The start for Paul Malignaggi came in 2001, July of that year.
Cocky kid, from Bensonhurst, fast talker, fast hands, debuted, fittingly, at Coney Island. He won that one, against Thadeus Parker, and kept on winning. And talking. And rising the ranks at 140.
He wanted a test, and oh did he get it.
At 21-0, it was a graduation night, against Miguel Cotto. At Madison Square Garden. He arrived, he’d made it. No matter if he won or lost, Paul Malignaggi, born in Sicily, at home in Brooklyn and most so in a squared circle, had proved to himself and family and doubters that he was a somebody.
He lost that night, on paper. By decision, it was unanimous. But his rep grew off the loss. He was in the thick of it with Cotto, then 26-0, at the start of becoming the house fighter at Madison Square Garden. His cheek ballooned grotequely, facial bones were rearranged, and he didn’t even hint at quitting.
His pride that night was a tick bigger than his skill set, which was considerable, and still showing up Saturday in England, at last call.
The kid woudn’t fold, or be kept down. Wins came, over Lovemore N’dou, which brought him an IBF junior welter title. Paulie became a fan fave in the UK, and won coverts in a 2008 loss, to Ricky Hatton. He kicked himself after that, that he’d allowed his way to be co-opted, by a new trainer. There’d be some bouncing around of chief seconds, no surprise, since Paulie had his ways of doing thing. He was the boss of his arc, as much as anyone can be in a world where fate can yank you in a suddent direction.
Alll along the way, he talked. What his fists lacked in power after getting more brittle over time, his mouth made up for that. Mouthy Malignaggi, I tagged him. In a good way…he wasn’t one to over promise and then under deliver. He gave money’s worth, in the lead up to the fight, and on fight night. He was a jab-a-holic, using that range finder to dictate tone and pace and get him the angles he wanted. He lost to Juan Diaz, went nuclear in his post fight remarks, and then got his revenge in a rematch. It was back to a bigger stage in 2010, against Amir Khan, and was Khan on that night. The Brit’s speed and power was too much for the New Yorker, who’d decided then to hit the reset button. He was not afraid like that, to take leaps of faith. He signed on with Golden Boy, leaving Lou Dibella, and yes, he jawed some on the way out. The pride sometimes spurred his candidness level past 10…Paulie to Cali…
More wins came, he got one that they thought he’d not, against Vyacheslav Senchenko in 2012. That was a road win, in the Ukraine, and he was ever so proud to win a world crown, the WBA welter crown. Told ya so, he was able to rightly say. Count me out at your peril, people…
A return to NYC was triumphant; he beat Pablo Cano to defend at Barclays Center, and then dropped a defense to Adrien Broner. The leadup, oh, the leadup, it was spicy, it was pure Paulie. “Sidechicks” popped onto the fight game lexicon, you can credit Paulie for that.
In Dec. 2013, two vets got it on. They didn’t yap much leading in, years had softened the prideful edges on both. Paulie beat Zab Judah, for the Best of Brooklyn belt. Then the home stretch…In April 2014, Shawn Porter manhandled Malignaggi, at home, at Barclays. He got smacked around, and there was head pain. He’d taken trauma, and wasn’t that far from suffering a catastrophic brain injury. Some wanted him to walk away, but the pride, the pride didn’t dim. He insinuated that Porter was weirdly strong…He'd go there, he didn't spare the rod in calling out Manny Pacquiao's amazing run of strength and power….He came back, won three straight. The foes weren’t A list but still, he showed the ring generalship. Along the way, his stature as an analyst, on Showtime, grew. He’s now seen as the top of the heap in the color seat. And on social media, he was Twitter King, yes, self proclaimed. Call him “Pillow Fists” from the safe zone of mom’s basement and he’d call you out on it. Mouthy Malignaggi.
Pride bubbled and stirred. Do it again? Got to. Got to know if I can still turn it up, he figured. A bout against Ricky Burns didn’t happen, 140 was a bridge too far. A welterweight fight against a rugged B grader, Sam Eggington, was booked. In England, his fistic home away from home. There were some decent moments. But over all, the message was clear. The kid set a trap on a guy who was king of trap setting. Uppercut blinded him while a left hook got sent to his ribs. Down Paulie went. There would be no beating the count, maybe if the count was to 15…Game over. Give the kid credit, Paulie said, he caught me. You saw something like relief in his eyes and mood. He knew what he needed to know. There was something left, but not enough to soldier on. I think this is it, he said on air from England as he showed class galore giving Eggington props. I will decide officially this week, he told us.
And he did. The message came out on his social media, fittingly.
His way, his wording. It was an admission by a man turning 37 in November of good fortune, and thanks. Paulie, thank you. You entertained us, with your mouth and your in ring work. You were and still are a standout character in a sport that breeds them. We appreciate what you gave to us, and look forward to hearing your wit and wisdom in years to come.