|Paulie Malignaggi (right) jabs Lovemore N'dou. Malignaggi easily outpointed N'dou to win the IBF junior welterweight championship. (AP/Fred Beckham)|
Malignaggi (23-1, 5 KO) took a unanimous decision with lopsided scores of 120-106, 120-106 and 118-108, ending N'dou's title reign in the ex-champion's first defense. The unofficial Bad Left Hook card by yours truly gave the fight to Malignaggi, as well, 119-107. N'dou falls to 45-9-1, and fails again to beat what is considered a quality opponent.
"The Magic Man" made it look easy for the vast majority of the fight, with superior handspeed, head movement and footwork, outlanding and outboxing N'dou the entire twelve rounds. He never appeared to be in any trouble, and also knocked N'dou down with a beautiful counter shot in the ninth round. It wasn't a powerful shot that shook N'dou, but was perfectly timed and placed, and gave Malignaggi another 10-8 round. The first one came in sixth, when N'dou had a point deducted for rabbit punching.
But neither extra point really mattered. N'dou was being beaten to the punch as soon as the fight began, with Malignaggi working behind a sharp, accurate jab that he stuck into N'dou's face at will. The 26-year old Malignaggi dropped to his knees at the final bell, knowing he had won the fight and the IBF title.
After the fight, HBO's Larry Merchant interviewed Malignaggi, who seems like a different guy since hooking up with Buddy McGirt after the loss to Cotto. He said that the fight was not nearly as easy as it looked, that he had to work for every round, and that N'dou never quit. From my chair, it was true -- N'dou was knocked down because he was still trying to knock Malignaggi out. And the fight never got lazy, and never featured any stall tactics from either fighter. N'dou was beaten, and soundly, but he kept his head in the fight and was trying to crack Malignaggi's code until the final bell.
Malignaggi also said that he would like to fight Ricky Hatton next, as Hatton is the consensus number one 140-pounder in boxing. That will have to wait for several things (and is quite unlikely, really), not the least of which is Hatton's upcoming fight against Jose Luis Castillo next Saturday. Malignaggi remarked that he thinks that N'dou is a better fighter at this point than Castillo, an argument few would be willing to make.
As for McGirt's influence, it is very clear. Only once did Malignaggi showboat or taunt N'dou in the fight, which earned him an immediate scolding between rounds. And we never saw it again. It's not that Malignaggi isn't still a flashy, stylish boxer, it's just that it's not the first thing you notice anymore, at least after the fight has started and you get over whatever his hairdo is this time. Paulie Malignaggi fought brilliantly against N'dou, and owned the ring. It was his yard. I have become a legitimate Paulie Malignaggi fan after tonight's fight, which is something I never thought I'd have said prior to his fight with Cotto. He's a different fighter, and in a good way. He learned from the loss and corrected the mistakes, and he boxes smarter than he used to. His all-around game is simply better now than it used to be.
But every rose has its thorn, if you will. While B.A.D. was main evented by an interesting, well-fought title bout, the opener between super middleweight prospects Andre Dirrell and Curtis Stevens was an absolute stinker. Dirrell danced, taunted, shimmied and smiled his way through a 10-round unanimous decision where the clear winner landed under 100 punches in the entire fight, yet more than twice his opponent. Dirrell, a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist, still has a very long way to go as a professional, and Stevens was even worse. Dirrell is high on my personal list of least favorite fighters now, as I'd failed to be impressed by him before, and am even less so now. It was a truly terrible fight, though only the second-worst on American television this week.
Other Results from Saturday: WBO light heavyweight champion Zsolt Erdei remained undefeated with an 11th round TKO win over George Blades in Budapest. On the undercard, German Firat Arslan beat Valery Brudov via split decision in a cruiserweight bout. ... 42-year old Oliver McCall continued his uninteresting so-called heavyweight title chase with a unanimous decision win against Sinan Samil Sam in Turkey. McCall (51-8) won on scores of 114-113, 115-112 and 115-112. German-based Cuban heavyweight Juan Carlos Gomez improved to 42-1 on the same card, beating Dennis Bakhtov easily via unanimous decision.