|N'dou (right) was beaten by Miguel Cotto in 2004, but lasted all 12 rounds in defeat, just like his opponent this Saturday. (Photo courtesy BBC)|
South African-born Lovemore N'dou is 35 years old, and has been on the losing end in fights against Miguel Cotto, Junior Witter, Sharmba Mitchell, and other, less distinguished, opponents. But how many times in recent years have we seen the late bloomer become a hot ticket, if only for a brief moment in time? Carlos Baldomir had lost nine fights before he became the welterweight champion. Antonio Margarito had to claw his way up the ladder. And right now, 130-pound firecracker Humberto Soto is doing the same thing.
These fighters all lost early in their careers, hurting them in the long run, as they wound up sporting unattractive records, and also demonstrating skills that kept them out of fights against the top names in their divisions. Eventually, Margarito and Baldomir became champions, and it looks like Soto won't be able to be ignored any longer, either.
N'dou's last defeat came in 2005 at the hands of Witter, still regarded as one of the best 140-pounders in the sport, along with Ricky Hatton and recent division addition Jose Luis Castillo. N'dou's fight against Rabah in February was meant to line up a bout against Hatton, but the British star made a business decision to forget about titles if he had to and simply fight Castillo in Las Vegas for the most possible money he could. No one can really blame him, either. Hatton's 42-0 record and crowd-pleasing style have earned him the right to take the biggest fights, and few would argue that they'd rather have seen Hatton/N'dou than Hatton/Castillo.
So instead of winning an eliminator bout, N'dou effectively won the IBF title. He tried to get himself into position to fight Arturo Gatti in July, but the Gatti camp predictably wasn't eager to put their aging warrior into the ring with N'dou, a guy who can punch. With that, N'dou was matched up with another HBO favorite, Gatti's fellow Italian-American, Brooklyn native Paulie Malignaggi.
Like N'Dou, Malignaggi was one of the fighters rumored to face Gatti in his return (and at one time, supposed farewell) at Boardwalk Hall. Numerous reports had floated around that Gatti was something of a hero and idol to "The Magic Man," but that there had been some sort of falling out. It's all rumor and speculation and tenth-hand information, though. And it makes no difference, really.
Also like N'dou, Malignaggi went a full, punishing 12 rounds with Cotto last year in what was a star-making loss for the flamboyant 26-year old. As we've discussed before, many of us went into that fight with questions about Malignaggi. How tough is this kid? Why's he so "Growing Up Gotti"? Can Cotto just knock this annoying brat out and get him off of our TV sets?
Well, it turned out that Paulie Malignaggi was plenty tough. Cotto knocked him down in the second round and pummeled him for most of the fight, but Malignaggi refused to quit. After all was said and done, you couldn't do much other than a cliche movie slowclap for Paulie Malignaggi after that fight; he'd earned all the respect in the world, and he hadn't even won the fight.
Against N'dou, Malignaggi will need every bit of his pomp and flash. N'dou is a fighter with very little to lose at this stage of his career. Either he beats Malignaggi and gets some more decent fights, or he loses and goes back to doing what he's been doing. Truth be told, the win against Rabah (which did not come easy) was the first victory over a worthwhile opponent that "The Black Panther" had had in the last several years. And though he has knockout power in his hands, knocking Malignaggi out is no simple task.
In reality, N'dou's rise is more due to circumstance than it is anything else. Had Hatton decided to fight him, no one would have given him a realistic shot. Unlike Baldomir and Margarito, N'dou has not beaten too many quality fighters en route to his championship. Malignaggi will be the best fighter -- by leaps and bounds, in my estimation -- that he's faced since Witter. And with the trouble had against Rabah, who retired on his stool after 11 rounds of a very close fight, it's hard for me to find a rational train of thought that leads to him winning, particularly if it goes to the scorecards at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville.
As for Paulie, he may never knock out another fighter for the rest of his career. He dominated and outboxed Edner Cherry in February, but never hurt him, and Cherry is really a 135-pounder. And you just can't ignore the injury problems that Malignaggi has had with his hands over the years, either. That's always a looming x-factor.
But assuming good health is in order and the fight goes off without a hitch in that regard, I expect Paulie to simply frustrate N'dou and avoid the big bombs that could give Lovemore some rounds. He'll use his quickness and his flair (which can be an awfully effective thing to have in a fight sometimes) to take what I think should be a moderately easy unanimous decision for his first world title.
I'm happy for Lovemore N'dou that he'll be on HBO this weekend, and I look forward to the fight, which is a nice matchup in terms of styles. But I don't think he's a good enough boxer to beat Malignaggi. Hey, who thought Carlos Baldomir was a good enough boxer to beat Zab Judah?