“I know that I’m fighting away from home, [but] I have to get in that ring and tell myself, ‘I want to be a world champion.’ I still have the tools and I still have the skills to do this. I might have to do a little more. Physically, I have the ability and I have the mental capacity and the confidence to do it in front of his crowd in that situation.
“I have to expect that anything is possible, and I’m fighting that country’s home fighter. I have to be mentally focused no matter what. I’m going to get myself mentally and physically ready in the gym with Eric Brown, my trainer,”—Paulie “The Magic Man” Malignaggi prior to dethroning Vyacheslav Senchenko in a career-defining win on the road in the Ukraine in April.
Life is good for Paulie Malignaggi, who is at the top of his game in a number of ways heading into his 32nd birthday, which is next month.
Malignaggi (31-4, 7 knockouts) will pursue his fifth straight victory, and his third knockout all since rising into the welterweight ranks when he makes the first defense of his WBA title on Oct. 20 against Mexico City’s Pablo Cesar Cano as part of the first boxing event to be held at The Barclays Center in his native Brooklyn, N.Y.
Promoted by Golden Boy, the fight represents a return to New York and a shot at redemption before hometown fans for Malignaggi, who will meet the rugged Cano (25-1-1, 19 KOs) on a stacked, Showtime-televised undercard to the rematch between RING, WBA and WBC junior welterweight champ Danny Garcia, of Philadelphia, and four-division title-winner Erik Morales (52-8, 36 KOs), of Mexico City.
The appearance also comes on the heels of the fast-talking Malignaggi’s successful debut as a Showtime boxing analyst for Sept. 15 card in Las Vegas, when Mexican star and WBC junior middleweight titleholder Saul “Canelo” Alvarez scored three knockdowns during his fifth round stoppage over Josesito Lopez before a sold out crowd of 14,275 at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“It feels really good that things are turning around for me, and it feels really good that there’s a lot of positive things going on for me inside of the ring and outside of the ring,” said Malignaggi, who has not lost since falling by 11th-round knockout to Amir Khan as a junior welterweight at New York’s Madison Square Garden in May of 2010.
“This feels great to come back home. It’s one of the main reasons I was happy to sign with Golden Boy two years ago. I had the goal of being a part of this show and to be a part of a big event like this on a big stage in a big fight. I’ve done my job, and Golden Boy has done a tremendous job in bringing me back. Now that I’m here, I’m ecstatic about it.”
During what will likely go down as a career-defining fight and in last appearance in April, Malignaggi faced a man who was physically bigger, taller and boasted more power in Ukrainian Vyacheslav Senchenko, who had worked, at times, with Hall of Famer, and five-time Trainer of The Year Freddie Roach.
In addition, Malignaggi, who is trained by Eric Brown, was doing so on foreign soil in front of his adversary’s hometown fans at Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine.
While Senchenko had spent the majority of his career fighting at 147 pounds, even once scoring a first-round knockout while weighing 150, Malignaggi, nicknamed “The Magic Man,” was in only his fourth fight as a welterweight after having campaigned most of his career at 140.
But it was the 5-foot-8 Malignaggi who scored a ninth-round stoppage over the 5-foot-10 Senchenko (32-1, 21 KOs), this, following his one-sided 10-round unanimous decision over Orlando Lora a year ago in October.
As it was against Senchenko, Malignaggi’s big fight experience may, yet again, be an advantage for him against Cano, with two of his career losses being against Miguel Cotto by decision in 2006, and Ricky Hatton by 11th-round knockout in 2008.
Malignaggi had rectified a controversial unanimous decision loss to Juan Diaz in the latter’s hometown of Houston in August of 2009 by avenging it the same way in Chicago later that year.
Cano, who turned 23 on Oct. 4, has won three straight fights — two of them by knockout — since, himself, being stopped by Morales in the 10th round of his junior welterweight debut in September.
In July, Cano earned the WBA’s interim 140-pound belt with a seventh-round majority decision over previously unbeaten Johan Perez (15-1-1, 12 KOs).
Below are thoughts expressed by Malignaggi concerning Cano as well as his overall career, past, present and future.
Paulie Malignaggi on the upswing of his career as compared to the low points such as those following the four losses to Diaz, Cotto, Hatton and Khan:
“It’s funny. When you surround yourself with positive people, and you have a positive vibe around you and all of this positive energy, so to speak, around you, then positive things happen.
“I’ve been surrounding myself with the best people, and the best people for me. I’m not just talking about the business side of it, but I’m also talking about on a personal level.
“I haven’t really had such great people around me all of the time, you know? And I think that that black cloud can kind of follow you around and become a part of the energy you surround yourself with, you know?
“And, I’ve just had a positive base around me for the last couple years. After I lost to Amir Khan, really. It’s funny, because the negative people, they eliminate themselves, you know?
“When you have a big loss like that, you find out that the people with the negativity, they kind of leave you on their own, you know?
“They don’t want to be around you unless they can grub off of you, you know? So, it’s funny how they eliminated themselves, and then, things started turning around for me.
“And it feels really good that things are turning around for me, and it feels really good that there’s a lot of positive things going on for me inside of the ring and outside of the ring.
“It’s also kind of funny when those same negative people try to work their way back into the circle, and you have to kick them in their asses and kick them right back out.”
Malignaggi on the notions by some that he was finished and/or over-rated as a fighter:
“I think that a lot of the talk about me being finished was over-rated. A lot of the things that people say about me, and a lot of the negative press is that I’m over-rated.
“But in the end, if you look at it since I lost the Ricky Hatton fight, I’ve had one bad performance in four years, and was when I lost to Amir Khan.
“So in the four years since I lost to Ricky Hatton, I’ve had one bad performance. The year that I lost to Ricky Hatton, I had three bad performances all in the same year.
“So I told everybody, you know what? I just need to make a change, and I’m going to be alright. And you know what? Four years have passed, and I had that one bad performance in four years.
“So I think that the only thing that was over-rated was the fact that people were saying that about me — that I was finished and that I didn’t have a bright future left, and that my better days were behind me and whatnot.
“Because, if you look at it since the Ricky Hatton fight, besides that Amir Khan fight, I’ve barely lost any rounds, and I’m continuing to be dominant, and I continue to win.
“I think that it’s a testament to my mental strength, and to my mental fortitude, and even, to some extent, to my stubbornness.”
Malignaggi on his remaining hunger and desire to fight and whether or not he is a better fighter than in the past:
“I think that I’m a better fighter because I’ve learned a lot of things, and I’ve got a great team. So I think that that makes me a better fighter.
“When you learn from your mistakes and surround yourself with a great team and you have great people around you, then I think that makes you a better fighter.
“The one regret is that I didn’t have those people around when I was 25 or 26, because I think that I would have been a monster, so I think that I under-achieved in that way.
“But it’s better late than never. So even though I am 31, almost 32, you know, I feel really good, and a lot of that has to do with the team that I have around me.
“The team that I have around me, and the people that I have around me, they’re all positive, and everybody works and does their job, so that I can do my job with less headaches.
“It really is a testament, again, to my stubbornness and to my mental fortitude. And I stay hungry. I stay hungry because I have a lot to prove. Not so much to anybody else, but more to myself.
“I feel like I under-achieved a lot, and that I need to prove a lot more to myself. As a world champion, you have to stay hungry, because there are people coming for you. And I know that my opponent is very young.
“He’s very hungry, and he’s got a bright, bright future in front of him. So in order to make title defenses against guys like this, you have to remain hungry yourself, and I’m very hungry.”
Malignaggi on why he is still fighting:
“I tell you what, I don’t plan on fighting that much longer, but the reason that I’m still fighting is, again, is that I have a lot to prove to myself. I feel like I under-achieved during my prime years.
“And even thought this may not be my prime years, I feel like I have the best team around me, and that I’ve surrounded myself with the best people. So that gives me the chance to do the best that I can do right now.
“I’m really curious to see what I can do when I have this great support system around me so that I can work so hard and know that my hard work will pay dividends.
“Because everybody else’s hard work is paying dividends, you know? So, you know I continue to fight because I stay hungry, and I stay hungry because I have a lot to prove to myself.
“Because I still haven’t achieved what I’ve wanted to achieve. I’m a three-time world champion, but I had so much more that I’ve wanted to accomplish, and I had so many more goals that I had set out for myself when I turned pro.
“I’m probably not going to be able to achieve all of them, because there’s just too many and there is just not enough time. But I just want to achieve as much as I can before I call it a night.”
Photos by Tom Casino, Showtime
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com