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Paulie Malignaggi feels slighted.
Despite headlining Madison Square Garden against the likes of Amir Khan and Miguel Cotto, beating Juan Diaz, and holding a litany of titles, he goes into his WBA Welterweight Title defense this Saturday against Adrien Broner as a 15-1 underdog. But if you ask him, it's Broner that's facing an uphill battle.
"[I'm] the biggest fighter of his career, both in name and size," he told Spike Sports.
He has a point. Broner is, after all, making the twelve pound jump to Welterweight after spending his entire career alternating between Super Featherweight and Lightweight. He's obtained titles and accolades in those classes, but also dogged criticisms that he was beating up on smaller competition. It's something Malignaggi is familiar with himself, although he's usually been on the other end of it, facing much larger name fighters.
In terms of star power and ability, he doesn't see Adrien Broner as being in the same company as some of his previous opponents. Some of that skepticism might come from the animosity that's been stoked in the lead-up to the fight, which has gone beyond trading barbs and jawing at press conferences.
In boxing, insults and trash talk are par for the course in big fights. Pull-aparts occur with such frequency that they've become overly theatrical, even at times laughable. In this case, however, it's clear that the two men genuinely dislike each other. Broner went so far as to bring a woman, identified only as Jessica, into the fray as a "former ex-girlfriend" of Malignaggi in an attempt to embarrass him publicly. Malignaggi pointed out the woman at a press conference and asked her his mother's name. When she couldn't produce it, he exposed her as a former sex partner.
In the ring they'll bring out the best in each other, but in the lead-up to the fight they've brought out the absolute worst in each other. Talking to Malignaggi about his dislike of Broner and his thoughts leading into the fight, you have to look past the animosity and ugliness that's gone down. Even then, though, he might have a point in all the doubts he's raised not only about where Broner is as a fighter, but the consensus that the undefeated prospect is the hands-down favorite win on Sunday.
NOT YOUR STEPPING STONE
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At 26-0 with 22 knockouts, Golden Boy has been eager to position Broner as the next big American draw. There's certainly good reason for it. Broner's shown a ton of potential, yielding unmatched power against opponents and showing a penchant for self-promotion. Subjectively, he's a promoter's dream.
Objectively, he's largely untested against elite competition.
It's a familiar story in a sport with disparate, competing promotions and an alphabet soup of world and regional titles. You're nothing as a pro unless you've got a few dozen wins, no losses, and three titles in two different weight classes. Building hype is the name of the game. In 2013, saying a fighter's record is padded can't really be seen as a dismissive statement given the regularity of the practice. Forget the quality of competition, what matters to promoters are the numbers on a fighter's record and their own ledger sheets. A fighter's effort in the gym and the ring is nearly matched by promoters desperate to protect their investments in a crowded field.
Not that one should completely dismiss Broner. His reputation isn't all hype. He's been impressive in his outings as a Super Featherweight and a Lightweight. It's hard to argue with twenty-two knockouts, and even Ring Magazine considers him one of the top ten pound for pound fighters in the world. Still, for all his accomplishments, he's been dogged by critics who have, perhaps rightly, pointed out his lack of world class competition.
That's where Malignaggi comes in. The current WBA Welterweight champion is confident in his abilities, his size advantage, and his training camp, but if you ask him, the biggest advantage he has is in big fight experience. He's fought the Ricky Hattons and Amir Khans. He went the distance with one of the modern greats, Miguel Cotto. He beat Juan Diaz (arguably twice). His jump up to Welterweight has proven to be a resounding success, scoring him a second world title and a six-fight win streak.
Expectations are high for Broner as he enters the biggest stage he's had in his career, but Malignaggi is more than happy to spoil his coming out party. After all, he's made it clear he doesn't buy the hype.
"In the Antonio DeMarco fight, they had him in Atlantic City in front of five people," he quipped. "Nobody cares about him, as much as they try market him as a future star, nobody cares about him."
Unlike Broner, Maglinaggi sees himself as the type of fighter who may have had his setbacks, but has taken on all challengers. For him personally, a win means nothing unless you're testing yourself against the best. He's been at it for over twelve years, but he doesn't plan on playing the role of the former great on his way down meeting a prospect on his way up.
"I think that [my] longevity speaks to the elite status," he told us. "But a lot of people don't wanna give me that credit."
"PEOPLE DON'T KNOW SHIT ABOUT BOXING"
Those people are the critics, reporters, commentators, and oddsmakers who have written him off in the lead up to this Saturday's fight.
Even in his attempts to spin it as experience and motivation, it's clear that it bothers him. He finds it frustrating to look at the millions he's made and his resume across several weight classes yet still be considered primarily as a stepping stone for someone else's accomplishments.
Then again, he's realistic about what commentary means in the long run. When asked about the doubts, he noted his own burgeoning career as a commentator for Showtime. In that role, he's been a part of and overheard a lot of conversations involving people who make a living out of analyzing and critiquing fighters. That experience has led him to one conclusion, which he expressed to us with a combination of dismay and amusement.
"People don't know s*** about boxing."
When he says that, he doesn't want people to think he's just being bitter. His own experiences as a fighter aside, he insists he speaks from experience as being one of those very same analysts.
"I don't just say because people doubt me and people have been wrong about my career time and again, because if it was just my career it would just be 'eh, it's a personal thing'," he told us. "I hear them have boxing conversation about other fights that have nothing to do with me."
His objectivity gives him a unique insight into what he thinks of the analysts and commentators he works with.
"These people watch fights every week, and they don't know anything about what they're talking about."
BROOKLYN, WE'RE BACK ON THE MAP
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If the championship, legacy, and doubts in the media weren't enough incentive, Malignaggi has another important motivator: hometown pride.
This week marks the Barclays Center's ninth month of operation. In that time it's featured a handful of big time boxing events, most recently the Danny Garcia and Zab Judah bout in April. MSG has maintained its position as a mecca for boxing, but the resurgence of Brooklyn in the last decade and success of the Barclays Center has made it a destination for boxing promoters, in particular Golden Boy Promotions, and revitalized the culture of boxing in the suburb.
Main eventing at Barclays is a big deal for any fighter, but even more so for a Brooklyn native who still trains in Gravesend.
"There's fighters that are gonna be coming here that do come here that main event here and they're not from Brooklyn," he said. "For somebody like me, it's more special."
Still, it goes back to proving everybody wrong. For a guy who has been discounted at several points in his career, getting this fight booked at Barclays in the first place is a milestone.
"A lot of people questioned whether I would even make it to the opening of the arena and be in big fights," he said. "So the fact that I'm here, it's kind of a big 'F you' to all those naysayers."
A LEGACY DETERMINED
Despite his skepticism about Broner, Malignaggi carries enough self-awareness to know the states are high. He is, after all, a veteran of the sport. Yet, somehow, he doesn't come across as a fighter whose best days are behind him. Fans and journalists are wont to look at fighters like Bernard Hopkins and subscribe to the narrative of age being only a number. It's a nice sentiment that doesn't extend past just that – sentiment – in all but a handful of cases. Malignaggi, in terms of both his performance and how he carries himself, seems like one of those exceptions.
In his twelfth year of fighting, he finds himself in the midst of a career resurgence, re-capturing the limelight long after many others he's faced have flamed out.
A win on Saturday will go a long way towards cementing his legacy. He's confident in his own ability, but his thirst for recognition comes with the realization that a win goes a long way towards proving what he's been saying all along. Despite the doubts he has about Broner's legitimacy, he has no delusions about what this fight means for him and his career.
"I will look back on my career and say this was the big one," he admitted.
He's also remarkably candid about the setbacks he's experienced. Realistically, his TKO losses to Ricky Hatton and Amir Khan shouldn't disqualify him as a threat to Broner. In both fights he faced down larger opponents – bigger than Broner - and in both cases it took them eleven rounds to finish him. Against Cotto, another fight where he faced a significant size disadvantage, he went the distance. In his mind, those fights only made him a better, stronger fighter.
Maybe it's his confidence or articulation, but it seems hard to argue that point. He's mindful of the long term ramifications of this fight. Yet even in expressing his own self-awareness, he remains defiant towards everyone who's dismissed him.
"This is a chance to really stamp myself as, hey man, I was a very good fighter," he said. "You guys just kind of dropped the ball on me."
Paulie Malignaggi defends the WBA Welterweight Title against Adrien Broner this Saturday, June 22nd, at 9:00pm EST / 6:00pm PST on Showtime.
Speaking of fighting against the odds, earlier this season Playbook 360 got to talk one on one with history-making champion Bernard Hopkins. Check out the video below.