It is not often that a world champion fighting before his hometown crowd is installed as a 15-to-1 underdog. But that is where Paulie Malignaggi finds himself as he defends his WBA welterweight title against Adrien Broner this Saturday night on Showtime.
Perhaps the old Paulie Malignaggi would be insulted by that – would have railed against being denigrated by people that don’t know what ticks inside his chest. But the new Paulie Malignaggi – the one shaped and formed by criticism leveled at him following his loss to Amir Khan – is immune to the slights hurled his way by critics, pundits and oddsmakers.
“A few years ago it might have bothered me,” Malignaggi said. “I might have been wondering, ‘Why does everyone think I’m going to lose this fight? I don’t understand it. I think I’m a good fighter.’ Literally now I could care less. There’s a reason I went to the Ukraine and knocked out (Vyacheslav) Senchenko when nobody believed I could do it. I went all the way over there to his house and did it. I could care less what anyone else was thinking. That was the main reason I was able to do it so comfortably.”
The oddsmakers and pundits and Broner look at how shaky Malignaggi looked in his last fight – a lackluster 12-round split decision against Pablo Cesar Cano. They shake their heads dismissively at the seven KOs in 36 fights in his career. Lack of power, a once flashing boxer operating on 32-year-old legs – it doesn’t set up well for a Malignaggi victory.
Malignaggi is undaunted by the talk that Broner, an undefeated (26-0, 22 KOs) lightweight champion who is moving up two weight classes to challenge for a welterweight title, will be able to impose his will on him and knock him out. Broner and his trainer, Mike Stafford, bragged that they would not only knock out Malignaggi within six rounds, but that they would punish him.
It’s hard to imagine that Malignaggi would be punished more than he was against Miguel Cotto in 2006. It was a brutal fight as Cotto and Malignaggi engaged in a pitched battle. In the end Cotto won a close decision and Malignaggi ended up with a fractured orbital bone.
Broner has never been in that position – hasn’t even been close. Blessed with magnificent physical skills and boxing acumen, Broner is usually the one dishing out the punishment. Malignaggi said Broner should be prepared to travel a two-way street at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Saturday night.
“They’re going to ring a bell on Saturday night and it’s going to be me and Adrien Broner. He’s saying he’s coming to kick my ass. I’m coming to kick his ass,” Malignaggi said. “I think he’s looking at it too much as one-way traffic. We’re coming to beat each other’s ass. It’s not just him coming to beat my ass. He’s forgetting one thing. I’m coming to beat his ass. That’s the plan on Saturday night.”
It’s an ambitious plan. One that Broner doesn’t believe Malignaggi has the arsenal or wherewithal to execute. He scoffed at Malignaggi’s punching power.
“He can be. I don’t know,” Broner said when asked if he thought Malignaggi could become a KO artist. “I don’t know what he is. Maybe he doesn’t turn over his punches correctly.”
Malignaggi is equally dismissive of Broner’s resume, which he sees as thin on quality opponents.
“He’s never had that character tested to where we’re getting deep in the fight and I’m uncomfortable,” Malignaggi said. “By the time he gets to the fifth or six round the fight is in the bag. That’s what happens when you fight laundry workers every fight. It’s easy. I could do the same thing.”
They have tried to match each other in trash talk leading up to the fight. Now it’s a matter of whether the two of them can best each other in the ring. Malignaggi believes he can turn the tables on Broner.
“Because he’s such a small guy we’re going to box and stand in front of him and show him how weak he really is,” Malignaggi said. “The power is overrated. I could have knocked out 20 garbage men, too, but I chose to fight real opponents in my career.”
Photos: Jeff Bottari-GBP/Getty; Al Bello-GBP/Getty; Alex Trautwig-Gettyimages