Paul Malignaggi (with the title belt) poses with fellow New Yorkers (left to right) Daniel Jacobs, Luis Collazo and Dmitriy Salita, all of whom will fight on Saturday’s big card at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Malignaggi hopes the show inspires future New York boxers.
NEW YORK – When WBA welterweight titleholder Paul Malignaggi talks about the moment he realized that he wanted to box for a living, the boxing fan in him comes to the surface.
It was 1997 at Madison Square Garden, the American debut of Prince Naseem Hamed against New Yorker and former featherweight titleholder Kevin Kelley. For four rounds, the two featherweights bounced each other around the ring, trading knockdowns until Hamed iced Kelley with a perfect left cross to punctuate the thriller. In the co-featured bout, another native New Yorker Junior Jones suffered a similar fate, losing his 122-pound title belt to Kennedy McKinney in another crowd pleaser.
“When I watched that show, at the end of the night, I knew for sure this is what I wanted to do for a living,” said Malignaggi (31-4, 7 knockouts), who will make the first defense of the belt this Saturday at Barclays Center in his hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y., against Mexico’s Pablo Cesar Cano (25-1-1, 19 KOs).
Times have changed for boxing in The Big Apple, however. Madison Square Garden, hailed as “The Mecca of Boxing,” is good for one Miguel Cotto fight a year but few others. The world-famous Gleason’s Gym, where Malignaggi and many other New Yorkers first learned to fight, is now more a haven for lawyers and CPAs to blow off steam than a warrior training ground. Fewer locally-bred pros are making it to the world class level.
Malignaggi now lives and trains in Los Angeles, working with trainer Eric Brown, making the move to the West Coast just like fellow New Yorker Peter Quillin, who is also trained by Brown and will also be in action on the Golden Boy-promoted/Showtime-televised card.
“There’s more fighters, more sparring, it’s easier to prepare,” said Malignaggi, of why he relocated to L.A. “There are less and less fighters on the East Coast, it brings back the good question as to why this arena is important. Maybe this will start breeding new fighters who want to box as opposed to going to MMA or another sport.”
The card will feature four world title fights, including Quillin vs. Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam for the vacant WBO middleweight title and IBF welterweight titleholder Randall Bailey vs. Devon Alexander. The show is headlined by THE RING welterweight champion Danny Garcia facing living legend Erik Morales in a rematch of their fight earlier this year, which was Garcia won by decision.
Malignaggi’s hope is that the first boxing event at Barclays Center starts a trend that reinvigorates boxing in New York.
“Maybe it’ll make these young kids want to box again,” said Malignaggi of the first world title fights in Brooklyn since 1931, when Maxie Rosenbloom defeated Jimmy Slattery at Ebbet’s Field to retain the light heavyweight crown. “They might come to a show like this and see a great card, a great fight and say, ‘You know what? I want to be a fighter one day.’ That’s what happened to me.
“If [boxing on the East Coast can come back], this will be a haven for it. If they’re trying to do it, this will be a good start.”
Malignaggi, 31, is in his second reign as titleholder, making his first ring appearance since dismantling Vyacheslav Senchenko in nine rounds in Ukraine to take the 147-pound belt six months ago. Cano, 23, has won three straight since losing in his first top level fight against Morales last year for a vacant 140-pound title belt. Cano had come in on a few weeks notice to replace an injured Lucas Matthysse and had a good showing until Morales’ experience broke him down in the 10th.
Cano is making his first start as a welterweight against the vastly-more experienced Malignaggi, who is rated no. 4 by THE RING at 147 pounds. Still, Malignaggi is taking no chances.
“The book is still out on [Cano],” said Malignaggi, who hasn’t fought in Brooklyn since making his pro debut on Coney Island in 2001. “The only world level fight he had was against Morales and it was short notice so it’s hard to judge him. He fought well early on until the fight started wearing on him. I think we’ll find out more about him on Saturday but I prepared my best because when you’re walking into a dark room it’s kind of iffy. Being that there’s not a lot known about Cano, I don’t want to be the guy to find out he was better than everyone thought. I’m prepared 100 percent.”
Malignaggi isn’t taking exception to Garcia and Morales getting the main event slot on Saturday night, despite being from Philadelphia and Tijuana, Mexico, respectively. Golden Boy Promotions president Oscar de la Hoya told media at a public workout at Barclays Center Wednesday afternoon that he isn’t sure who will be on the next show at that venue, but Malignaggi adamantly believes that will be his shot to take center stage in his hometown
“Danny Garcia earned it; he had a great win over Amir Khan. I don’t think this is it for me in this venue, and once I defend my title here I think I’ll be the main event next time,” said Malignaggi.
Photo / Alex Trautwig-Getty Images
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.