Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Paulie Malignaggi is the New Bionic Man

Paulie "The Magic Man" Malignaggi defends his title Saturday night.

He’s splintered his right hand like dry kindling wood on no less than three occasions and he’s gone under the knife nine times in order to fix it. But that hasn’t stopped Brooklyn born Paulie “The Magic Man” Malignaggi from punching.

Similarly, during the decade of the 80’s, former WBA heavyweight titlist Gerrie Coetzee shattered his right hand at least half a dozen times and he underwent fifteen operations to repair it. Coetzee would eventually become a fearsome puncher with the surgically enhanced weapon and people took to calling it a “bionic hand” because of the damage it inflicted when it landed.

Now, 25 years later, Paulie Malignaggi is the 21st Century‘s version of the bionic man.

After all the operations, even more frustrations and the very real possibility that his right hand problems could have ended his career - Malignaggi has resurrected himself, won the IBF version of the 140-pound world title and is now on the precipice of big things.

To steal a line from the hit 70’s television series “The Six Million Dollar Man” which starred Lee Majors as astronaut Steve Austin whom was retrofitted with the help of bionic technology - Paulie Malignaggi is now “better, stronger and faster.”

Gentlemen, he has been rebuilt.

When asked about the hand problems, Malignaggi, who speaks in a rapid fire manner was matter-of-fact and very happy that the days of casts and splints are apparently behind him.

“The hand is excellent now but it nagged me for a long time,” said Malignaggi who is well-spoken and rarely seen not wearing a colorful headband. “It was very painful because there were seven fractures the first time, and two fractures another time. We had to rebuild the whole hand. I had my last surgery in 2005 and it’s been better ever since. I had the same doctor who did Micky Ward’s hand and he did an excellent job. I give him all the credit for saving my career, because there was a time when I thought that it was all over. It was a painful recovery, but now that I’m healed up, I’m ready to take on everybody.”

Last June, he turned in a career best performance to annex the IBF 140-pound title from the dangerous Lovemore N’dou. Over twelve dominant rounds, “The Magic Man” waved his left jab like a magician’s wand and pulled enough rabbits out of his hat to win a wide unanimous decision and achieve his dream of winning a world title.

On Saturday night, in the ballroom at Bally’s Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, Malignaggi enters a boxing ring for the first time as a defending title holder. He’ll face off against rugged IBF #1contender Herman Ngoudjo, and if Malignaggi makes it through the fight with his belt intact there is very real talk that he could eventually face Englishman Ricky Hatton, who is rumored to be returning to the 140-pound ranks, in a future mega-fight.

But Malignaggi, a boyish 27 that sports pierced ears and teased eyebrows, is not one to get ahead of himself. He is also much tougher and has a lot more heart than his appearance would suggest. He fought Miguel Cotto in 2005 at Madison Square Garden in New York and although Cotto dealt him a frightful licking in which he was knocked down and suffered a broken cheekbone, Malignaggi hung in there and kept the fight competitive in losing a decision.

“Physically, I think anytime that anybody gets in there with Miguel Cotto you’re going take a physical beating,” said Malignaggi of his fight against Cotto.

“I think, still, if I could get another chance later with a little more maturity, I think I may be able to beat him,” continues Malignaggi. “And I still may get beat up in the process, but I could come out with more rounds. I think either way, when you fight Miguel Cotto, you’re going to get beat up. It’s a matter of can you pull it out in the end anyway with winning more rounds? I was glad that I was able to show everybody that I wasn’t finished after the Cotto fight like he had finished a lot of other opponents. A lot of guys get in the ring with Cotto and they’re never the same again. I was determined to show everybody that wasn’t the case with me.”

And because of that same determination, Malignaggi is now headlining the first major fight card of 2008 and defending his newly won title against a challenger that comes from half a world away.

Ngoudjo (left) won a close unanimous decision over perennial gatekeeper Emanuel Augustus in Montreal to win the North American title belt.

Ngoudjo, a hungry prize fighter who has only lost once, was born in Cameroon but now resides in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He is a serious young man who is coming off a victory over former world title holder Randall Bailey and before that a close split-decision loss to Mexico’s Jose Luis Castillo.

“I’ve waited a long time and endured plenty of hardships, said Ngoudjo who is nicknamed ‘The Black Panther’. “I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to get to this point and trust me when I say this, I will win this fight. I don’t care what Malignaggi says or what he thinks of me. I’m going to take his belt.”

In the lead up to this fight, Ngoudjo has threatened Malignaggi with grievous bodily harm and has insulted him whenever he has had the opportunity.

While many know little of his opponent with the peculiar last name, Malignaggi recognizes that Ngoudjo is coming to take away his title belt and has said that any talk of a fight with Hatton is premature. “Right now my only focus is Herman Ngoudjo on January 5th,” says a serious Malignaggi who has returned to New York City as his training tapered down.

Although he’s happy-go-lucky much of the time, when it comes to fight preparation there are few that train as rigorously as Malignaggi does. In his title winning effort against N’dou he showed tremendous physical conditioning and he was able to move constantly while throwing over 800 punches during the twelve rounds the fight lasted.

Two fights ago Malignaggi aligned himself with elite trainer Buddy McGirt and for this bout the two have been preparing at McGirt’s gym in Vero Beach, Florida. Together they’ve been mapping out a course to derail whatever track Ngoudjo may be plotting.

McGirt, who has trained numerous world champions and was once a champion himself, is impressed with Malignaggi’s work ethic and his dedication for Saturday’s fight.

“He has a never-say-die attitude. He’s sort of a perfectionist,” says McGirt of his young charge. “When he gets it wrong, he gets mad and he’s determined to stay in the gym until he feels he’s got it right…he stayed in the gym for 45 minutes after he was done working on a move we had been working on just to make sure he had it right. He wouldn’t leave until he felt it was right, no matter how many times I said it was. That’s what I like about him.”

HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant was ringside for Malignaggi’s title winning fight against N’dou and although he was somewhat of a skeptic before the fight, Merchant came away as impressed with Malignaggi’s championship performance.

“Coming into this fight I thought he was a better candidate to be the Mario Lopez of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ said Merchant, who can be stingy with praising fighters. “But I think he showed he can fight with the stars, also.”

Indeed, Malignaggi put on a masterful boxing performance against N’dou and he didn’t run. He moved brilliantly yet subtly, utilized marvelous footwork and coupled that with punishing combinations and a stinging left jab. If the same Malignaggi shows up against Ngoudjo on Saturday night then the sky could be the limit for the personable young titlist who is a natural in front of the television cameras.

Malignaggi is what boxing needs right now. He’s a recipe that consists of one part showman and two parts fighter and he’s boiling toward stardom in the sport. Think a pinch of Hector Camacho, Sr. with sprinkles of Naseem Hamed and you’ve got a young man that can go places in this game.

And don’t forget the bionics.

January 2008

1 comment:


OT: IF you're into boxing, then it's Manny Pacquiao you should definitely check out. Watch Manny Pacquiao thunder and lightning on the heavy bag video on the official MP Youtube Channel now!