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Post-war with Cotto, Malignaggi returns

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HBO's Boxing After Dark series is back with a loaded card six days from now, headlined by the return to the ring of Paulie Malignaggi, taking on the dangerous Edner Cherry in the main event. On the undercard, Sechew Powell and Ishe Smith square off, and Andre Berto tackles late substitute Norberto Bravo.

The Magic Man's return seems like it's warmly anticipated by the same people -- myself included -- that went into his fight last June hoping Miguel Cotto was going to beat the shit out of him. Let's be really honest: Most boxing fans in general are going to have a dislike of Paulie Malignaggi on first sight. He just carries himself so obnoxiously, the antithesis of the tough guy. He's like a boxing version of Paris Hilton, always posing for some reason, and looking mentally vacant while he does it. He'd be cast as Male Model No. 3 in some after-school special, because he doesn't really look a male model, but he does look like a male model in an after-school special. The guy you get when you can't afford a real male model-looking dude.

It was always easy to question his toughness as a result of the fact that he looks like a guy that you want to smack in the mouth. Disregarding that Malignaggi could kick the crap out of me, that was always my red meat and potatoes reaction to watching him fight and listening to him speak. I really didn't like him, and I wanted someone to knock him out. I figured Cotto would do it.

Then fight night rolled around, Cotto and Malignaggi at Madison Square Garden. For two guys who weren't (and still aren't, really) big names, it had a real big fight atmosphere thanks to the legions of Puerto Rican fans in New York, and the fact that Malignaggi is Brooklyn born, and still in Brooklyn.

Second round, Malignaggi goes down. I'm thinking, "Alright, Cotto's going to put him away within five."

And then we all found out that Paul Malignaggi is one tough motherfucker, as he fought Miguel Cotto tooth-and-nail for 12 action-packed rounds, battling through his face being battered in pretty much every possible style. Cotto was a wrecking ball that night, as good as he's ever been, and Malignaggi stood with him, took the shots, and yes, lost the fight, but perhaps just as important, he finally gained the respect of pretty much all boxing fans. I'm sure Malignaggi would tell me or anyone else to go piss up a rope if he could trade my respect to have won the fight against Cotto, but that's neither here nor there.

Malignaggi is tough, battle-tested, and if the hand that he's broken 67 times or whatever never totally fails him, he's still got an extremely bright future. Cotto is no fluke fighter, he's extremely talented and a devastating puncher. Malignaggi went toe-to-toe in that fight, and it was one of my favorites of 2006.

So that's why I'm looking forward to seeing him back in the ring, and for the first time, I'm going to be rooting for him. Poor Edner Cherry has the HBO promo people calling him "Edwin" in the hype packages. Cherry's 24 years old, he's a good fighter, he doesn't have a lot of power, and I honestly don't think his style is going to suit him against Malignaggi. Cherry's a finesse fighter, like his opponent, but I think Malignaggi is going to prove to be the faster and more accomplished of the two. He's also going to have a huge home field advantage, with the fight taking place at the Hammerstein Ballroom -- one of my favorite venues, for the record.

The undercard fights have their pearls of interest, too. Sechew Powell looked terrible against Kassim Ouma last August, and Ishe Smith hasn't fought anyone worth a damn since he beat Anthony Bonsante in 2005. He did fight twice last year, beating Oscar Gonzalez and Pat Thompson, whoever the hell they are. Andre Berto, on the other hand, is pretty much a lock at this stage of his career to deliver some excitement. He showed serious power on the undercard of the Taylor/Ouma show in December, beating Miguel Figueroa into submission. Norberto Bravo is unlikely to present much more of a challenge, and Berto is rising fast.

I have to hope that Powell/Smith will be worthwhile, though I honestly don't have much expectations for Powell after the last time he was in the ring, and Berto is likely to deliver a KO. Then we'll see how Malignaggi looks in the main event against Cherry, and bam bam boom, you've probably got a nice night of boxing.

And now that I've gone ahead and stated how much I like Malignaggi, place your bets on him to lose to Cherry.