Saturday night's HBO Boxing After Dark main event between 140-pound titleholder Amir Khan and Paulie Malignaggi has seen its share and then some of trash talk between the two fighters, with Malignaggi his usual self and Khan apparently trying to seem like somebody American boxing fans should be interested in. It's the first trip to the States for a fight for young Khan, and Malignaggi has home court in New York.
We'll start with Khan's last five fights.
Fight 1: Breidis Prescott (L-KO-1 / September 6, 2008)
Oops, just not quite long enough ago to escape our view for this feature. Khan's 54-second loss to Prescott has more wrinkles than some would lead you to believe, but less than his fiercest defenders want to attribute. The facts are this: Khan's chin sucks. Prescott can punch, but Prescott also didn't even touch Kevin MItchell and barely made a dent on Miguel Vazquez or even Humberto Toledo. After the Khan fight, with Prescott being touted as a seek-and-destroy guy, he's looked exactly like he did before his name got into the high-rise, meaning he's plummeted back down to doorman outside of the building, which is far more realistic. Prescott is one of those guys who does have real power, but makes so many mistakes and is so ill-suited to the game once it becomes a boxing match that there's nothing much to him, really. He's got a big right hand. That about covers it.
It's not that this prove Khan has a china chin, it's his whole career. He's been parked on his seat by the likes of Willie Limond, for the love of Mike & Ike. There are ways to get around having a bad or even awful chin, and we'll get into that, because he and Freddie Roach are doing just that now.
And Roach is what changes here and after. After 18 pro fights, Khan fired his trainer, Oliver Harrison, and hired the famous Cuban amateur trainer, Jorge Rubio. Rubio remains on Khan's team, but he was replaced as lead trainer after this complete debacle. It was not Rubio's fault that Khan was iced by Prescott in less than a minute, but Khan can't fire himself, so Rubio had to be the one to take the fall. Freddie Roach was hired 16 days later.
Fight 2: Oisin Fagan (W-TKO-2 / December 6, 2008)
Roach trained Khan for this fight, but was not in his corner. He was a bit busy that night leading Manny Pacquiao to a demolition and retirement of Oscar de la Hoya. So Rubio served as lead man in the corner again, likely there to chirp out Freddie Roach instructions and keep Khan focused. Not that he was met with much opposition. Fagan is one of those tough, extremely limited guys who probably isn't even quite a gatekeeper. He has plenty of fighting spirit, as he proved in last year's war with Eddie Hyland in Dublin. But when you put him in with someone who has pure talent on Khan's level, it's not a contest. Khan walked through him.
Fight 3: Marco Antonio Barrera (W-TD-5 / March 14, 2009)
This is a fight that still gets me bubbling with anger. It's probably because although I'm an Erik Morales fan first, I have always liked Barrera, too. I think he's genuinely one of the meanest bastards to fight in recent memory, which can be both off-putting and exciting. Barrera is pretty much what you see, you get -- he was called "The Baby Faced Assassin" for a reason. Even now, he looks young, but he's a bad dude in the ring.
But this was a farce, and the promoters and UK press acted like it was something legitimate and worthy of the world stage. Khan was taking on a 35-year-old, blown-up Barrera. This was nothing close to a prime Barrera, who also was best at either 122 or 126 pounds, not 135. Khan, at 5'10", towered over Barrera, listed at 5'6". Freddie Roach in particular knew exactly what this fight was, and no doubt had a hand in picking the opponent, hoping to squeeze whatever rub out of Barrera there was left to give.
Barrera had retired after his second loss to Manny Pacquiao in October 2007. That fight is most notable for ending the Top Rank-Golden Boy cold war, because the "action" in the ring was all Pacquiao, as Barrera fought simply to survive and get a big paycheck, something you never want to say about someone as brave as Barrera has been over his career. He devised an ill-conceived comeback at lightweight starting in November 2008, beating Sammy Ventura. A fight with Khan was signed for March 2009, but Barrera for some reason fought in January 2009 anyway. Hey, what's the worst that could happen?
Barrera's opponent was replaced last minute by a guy named Freudis Rojas, who came in with a record of 1-7-1. Barrera shouldn't have even wasted his time, but he did. The crowd in Mexico chanted and booed in disapproval of the fight, and then Rojas headbutted the shit out of Barrera, opening an enormous gash and giving MAB a DQ in three.
After speculation, Barrera and new promoter Don King decided to go ahead with the fight in March anyway. It was clear to see when Barrera showed up in the ring that the wound had not properly healed, and it was just a matter of time. And of course, it was just a matter of time.
Khan physically overmatched Barrera in every way, but that's not the story of this fight. The cut opened up on a head clash in the first round. Khan could have wafted a mediocre fart over to Barrera's hairline and busted that thing open. And it was a bad cut, POURING blood immediately. Right into Barrera's eye.
But did the referee stop it immediately? Of course not. Did he stop it in the second when it was clear that the cut was not possibly going to improve? Of course not. The third round, then, when it was obvious it was hindering anything Barrera even MIGHT be able to do? Of course not. How about the fifth, when the fight can then go to the cards and give Khan a win that the Sky team said you couldn't "take the shine off of." My ass you can't. Nothing about this win was earned. It was a weasely cherry-picking of an opponent from the get-go, who then came in with a messed up face and was shafted out of a no-contest even. The fight sucked when it was signed, and then got worse.
But Khan won.
Fight 4: Andriy Kotelnik (W-UD-12 / July 18, 2009)
This was the best performance of young Khan's pro career. Kotelnik is no world-beater, granted, but he's a solid boxer who makes few mistakes and was, frankly, the right sort of opponent for this stage of Khan's career. Kotelnik is high European level, which by hype, talent and ambition is where Khan should have been fighting in July '09. That Kotelnik had a poachable title belt was a luxury and a bonus.
Khan pretty much shut Kotelnik out using his speed, his jab, and of course by staying away from Kotelnik, who while pretty feather-fisted is a dangerous enough puncher to worry you if you're devising Amir's game plan. Overall, Khan simply boxed his tail off in this one, never letting Kotelnik into the fight at all. Kotelnik's lack of killer instinct put him in a rough spot. He's not a knockout guy, but by round seven it was pretty clear that was his only shot to win the fight. He doesn't know how to do that, so he didn't. But I feel this win deserves more credit than it is sometimes given. Kotelnik is still top 10ish at 140, and Khan routed him. It was a good style matchup for Khan and he made the very best of it.
Fight 5: Dmitriy Salita (W-TKO-1 / December 5, 2009)
Brought over from New York as the invading American, Jewish Salita faced Muslim Khan and everyone went, "It's not about Jews and Muslims, but this guy's a Jew and this guy's a Muslim, and the Jew and Muslim fans in attendance..."
Salita's record (30-0-1 coming in) was enough for Sky to go bananas about his excellent standing in the boxing world, but Salita had never beaten nor impressed much of anyone in the States. Khan dropped him with the first real punch he threw, and got him out in 1:16.
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Fight 1: Lovemore N'dou (W-SD-12 / May 24, 2008)
Malignaggi had dominated N'dou in June 2007 to lift the IBF 140-pound belt in Connecticut, winning on scores of 120-106 (twice) and 118-108. I scored it 120-106. He made N'dou look like a fourth-rate fighter. After a very close decision win over Herman Ngoudjo in January (where I felt Malignaggi may well have lost the fight), Paulie was forced to rematch N'dou despite nobody on earth desiring the fight except for N'dou. This took place in Manchester, the co-feature to Ricky Hatton's comeback against Juan Lazcano.
It's notable for a few things. The fight featured Malignaggi having a hell of a lot more trouble with N'dou the second time around than the first. If I recall, I scored it a draw, and Paulie got out with a split decision victory. There was also his hair. Malignaggi for some dumb reason decided to come into this fight with gigantic, braided hair extensions, tied back into a ponytail. Predictably, Malignaggi's hair began to come loose from the ponytail and get into his eyes. This happened over and over until finally in the corner between rounds, they rushed a haircut to get those idiotic things off his head. I'm all for style and flash, and I know it's Paulie's trademark to do the unexpected with his hair, but this one was a blunder. The fight is more memorable for his hair than anything, really.
Fight 2: Ricky Hatton (L-TKO-11 / November 22, 2008)
That fight was also, of course, meant to set up a Hatton-Malignaggi bout when both win, as both did, despite both having far more trouble than most anticipated. For this fight, Hatton had fired his career trainer, Billy Graham, and made the curious switch over to Floyd Mayweather Sr., who I believe I am obligated to note is the best, he must confess. (It's hilarious!)
Hatton looked ... well, before the weigh-in, he looked like Skeletor, as he often does, but once he got in the ring, he looked as fit as he had in a while. He was on a mission, and put on one of his best performances. In this fight, he seemed to really "get" what Floyd Sr. was trying to teach him. Hatton punished Malignaggi repeatedly and never let the New Yorker use his speed or movement. It could have been easy to see Malignaggi fighting off the back foot, jabbing and cutting off Hatton on his bull rushes in, but Ricky actually boxed a little and was able to get to Malignaggi with no real trouble at all.
In the 11th round, Malignaggi's trainer Buddy McGirt called off the fight, much to Paul's chagrin. They didn't work together again after. Malignaggi was hopelessly behind and given his lack of power had no shot at the victory save for Hatton blowing out a knee or something, but Paulie's a proud guy and felt he'd earned the right to finish the contest, to keep being able to say he was never stopped. McGirt, who can be emotional in the corner, took that out of Paulie's hands. I felt it was unnecessary. Hatton wasn't killing him or anything, and Paulie has taken worse beatings than that. I can see why you might say it doesn't matter, but to Malignaggi it did, and he was in no imminent danger. The fight would have finished, Hatton would have had his hand raised, and it would've been no different a few minutes later than it was when the fight was stopped. I'm all for protecting fighters, but I thought this one was a bit unnecessary. Malignaggi apparently felt the same, but I'm sure Buddy McGirt will still defend his decision, and make a fine case of it. Realistically, the only thing that COULD have happened to Malignaggi at that point was something bad.
Fight 3: Christopher Fernandez (W-UD-8 / April 25, 2009)
Bounce-back fight against a club fighter. Malignaggi fought off-TV with this one, on the Froch-Taylor undercard.
Fight 4: Juan Diaz (L-SD-12 / August 22, 2009)
After lengthy negotiations that resulted in an absurd 138.5-pound catchweight, Malignaggi and Diaz met in Texas. I don't want to re-hash this one again, other than to say that it's not a crime that Diaz won. I felt Paulie won, close but clear. Many felt Diaz won the fight, close but clear. The problem was the one card being 118-110. Nobody agreed with that. Not me, not you, not Paulie, not Diaz, not Diaz's promoter Oscar de la Hoya. Nobody. It was absurd. Gale Van Hoy could have legitimately slept through the fight, filled out a card afterward on a guess, and gotten it closer to right than he did actually watching.
But (ah, hell, here I go...) that's also assuming Van Hoy thought Diaz was dominant. A 118-110 card doesn't necessarily mean he thinks Diaz was dominant, really, just that he thought Diaz won 10 of 12 rounds. He didn't, but Van Hoy could have just seen every single moderately close round going Diaz's way. The way fights are scored, 12 close rounds where you think one guy won every round is 120-108. Twelve blowout rounds without a knockdown or one so bad that it's a 10-8 is also going to come out 120-108. Lately I've started to consider that judges should perhaps be more willing to score the 10-8 without a knockdown. I've read articles arguing that judges should, similarly, be more willing to score a 10-10 round when no one really takes the initiative, but those articles are usually off-base, in my view, because they assume that something like 116-112 for Kessler over Froch is a horrible misrepresentation of the fight, which in my mind just reads more as a slight misunderstanding of the scoring system in general. Saying that 116-115 is a "better" score for that fight doesn't really add up to me, but I also do understand that that way, the fight isn't essentially in the bag if a guy is up 7-4 in what has been a very close fight going into the 12th, so...
I mean, 7-4 can be 7-4 or just 7-4.
But, that's all better left for another time, I suppose.
Fight 5: Juan Diaz (W-UD-12 / December 12, 2009)
With Texas and NY/NJ out of the question for a rematch, which HBO wanted (and what HBO wants, they usually get), Chicago became the neutral site for the rematch. This one wasn't debatable. Malignaggi clearly won on this night, even shaking Diaz at one point and leaving us with the eternal image of Malignaggi shocked that he wobbled someone and having no clue how to respond to it. Diaz looked sluggish and got some all-time terrible corner advice from Ronnie Shields throughout the fight, as Shields appeared to be watching something entirely different than what everyone else was seeing. This one was all Paulie in the ring, but a lot of how this fight turned out came from Diaz and Shields.
We'll have a deeper preview of the Khan-Malignaggi fight later this afternoon.