Malignaggi kicks off '08 with tough win over Ngoudjo

IBF junior welterweight champion Paulie Malignaggi gutted out a hard-fought win over mandatory challenger Herman Ngoudjo tonight in Atlantic City, winning on unanimous decision scores of 115-113, 116-113 and 117-111.

While the small crowd at Bally's was very much behind the Brooklyn-born Malignaggi, it was a very competitive bout that I thought Ngoudjo did enough to win. But this was no robbery. I could've seen the fight going either way, with my card at 115-113 for the Cameroon-born, Montreal-based challenger.

Since Ngoudjo really got on the map by taking Jose Luis Castillo to the limit last January (a fight many felt he won), this was the best he's looked. He beat Castillo on the inside before eventually the veteran took over, and he didn't look special in a win over battle-tested Randall Bailey in June.

But against Malignaggi, his game opened up. He was effective from a distance, whacking Malignaggi with a sharp right hand as the champion came in looking to move to his left, staying away from Ngoudjo's dangerous left hook. He didn't get inside much on "The Magic Man," and when he did, Paulie held. It was smart, but as much as it happened, referee Allen Huggins really should have warned Malignaggi at some point. He was constantly disrupting the fight by hanging on to Ngoudjo and waiting for a break.

Paulie looked good early, doing his thing, moving around and working off the jab. Ngoudjo was trading jabs in the opening round, and while he looked quick and strong, he wasn't Malignaggi's equal in hand speed. The champion dominated the second round, controlling the pace of the fight and continuing to box to his strengths.

In the latter portion of the third, Ngoudjo got going. At the end of six, I saw it even, but with Ngoudjo having won three of the previous four rounds. And in the seventh, Ngoudjo rocked Malignaggi on a couple of occasions, beating him up for the full three minutes. Malignaggi said after the fight that he was "buzzed" in one round, and he almost certainly was referring to the seventh.

I thought Ngoudjo took the eighth, as well, but then Malignaggi rebounded to win the ninth and tenth. The last two rounds I gave to Ngoudjo.

It was a good, hard-fought fight, and a nice fight for Showtime to build on in the rest of the year. They already have some promising stuff scheduled -- Robert Guerrero against Jason Litzau on February 29, Vazquez-Marquez III the next night, and Dawson-Johnson in April. It's already looking like a much better year for Showtime.

I don't take anything away from Paulie Malignaggi tonight, though he did not look like himself. Either Ngoudjo was hurting him more than he would admit, or he just didn't execute well, because after the first two rounds, he was a different, slower fighter that was getting caught with good punches that he usually shimmies away from. I firmly believe that Herman Ngoudjo won tonight, but it's not a result I'll go into hysterics over. You can make a very good argument for Paulie Malignaggi.

You can not make an argument that he should have won 117-111, though, as judge Al Bennett had it. Many rounds were close, sure, but Bennett saw none of those rounds going in Ngoudjo's favor, apparently, because I thought he clearly won at least four rounds.

Round-by-round coverage will be back again next Friday as ESPN2 presents a nice card with Edison Miranda taking on David Banks and Jean Pascal against Omar Pittman, hoping to set up a Miranda-Pascal fight for this summer, which could be the centerpiece of Friday Night Fights' season.

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