Paulie Malignaggi has had a memorable career, and has made quite a name for himself over the last decade and change in the sport. A flashy, outspoken character, Paulie has managed to turn chronic hand injury issues and a lack of punching power into a career as a contender and titleholder at 140 and 147 pounds, with a handful of major main events to his name.
On Saturday night in his hometown of Brooklyn, at the new Barclays Center, Malignaggi has another one lined up, this time against rising potential superstar Adrien Broner. Reigning as the WBA welterweight titlist, the 32-year-old Malignaggi steps into the limelight against a 23-year-old fighter who is being positioned as one of the future pillars of the sport.
But while Broner (26-0, 22 KO) may not have much by way of big fight experience to draw upon when forecasting the bout, that doesn't mean he won't perform under the spotlight. The last time Broner faced a guy that was supposedly some level of real threat to him, he smashed Antonio DeMarco in extremely impressive fashion. Wins over Gavin Rees, Vicente Escobedo, Eloy Perez, and Martin Rodriguez may not get the blood pumping for some fans, and his questionable decision win over Daniel Ponce De Leon still gives others pause, but the last time Broner was in with a perceived top guy, he made DeMarco look as overmatched as Perez or Rees.
Malignaggi (32-4, 7 KO) does have big fight history, and it's not particularly good. When he stepped up to face Miguel Cotto in 2006, he was brutalized over 12 rounds, proving his toughness and winning some fans, but ultimately finding himself unable to truly compete with a stronger, superior fighter he just couldn't contain.
A similar result came in 2008, when Malignaggi faced Ricky Hatton in Las Vegas. Hatton looked steadily into his decline, losing to Floyd Mayweather 11 months prior to facing Malignaggi, and in the interim, only beating Juan Lazcano in a performance that didn't exactly turn heads. Hatton physically dominated Malignaggi, though, prompting trainer Buddy McGirt to stop the bout in the 11th round. Malignaggi resented the stoppage.
A year and a half later, it was Amir Khan. Unlike Cotto and Hatton, Khan wasn't a mauler, and his speed-first boxing style, on paper, gave the crafty and smart Malignaggi a chance, as did Khan's weak chin, which it seemed event Malignaggi would be able to dent with a chance. But Khan diced up Paulie, forcing referee Steve Smoger to step in midway through the 11th round. This time, Paulie had no real complaints.
This is not to say that Malignaggi has not had successes in notable fights. He clearly beat Juan Diaz in a rematch of their very controversial first fight, which Diaz won at home in Texas. He has a pair of wins over Lovemore N'dou, he beat Herman Ngoudjo when Ngoudjo was fighting well, dominated Edner Cherry, and last year, he uncharacteristically beat the hell out of an unbeaten Vyacheslav Senchenko in Ukraine to lift the WBA belt.
Against the real top fighters he's faced, though, he has come up short. Well short. Of his "big three" losses, he was closest to beating Cotto, and Cotto broke his face apart.
It's an interesting thing with Malignaggi these days. He's a veteran of the game, and a known quantity. But he's also still inconsistent. Last time out in October, Malignaggi struggled badly with Pablo Cesar Cano, a fighter who went on to lose to a decrepit version of Shane Mosley a few weeks back. This after he'd turned heads with the dominant win over Senchenko.
If Broner is to become a truly elite fighter, it seems as if he should handle Malignaggi on Saturday night. For all the talk of Broner jumping two divisions to 147 pounds, Malignaggi is a small welterweight himself, and Broner has been massive at 130 and 135. Skipping 140 has also been done -- the aforementioned Mosley did it years ago to chase a money fight with Oscar De La Hoya.
Adrien Broner wants, no matter what he says, the comparisons to Floyd Mayweather, the top pound-for-pound fighter of a generation, as well as one of the few true stars of boxing's recent history. And what's more, his management wants that for him. Broner was pushed to the moon by HBO, hyped on the back of questionable matchmaking (to put it nicely), and now he's moved to Showtime, after HBO's decision to no longer do business with Al Haymon or Golden Boy Promotions. With the No. 2 network making great strides and greater efforts to find themselves on truly equal footing with their rival, Showtime will surely look to make Broner a cornerstone, as HBO had intended to do for the foreseeable future. New stars will be needed to overtake the longstanding leaders, and Broner could be one of those new stars -- maybe more than that.
Paulie has surprised before, like last year with Senchenko, but it may depend less on Malignaggi than it does Broner. How good is "The Problem," really? Will the weight be an issue? Will Paulie be able to finally score an A-list win? Or does AB have the skills to become what many believe he will be, one of the best fighters in the sport? History may not favor Paulie when he's in with top-level fighters, but we can't be totally certain that Broner is more than skills and a TV push. Not yet, anyway.