Interview with Paulie Malignaggi | Magic Man, Twitter King and Future LegendWritten by Stuart Law
Fast-talking Italian-Americans with attitude are no rare breed in Brooklyn, New York City.
Those who back up the talk and become world title winning fighters however, are far less common. Paul Malignaggi 30-4 (6) has certainly talked the talk during his boxing career, but he can justifiably claim to have walked the walk too.
A professional career that started with a first round TKO victory at Key Span Park, Brooklyn in 2001 has taken the 'Magic Man' on a roller coaster ride he could not have predicted. Of all the highs, the highest was surely winning the IBF Light Welterweight title in Connecticut in 2007, securing a landslide UD against the tough Lovemore N'Dou.
Successful defences on points against Herman Ngoudjo in New Jersey and former opponent N'Dou in Manchester, England cemented Malignaggi's reputation but it was, perhaps perversely, the 2006 defeat to Miguel Angel Cotto that earned Malignaggi the deep respect of the boxing fraternity. Down in the second, badly cut in the fifth, Paulie suffered a broken cheek bone during the unanimous points defeat but the guts, heart and appetite for battle he displayed to take a fighter of Cotto's quality the distance would leave a lasting impact and help build a fan base that remains loyal to this day.
Back to back bouts with Juan Diaz – a hugely controversial points loss amid bitter claims of a hometown decision in Houston followed by victory in Chicago in the rematch, sandwiched between defeats to Brits Ricky Hatton and Amir Khan, kept Malignaggi in the headlines before the Magic Man moved up to Welterweight in December 2010.
Looking back on his career, Malignaggi speaks with a sense of pride.
"I achieved more than I ever dreamed. I've come a long way, especially with all the hand injuries I've had in the past," said the Magic Man, now aged 31. "Fans like to call me 'Pillow Fist' but like I tell them, these pillow fists have made it this far in life. I can't complain. Every fighter has ups and downs even if it is not inside the ring."
For such a colourful career to fizzle out without a final twist or two seems unlikely, but when asked how the story ends, Malignaggi is clear. "It ends one more time with a Championship belt around my waist," he says confidently. "I see 2012 as a big year for the Malignaggi Brand."
Paulie has called out Devon Alexander, but it is a shot at the unbeaten WBA Welterweight champion Vyacheslav Senchenko that is Malignaggi's clear preference when asked who he wants to go up against next.
"Hopefully Senchenko, but we know he doesn't have any balls," Malignaggi asserts. "Come to the United States, I don't see why he's so scared? [Senchenko] can't hide forever."
Looking at other options, eyes are drawn to the UK, where potential opponents such as prospect Kell Brook or the durable Matthew Hatton would generate significant interest among the British fight fans to whom Malignaggi is such a familiar face. "They are always an option but right now I have my eyes set on the WBA belt if Senchenko comes out of the Ukraine to fight me."
Malignaggi maintains a great relationship with the fans and is the self-proclaimed 'Twitter King', regularly engaging in discussion and banter with fans on the social networking site. Asked why the relationship is so special, Paulie points to his affinity with the fans.
"At the end of the day I'm still a fan. So, I basically put myself in their shoes. I know I would want a pro athlete to take the time to talk to me," Paulie adds candidly. "Twitter is the only way I can repay my fans for supporting me."
This writer was lucky enough to talk briefly with the engaging Malignaggi after the Klitschko-Haye fight in Hamburg last July, Paulie having interrupted a holiday in Italy with his girlfriend to attend the event. "I go to as many fights as I possibly can. I love watching this sport. This is exactly why I am still considered a fan."
Of course as with any public interaction, it is not an entirely positive experience and Malignaggi has experienced his fair share of 'haters', who take time out of their day to abuse the former champion. When asked for a message to his 'haters' the Magic Man says simply "2012 is my year."
Looking beyond his career as a fighter, Malignaggi has a number of options and interests open to him. "I've been testing the waters with commentating and I love it. I've got a great response from the UK fans," Malignaggi adds. "It's been great, and I think I will test those waters more after boxing is over."
Acting and the fashion business are other potential future careers "Movies send me scripts (laughs). I am also part owner of the Future Legend clothing line," adds the former world champ.
Turning back to boxing, Malignaggi considers his knowledge of the sport. "No-one can ever master this sport, we're all students until we hang up the gloves," Paulie continued. "You can never stop learning in this sweet science."
When asked which fighters he considers to be his all-time favourites, "Floyd Mayweather Jr, Arturo Gatti and Mike Tyson," are listed as the top three. Paulie also picks "Money May" as the victor in any super-fight between Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao.
Paulie believes the immediate future of the sport he loves is in good hands. "There are tons of fighters coming up, the next generation is going to make it a great year for boxing," he says looking ahead. There is also an unexpected pick when assessing who the next P4P king might be – "Brandon Rios is looking good." added the Magic Man.
Malignaggi has courted controversy throughout his career with his outspoken attitude but offers a simple "Nope" when asked if there is anything at all he would do differently if he had his time again. But the acrimonious split with former promoter Lou DiBella is perhaps something he slightly regrets, "I'm always going to have love for Dibella."
Never one to let a defeat knock his confidence, the victory over Juan Diaz in December 2009 offered Paulie a degree of vindication after their first fight. Would he have taken the chance of a decider with the man who has now quit the game to pursue a career in Law?
"Why not?" asks Paulie. "Money is money (laughs). It would just be a third victory for me (laughs again, jokingly). Juan Diaz is a champion and a great fighter. He had a great career and I respect him." Said the Magic Man offering a reminder there is a respectful side to the persona of a man who is often portrayed as a trash-talking loudmouth.
When asked for a final message, Malignaggi nods again to his use of social media to connect with his following ""Follow me on twitter @PaulMalignaggi. Follow the fam @Nolosworld @TheUgc @Bklynbreeze @therealshamar. Make sure you put #TK (Twitter King) - I love my fans."
Paulie Malignaggi has embraced the sport of boxing, and those who follow it. His KO ratio may be lower than a snakes belly, but his heart is proven and his confidence infectious. The man who underwent a haircut on his stool at the end of the eighth round against N'Dou in Manchester, the man who attended his Welterweight weigh-in against Jose Miguel Cotto on the Golden Boy Promotions 'Actions Heroes' card in a customised super-hero suit, has entertained us inside the ring and out. When the final chapter in the boxing career of the Magic Man is written, they should call it 'Paulie Sings Sinatra'.
He did it his way.