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Comeback Time For Paulie Malignaggi

Michael Woods

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Boxers know comebacks, don’t they?

Paul Malignaggi, let go by Showtime in late July following controversial remarks made during an on-the-record chat with a fightgame videographer, got back to work Tuesday, in England.

Nope, he didn’t lace up the mitts. The Brooklyn-bred hitter, who snagged belts at 140 and 147 pounds, did analysis on the “Boxxer” event from BT Sport Studio in Stratford, London, England, which screened on ITV4 and BT Sport across the pond.

Malignaggi (36-8, stopped five times) last fought in March 2017, losing to Sam Eggington, and he tried bare knuckle boxing in June 2019, losing a decision to Artem Lobov.

A pre-fight hype video hit showed Malignaggi looking in fighting trim, released on the day of the scraps, Nov. 10. The fast talking New Yorker took queries from Savage Dan, on site, in England. Sans mask, he remarked to Dan that he’d never fought in that sort of atmosphere, in a studio, before. But every fighter, he said, would have to bring their own passion with them, and couldn’t be in a mode where they were missing fans, to help lift them up with vocal encouragement.

Two days before, before, Malignaggi, again with Savage Dan, actually pulled names from a box, to set the draw for the four men in the tournament. He pulled a card, and called out, “Harry Woods,” who faced off with Mike McGoldrick as one of the two super middleweight mini-tourney pairings.

The 39 year old Malignaggi, who will enjoy a birthday Nov. 23, looked relaxed and happy when he did a video hit that posted Nov. 7.

“It feels tremendously exciting to be back in the UK, back on the screens,” Malignaggi said. “It’s certainly been a challenging year for everybody. But I’m really, really passionate about the fact are certain things we can bring fans, bring them a level of excitement through challenging times.” He said that boxing has not had an easy time with COVID, because as opposed to a team sport, one standout athlete testing positive can throw off a show. He admitted that he had a “hiatus” from working on camera, doing analysis, but didn’t give a hint as to that backstory. He called this his “return debut,” and said the UK is most ideal for that first foray back.

To refresh memories, Malignaggi, almost never at a loss for words, had chatted with an ITV reporter on April 22. The session didn’t make waves initially, but chatter built up steam after 46 year old George Floyd, a black man accused of trying to pass a fake $20 bill,  was detained and killed during a stop in Minnesota. That execution was caught on video, and set in motion a humongous flareup in America, with protests erupting across the nation. The marches, some of which morphed into violent clashes between marchers and cops, signaled an ‘enough is enough’ rallying cry after yet another dark-skinned citizen lost their life because the USA condones the causual use of excessive force by law enforcement persons.

Showtime executives got emails and calls from people who learned of Malignaggi’s ITV hit, and protested. They’d become accustomed to on Monday morning seeing a pileup of emails, from people who’d heard Paulie go off. His vitriol in the lead-up to the Lobov fight brought him closer last-chance territory, after he called MMA fans a “a piece of shit community,” and told Lobov, “You’re a piece of shit and I’m gonna treat you like the dirtbag that you are. After I beat the shit out of you, I’m gonna spit on you. I’m gonna take out my dick after I knock your teeth out and piss in that toothless mouth of yours. You got five weeks to live, motherfucker.”

Malignaggi actually handled the ITV queries reasonably well, but the reporter kept digging, and spoke of Devin Haney’s inflammatory rhetoric during an April 15 interview with a boxing reporter, “I will never lose to a white boy in my life. Can’t no white boy beat me.” Also, “Fight a white boy 10 times, I’m gonna beat him 10 times,” Haney said.

The ITV reporter wanted to know if Paulie saw double standards in effect, and Malignaggi made clear he understood racial matters can be a third-rail topic. But he kept talking: “I don’t believe there is racial oppression in 2020, in this century. I believe there has been, sure. I don’t believe there’s racial oppression today, I believe it’s all made up. And I believe it’s exaggerated.

After Floyd was murdered May 25, the ITV hit became a negative sensation, and Showtime had a decision to make. It was decided that Maliganggi would no longer call fights with Mauro Ranallo and Al Bernstein. Abner Mares, an active fighter who isn’t prone to stir pots at all, replaced Malignaggi.

Debate ranged for a long spell after Showtime dumped Paulie, who started with the cabler in 2012. Some felt that there is not enough room for dissenting voices when discussing potentially sensitive matters, while others wondered what took Showtime so long.

For those unfamiliar with Boxxer, usually it’s an eight man set-up, but because of COVID, they whittled it down to four.

That could be a good thing, Malignaggi said, because a victor would only have to deal with a semi, and might have more left in the tank in the final.

This card faced challenges, as super middleweight fighter Ben Ridings and his trainer/manager Kieran Farrell, as well as middleweight Derrick Osaze, got pulled from the card after testing COVID positive. Things got sorted out, and the show went forward. Zak Chelli won the tourney, first decisioning Vlad Georgiev and Mike McGoldrick in the final. McGoldrick decisioned Woods to reach the finale. Two support bouts fleshed out the proceedings. Florian Marku won a welterweight affair and cruiserweight Mikael Lawal had his hand raised.

The show went on, for the tournament crafters, the fighters, and the analyst Malignaggi, who received a settlement as part of the break with Showtime, which may contain wording which prohibits him from delving too deeply into the specifics of the divorce.

Maybe he saves it for the book.

Editor/publisher Michael Woods became addicted to boxing in 1990, when Buster Douglas shocked the world with his demolition of the fearsome Mike Tyson. The Brooklyn-based journalist Woods has covered the sport since then, for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN New York, RING, and he was editor of TheSweetScience.com from 2007-2015. Woods is also an accomplished blow by blow and color man, having done work for Top Rank, DiBella Entertainment, EPIX, and numerous other organizations.

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