They are aging warriors and multi-title belt winners over the junior welterweight and welterweight divisions. Paulie Malignaggi turned 33 on Nov. 23, nearly a full month after fellow Brooklyn, New York native Zab Judah turned 36.
Yet in their most recent fights, it was the elder statesmen who carried much of the action to their younger, up-and-coming opponents with an enthusiasm that won praise from Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer.
As a result, Schaefer has matched Judah, nicknamed “Super,” against Malignaggi, who is known as “The Magic Man,” on Dec. 7 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn as the main event to a quadrupleheader on Showtime.
“First of all, I want to say that I think that both of those guys are rejuvenated because of all of the opportunities which are in the 147-pound weight class,” Schaefer said during national conference call on Tuesday. “I think that for both of them, one of their best fights — and there have certainly been many — but I think that was in their last fights. That’s why this is such a meaningful showdown.”
Malignaggi (32-5, 7 knockouts) is trying to restore the magic in his career by rebounding from June’s split-decision loss to Adrien Broner, a fighter who turned 24 in July after having dethroned Malignaggi as WBA 147-pound beltholder.
Malignaggi had won the belt in April of 2012 with a ninth-round stoppage of previously unbeaten Ukrainian Vyacheslav Senchenko, who represented Malignaggi’s fifth straight victory as a welterweight during a run that had included two knockout wins.
Before facing Broner, Malignaggi had earned a split-decision victory over Mexico City’s Pablo Cesar Cano at Barclays Center in October of 2012.
“When Paulie fought Broner, I felt that he fought an absolutely great, great fight. I think that he surprised most people. Most people had it being an easy fight for Broner,” said Schaefer of Broner, who represented Malignaggi’s first loss since falling by 11th-round knockout to Amir Khan to as a junior welterweight at New York’s Madison Square Garden in May of 2010.
“But look what Paulie did, and that’s not because of what Broner didn’t do, but because of what Paulie Malignaggi did. So I think that he is right there at the top, and who knows what the pride factor and what this win can lead to for him and how important this fight is.”
Judah hammered previously undefeated Vernon Paris on the way to a ninth-round TKO victory in March of 2012 before rising from an eighth-round knockdown to give Danny Garcia this past April prior to losing a close unanimous decision to RING, WBA and WBC 140-pound champion at Barclays Center.
“You look at Zab fighting Danny Garcia,” said Schaefer of Judah, whose triumph over Paris helped him to bounce back from a fifth-round stoppage loss to Khan that dethroned him as IBF 140-pound beltholder in July of 2011. “Most people felt that it was going to be a one-sided affair. But look what Zab did. I mean, Zab turned back the clock. That was as good of a Zab as I’ve seen.”
Judah’s other losses were to Joshua Clottey, Kostya Tszyu, Miguel Cotto, Carlos Baldomir,Cory Spinks and Floyd Mayweather Jr., with all but the ones against Khan and Tszyu taking place in the welterweight division.
“If you look at Zab against Floyd, Zab has given Floyd the most trouble out of anyone in the last 10 years or so,” said Schaefer. “I mean, he’s Zab Judah. Zab, when he wants something, he goes for it, and I know that he wants this one, and he’s going to go for it.”
JUDAH-MALIGNAGGI: RELUCTANT WARRIORS
Judah and Malignaggi were once teacher and student, respectively.
A year after having served as a cornerman for an 18-year-old Malignaggi in New York’s Empire State Games, Judah won the IBF junior welterweight belt with a fourth-round stoppage of Jan Piet Bergman in February of 2000.
“Even back then, as an amateur, he had heart and he was gutsy,” said Judah, who was among the team coaches who guided Malignaggi’s team to the Empire Games title. “He came out and he was very scrappy. I recall that we pulled out a lot of champions that year.”
Malignaggi recalls being inspired by Judah.
“I came up behind Zab. He laid the building blocks for us younger Brooklyn fighters and our generation,” said Malignaggi. “He was kind of ahead of us, and he was kind of the guy to look up to or to try to match his accomplishments.”
But after each of their last bouts, the rest of their respective careers may hinge on how they do against each other on Dec. 7.
“After the Garcia fight, they said, ‘Paulie,’ and I said, ‘Nah, Paulie’s my home boy.’ But then I said, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity for boxing,” said Judah. “So I said, ‘Okay, well, I guess that we’re hear now. Like I said, this is a fight where there is no animosity or anything like that. It’s a thing where we’re going in there and we’re representing out city.”
“Really, crossing paths never really came to mind. We were in different weight classes and also were at different parts of our career at various times, you know? But really, you started to hear rumblings and people started to talk about it around Brooklyn for the past year or so,” said Malignaggi.
“But I still didn’t think that the fight had any opportunity of happening because we still had different weight classes and we still had different goals for each of our careers… People wanted to see what would happen if Paulie Malignaggi and Zab Judah fought each other.”
In addition, junior middleweights Austin Trout (26-1, 14 KOs) and Erislandy Lara (18-1-2, 12 KOs) will meet in a clash of left-handers, and WBC super middleweight titleholder Sakio Bika (32-5-2, 21 KOs) will defend against Anthony Dirrell (26-0, 22 KOs).
“We have a great supporting cast on the undercard, and I’m expecting I’m expecting for it to be the most spectacular card that Barclays arena has put on yet. We’ve had some very good cards at Barclays arena as it is already,” said Malignaggi.
“If we can put ourselves on the top of that list as the most sold, ticket-wise, to the public, and the most exciting card at Barclays arena, then me and Zab have done a good job. I look forward to seeing who is the king of Brooklyn for his generation.”
So now that the fight is on, their mutual friendships will have to be put aside — at least for one night.
“Against younger fighters like Paulie Malignaggi and Danny Garcia, you can prove that you can still be a champion,” said Judah. “To be crowned the king of BK, I mean, that’s a big accomplishment. A lot of people will tell you that there is a lot of pride in being from Brooklyn, and, now, we’ve got an opportunity in a sport that I’ve been in for 18 years to be called the king of it.”
BRYANT JENNINGS-MARIUSZ WACH ON TAP?
Philadelphia heavyweight Bryant Jennings (17-0, 9 KOs), who signed with Gary Shaw and Antonio Leonard last month, could pursue his fourth straight stoppage victory against Mariusz Wach (27-1, 15 KOs) on Jan. 18, according to various reports.
Shaw said he considered a Jennings-Wach match to be “likely,” adding, “I think we have a really good shot in that fight.”
A deal is “75 percent done,” according to Shaw, for Jennings-Wach to happen on the undercard of a main event featuring former IBF super middleweight titleholder Lucian Bute (31-1, 24 KOs) against ex-light heavyweight beltholder Jean Pascal (28-2-1, 16 KOs).
Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Photo by Scott Heavey, Gettyimages
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org