Paulie Malignaggi and Artem Lobov square off this Saturday night at BKFC 6, a bare knuckle boxing pay-per-view event from Tampa. We’ve got a slick veteran boxer in Malignaggi and a rugged veteran MMA fighter in Lobov.
Fans of boxing are not always fans of MMA, and vice versa. So we’re going to try to give you some background on both fighters here for those of you who may not be familiar with one guy or the other.
How did Paulie Malignaggi get here? (by Scott Christ)
Paulie Malignaggi became a somewhat unlikely star over his pro boxing career, which started in 2001 and ended in 2017. He always had the gift of gab, but with brittle hands that robbed him of any real power, he very easily could have become a journeyman gatekeeper instead of a regular headliner.
Malignaggi used skill and slickness to offset his lack of power, going 36-8 (7 KO) and winning world titles at 140 and 147 pounds. But those weaknesses also saw him become one of the more inconsistent name fighters of his era. He’d have nights where he looked great, and nights where he just didn’t, and this happened throughout his run in boxing.
Malignaggi first broke through a bit as an opponent for Miguel Cotto in 2006. Cotto, a Puerto Rican, was building his star in New York, and Brooklyn’s Malignaggi was a natural fit for opponent. He also figured to lose. Malignaggi was dropped in the second round and took a horrible beating in the fight, but he remained competitive and went all 12 rounds. He had been written off by some as a no-power pretty boy who would be exposed, but he showed that night that he had a serious toughness to him, too.
In 2007, Malignaggi won his first world title, beating Lovemore N’dou in a one-sided rout. In a rematch with N’dou 13 months later, he barely survived and won a split decision in Manchester, England.
In 2008, Malignaggi faced Ricky Hatton in Las Vegas and Hatton just trucked him, stopping Malignaggi in 11. 2009 saw Malignaggi make headlines for a pissed off post-fight rant about boxing’s corruption and injustice following a robbery loss to Juan Diaz in Houston; the two rematched four months later in Chicago, and Malignaggi won a decision. In 2010, Amir Khan was way too much for him, winning every round and stopping Malignaggi in 11, as Hatton had two years prior.
Post-Khan, Malignaggi’s career could have fallen off, but he kept finding ways to rebound. He won a few fights and then went to Ukraine, where he stopped unbeaten Vyacheslav Senchenko in nine, looking really good and winning a WBA welterweight title. Then he was given an arguable gift decision against Pablo Cesar Cano six months later.
In 2013, he lost a controversial decision to Adrien Broner, then won a clear decision over Zab Judah. He was then smashed in two straight fights against Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia, won three lower-level bouts, and then went to London to face Sam Eggington in March 2017. Eggington knocked Malignaggi out in eight, and Malignaggi decided to hang up the gloves, which was a wise decision.
Paulie’s career will be one that ages oddly. As time passes and those who watched him get old and die off, some of the nuances of his career will get lost to time. But he fought at a high level for about a decade, took on a lot of top names, won a couple world titles, and left his mark.
How did Artem Lobov get here? (by Patrick L. Stumberg)
Artem Lobov could best be described as a stubby remora clinging to the once-unstoppable megalodon that is Conor McGregor.
For the 22nd numbered installment of the UFC’s “Ultimate Fighter” reality show, which is a self-contained tournament among Octagon hopefuls who are all crammed into one house for the duration, McGregor was tabbed to coach alongside UFC Hall-of-Famer Urijah Faber as part of a “Europe vs USA” gimmick. The 11-10-1 Lobov, already a longtime associate of McGregor, was among the 16 fighters from each region who fought amongst themselves in the preliminary round, where he lost a decision to French Muay Thai specialist Mehdi Baghdad.
Shortly thereafter, however, Dana White revealed a twist that I wouldn’t dream of accusing McGregor and Lobov of having a hand in: each coach would get to bring back a fighter eliminated in the prelims. McGregor picked Lobov and off “The Russian Hammer” went, knocking out Americans James Jenkins, Chris Gruetzemacher, and Julian Erosa, the last of whom had a 9.5” reach advantage.
Lobov was supposed to face Team Europe associate Saul Rogers in the finals, only for Rogers to lie on his visa application and get yanked from the card. This left Lobov to face the man Rogers beat in the semifinals, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu master Ryan Hall, who spent nearly the full 15 minutes of their fight latched onto Lobov’s back and trying to choke him.
Lobov ultimately went 2-5 in the Octagon before being cut, falling to Hall, mid-tier striker Alex White, and top-20 competitors Cub Swanson, Andre Fili, and Michael Johnson. He defeated Chris Avila, a UFC newcomer who lost four in a row after the Lobov fight, and Teruto Ishihara, a heavy-handed then-prospect who dropped four of his next five post-Lobov bouts. Lobov admittedly gave a solid account of himself against Swanson, but the limitations of his 65” reach and plodding style kept a signature win forever out of reach.
Rather than try his luck in one of the other major MMA promotions, Lobov joined several other UFC veterans in Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships, debuting this past April 6th against Jason Knight. Though primarily known for his submission skills, Knight had developed surprisingly effective pressure boxing during his Octagon tenure and boasted considerable reach and height advantages. Further, Knight was notoriously durable; Ricardo Lamas, who boasts some of the scariest killer instinct I’ve seen in any combat sport, only managed to force a no-knockdown TKO despite pummeling Knight with what looked to be over two dozen full-force haymakers.
Lobov ultimately came out victorious in an absolutely grueling battle, surviving a knockdown in the first few seconds to drop Knight thrice and take home a unanimous decision.
You might be wondering how Paulie Malginaggi figures into all of this, and don’t worry, it’s just as dumb as you’d expect. McGregor and Malignaggi have been feuding since their infamous sparring session before McGregor-Mayweather and the Lobov-Malignaggi beef budded off of that.
Who will win?
I have said time and time and time again that the “boxing vs MMA” thing is really very simple when you start talking about high levels of competition. Boxers win at boxing, MMA guys win at MMA. But bare knuckle is a strange middle ground where I start questioning certain things, particularly in this specific matchup.
The basic rules of bare knuckle boxing — no wrestling/grappling, no kicks, no takedowns, no knees, no elbows, etc. — favor Malignaggi because it’s just boxing without the big gloves. I don’t care how long Malignaggi has been out of competitive action or how rusty he could be, Artem Lobov is not going to outbox Paulie Malignaggi. Period. And Lobov’s not going to try, either.
So what about motivation? What about determination? Paulie Malignaggi is a 38-year-old former boxer with a day job. What does this fight really mean to him? Is he just cashing a check? Does he think it’s going to be truly easy? Does he honestly think potentially dicing up Conor McGregor’s buddy will get McGregor to fight Malignaggi in boxing or bare knuckle?
Artem Lobov is no boxer, but he’s a true fighter who has proven very recently that he’s willing to endure all the vicious, grueling nastiness of a bare knuckle war. And it’s not like Lobov is never going to touch Malignaggi. Paulie was a very, very tough guy in his prime, but last time we saw him he got knocked out by Sam Eggington, a third-tier welterweight.
But I’ll say this: Lobov will have to knock Malignaggi clean out, as Eggington did, to win. Even if Paulie isn’t coming in totally prepared for what bare knuckle can be, he won’t quit. Malignaggi is a proud guy and losing to Lobov would be utterly embarrassing for him. If he goes out, it’ll be on his shield.
I’m picking Paulie, but I think it’s going to get ugly (in a good way, if you enjoy sporting violence) and nasty, and I think it’s going to be a lot harder than he thinks it’s going to be. Malignaggi UD-5
Patrick L. Stumberg
It’s not hard to see how Artem Lobov became mixed martial arts’ GOAT meme; he’s got a sub-.500 professional record, has a mutual ride-or-die going with the sport’s most infamous figure, and is built like someone hit “random” in an RPG character creator. His game plan is always “move forward and swing arms until one of us falls over.” Frankly, any version of Paulie Malignaggi we’ve seen in the ring should run roughshod over him.
But that’s the question, isn’t it? Paulie’s been out of action since getting scrambled by Sam Eggington in March of 2017, and while Lobov is no Eggington, he is a remarkably tough and hard-hitting bastard who showed against Knight that he can handle the bloody, bruising nature of bare-knuckle slugging. Lobov’s dangerous from bell-to-bell, and if an early cut or bout of swelling throw Malignaggi off, the upset’s possible.
That said, Paulie’s been a mess before and has a six-inch reach advantage on top of his enormous technical edge. He’s slowed down enough for Lobov to have his moments, but should still possess enough durability to survive the rough patches and box “The Russian Hammer’s” ears off.
I’m just glad they’re having it in Florida; last time Artem fought, they had it in Mississippi, where two of the judges somehow scored a fight with four knockdowns 48-47. Malignaggi UD-5