Paul Malignaggi is now known as one of the very best, and in quite a few circles, the best color analyst in the broadcast booth for the pugilism sphere. And it looked like he’d be setting more firmly into that status as one year, then two years passed and he stayed in the booth and stayed retired.
Ah, but the heart and the brain sometimes keep nagging at you, and tell you if you have led the fighting life, that there are more challenges to take on.
So, more than two years after his “last” pro boxing scrap, a stoppage loss to Sam Eggington in England, Paulie will step to the line again. Saturday night, the 38-year-old Brooklyn-bred fighter will throw down again, this time, sans leather. Paulie headlines a Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship card against ex-UFCer Artem Lobov, with a contracted max weight of 155 pounds.
They battle in Tampa, and yes, they’ve battled all the way up to the fight night, which is put together by promoter David Feldman, who sources say has substantial financial backing. He believes heavily in the growth story of BKFC. He said they upped capacity at the building from 4,200 to 6,800 because of demand.
Malignaggi was at his profane best (worst, some would say, if they aren’t fans of expletive laden trash talking) at pressers to hype the beef. Now comes the harder part — he will be taking part in a fight sport that is something of a different animal than pugilism.
I reached out to someone well-grounded into the art of bare knuckle fighting, one Bobby Gunn, to get a sense on how he sees Paulie’s chances.
”All these guys will never be the man until they beat the man and that man is Bobby Gunn and I am still the undefeated bare-knuckle boxing king,” said Gunn, who told me he’d like to fight the winner.
“Right now I believe that Paulie has the boxing ability to box circles around this guy if he doesn’t do what a lot of boxers do.”
They freeze up, he said, because they are used to having wrapped hands and gloves.
“They can’t comprehend the difference from hand wraps and gloves, it’s psychological, it breaks them and it puts them into a hyperventilating state and they break down, I’m telling you something that’s the gospel truth. If Paulie can’t relax, I don’t know if he can fight bare-knuckle. I don’t know if he ever had a bare-knuckle fight, I don’t even know if he has fragile hands.
“You understand this sport requires hands like steel. I soak my hands in Epsom salt and rubbing alcohol every other day, I soak the skin on my hands. When I broke a hand it’s because I threw a punch with all my power, I only throw 40% in bare-knuckle fights. I hope these guys have had bare-knuckle fights in the past because it’s a different world, my friend.
“I hope that he’s a kid from Brooklyn, so he’s probably had a hundred street fights, you know I think he has. I hope he has. The other kid probably had a lot of street fights, too, so he’ll probably understand the concept. I hope they understand that this is not a regular sport, it’s not boxing and it’s not mixed martial arts, it is bare-knuckle boxing, different effin’ world, brother.”
Gunn (see recent pic below) said he’s been working with a new coach and training his butt off to get into peak condition.
“I’m going to show them how you could break somebody down with a jab, how you can turn your jab to a corkscrew left hook. Most don’t understand how you turn the knuckles into the shots, how you turn the knuckles and rip the skin in the nose, knock your teeth out, you turn it right at the end, twist like a corkscrew.
“Old guys like Bob Fitzsimmons and John L. Sullivan, these guys were the old, old fighters, their knowledge was passed on to my great-grandfather to my grandfather who trained me and my father who trains me — the old-school technique has been given to me and I’m telling you as a friend because a lot of players out there that are good fighters but they would not make a good bare-knuckle fighter.
“Bare-knuckle fighters are a different breed of a fighter, it is a different sport.”
Gunn said his new tutor is a 40-year-old Traveller named Tommy Mac. “He is absolutely a genius for the sport of bare-knuckle boxing, the man’s strategies, his training methods, he has done absolute wonders in my life right now.”
We spoke about how Paulie has had hand problems, and how older fighters have thinner skin and can be prone to cutting. Yes, Paulie could be in tougher than he expects against the cruder Lobov.
“It’s like this here, like a pilot that flies a plane, he’s a complete different operator than a captain that sails a ship,” Gunn said. “If they don’t have any experience, they’re going to hurt themselves because they’re going to throw their hands full power and they’re going to break their hands, they’re going to look sloppy and they’re not going to do it right. The sport of bare-knuckle fighting is like fencing with a sword. You have to break your opponent down but more with body work than anything else.
“The truth is I haven’t really seen any fighter today in the professional boxing or mixed martial arts that really would make a great bare knuckle fighter. The sport is legal now so you will see a lot of underground bare-knuckle fighters now can legally make money start surfacing and you will see a lot of these great boxers and great MMA fighters will be no match for a true bare-knuckle fighter, it’s a different world like I said. Everybody that I fought and I lost to in the boxing fights I would have wiped the floor with them on the street and bare knuckle fights and that’s the God’s truth. None of those guys ever knocked me out, I only got stopped with cuts, and in my world cuts don’t mean nothing — a cut is nothing but blood cooling you down!”
My three cents: Prepping for a bare-knuckle fight will have been tricky for Paulie. Sparring bare knuckle full contact would be a no-no, you’d get cut up. So, how much work did he do with no hand wraps or mitts on. (Yes, him and Lobov will NOT be wearing any gloves.) My guess is that he will either adapt quickly in Tampa, or have a hard sled. What say you, readers? Promoter Feldman tells me he thinks they will do 250,000 PPV buys — will you tune in? And who wins and how, Malignaggi versus Lobov?