes, Malignaggi has had his share of less than stellar showings – the return with N’dou and before that his points win over Herman Ngoudjo – but at the top of his game, the light-welterweight is something special.
Those fans that have seen Malignaggi’s early-career fight with one Kevin “Cocky” Watts (highlights of which are shown in “Magic Man”) will be well aware of the fighter’s considerable talent. Watts, a tough guy who had never been stopped, was soon dumbfounded and rendered all but helpless by the moves of his opponent. Made to miss, countered sharply as he did so and then sent to the canvas, Watts was a completely beaten fighter – both physically and mentally – after less than half a dozen rounds with Malignaggi. It was only the New Yorker’s 14th pro fight.
What Paulie needs is another special performance like that one. No, Watts was no world beater, but Malignaggi’s punch-perfect showing was so majestic and memorable to see that the word special is not being used out of context. Next up for Malignaggi is Ricky Hatton, as we know. If the IBF 140 pound champ can once again put into practice some of the moves he utilised back in 2003 – and there’s no reason to believe he cannot put on more exhibitions like the one against Watts – Hatton will be involved in some entertaining fight.
It should also be noted that Malignaggi is a fighter both prepared and able to take some hurt himself. His brave, but ultimately losing, fight with the monstrous Miguel Cotto more than proved that. Busted up, knocked down and on the verge of exhaustion, “The Magic Man” dug deeply into his bag of tricks and found the wherewithal to make it to the final bell. In so doing, Malignaggi showed Ali-like guts and courage. How interesting we mention Ali. For as much as he was known as a showman also, Ali had unlimited amounts of fighting heart. It’s the same with Malignaggi. Seen by some fans as nothing more than a non-punching trash-talker, the Brooklyn tough guy is so much more than that. He is, first and foremost, a tough guy – as anyone who knows of the harshness of his early days will attest.
But he could be so much more than what he already is if he had some real dynamite in either hand. Broken bones have served to compromise his punching ability even further and it is unlikely Malignaggi will ever score a legitimate KO over a top rated foe before he’s through. But as essential as devastating punching power plainly is in boxing, and putting that factor aside for a moment, Paulie Malignaggi has everything else you could want in a fighter.