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Malignaggi thankful for second chance
No one knows how much trouble Paulie Malignaggi will give Amir Khan on Saturday in New York.
The talkative Brooklynite lost a one-sided decision to Miguel Cotto in 2006 but bounced back to dominate Lovemore N’dou to win a 140-pound title the following year. He was knocked out by Ricky Hatton in 2008 and all but written off but rebounded with two strong performances against Juan Diaz.
So which Malignaggi do we get?
The only thing that seems certain is that Khan is catching Malignaggi on an upswing. The minute he parted ways with trainer Buddy McGirt, who he blames in part for the Hatton loss, he seemed to pump new life into his career.
He predicted that he would get shafted when he fought Diaz in Diaz’s hometown of Houston and many believe that’s what happened, the local boy winning a controversial decision that prompted a scathing in-the-ring speech by Malignaggi after the fight.
A confident Malignaggi left no doubt in the December rematch, using his fine-tuned boxing skills and speed to win an easy decision in Chicago. His critics might minimize the victory by saying that Diaz has declined but those at ringside were impressed.
He appeared to be at his best only a few years after he was dismissed by some as irrelevant.
Freddie Roach, Khan’s trainer, acknowledges that Malignaggi is peaking but doesn’t believe he has what it takes to beat the gifted 2004 Olympic silver medalist from Bolton, England.
“He is on an upswing,” Roach said. “He and the new trainer [Sherif Younan] get along well. I saw him with Buddy. Sometimes the chemistry isn’t right. We have an edge in every aspect of the game, though – speed, power, boxing ability.
“Everything he does well we do better.”
Of course that’s why Malignaggi was selected as Khan’s opponent – because he’s solid but not deemed a significant threat to the rising young star. In particular, Malignaggi (27-3, 5 knockouts) is perceived as a light puncher who won’t test Khan’s suspect chin.
That’s fine with Malignaggi, who turns it around and asks: What has Khan really accomplished?
Khan was knocked out by then-unknown Breidis Prescott in the first round in 2008 and Prescott has lost his last two fights. He stopped an old, blown up and bloddied Marco Antonio Barrera in his final fight at lightweight. And he outpointed solid, but hardly fearsome Andreas Kotelnik to win his 140-pound title before stopping journeyman Dmitry Salita.
As Malignaggi sees it, both he and Khan have something to prove.
“He knocked out a bunch of lightweights,” Malignaggi said. “Barrera was a featherweight who moved up in weight and had the age thing. He’s never been in with anybody. I don’t know what the big deal is with Khan.
“… He hasn’t really been tested against a fighter who knows what he’s doing. He has no idea what he’s getting himself into.”
Malignaggi will have a chance to put his fists where his mouth is Saturday on HBO, for which he’s grateful.
The fighter himself was among those who wondered after the Hatton fight whether his dreams of becoming a star were dashed when the fight was stopped in the 11th round, his second one-sided loss to an elite fighter in two tries. He looked lost in the fight and felt lost after it.
Lou DiBella, his promoter, said Malignaggi was devastated.
“I remember the night after the Hatton fight,” DiBella said, “how crestfallen, how miserable Paulie was. He felt embarrassed by what he’d shown. He hadn’t shown who he was as a fighter. He had a dream of one day going into the Hall of Fame. When he had 30-something pro fights, he’d say, ‘My name is Paullie Malignaggi and I’m going to the boxing Hall of Fame.'
“The fight with Hatton was an opportunity he asked for all those years and it blew up in his face. It was up to him to have enough belief in himself (after that).”
Turns out that wasn’t a problem.
Malignaggi took the first meeting with Diaz, then still regarded as a terror, in spite of potentially hostile judges in Texas because he was desperate to land a big fight. He lost but demonstrated that he was far from finished and then won the rematch to regain his place among the top junior welterweights.
Now he’s one victory away from claiming the stardom that has eluded him. And this time he’s fighting in his own backyard.
“Everything was almost ruined,” said Malignaggi, referring to his years with McGirt, “but thankfully I have another chance while I’m still in my prime at 29.”
Now we’ll see what he does with it.
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at RingTVeditor@yahoo.com