Paulie Malignaggi will lace up his gloves and step into the ring on Saturday night in front of thousands of fans, right in his backyard. His defense of his WBA Welterweight title against 23-year-old Pablo Cesar Cano will precede the night's main event between Danny Garcia and Erik Morales, but such a high billing in this high-profile of a card was no guarantee for Malignaggi just six months ago.
Boxers love fighting in their home towns. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is certainly the fact that the possibility of a "hometown decision" is always there. Rarely do fighters go on the road, only if they absolutely must. Last April, Malignaggi earned a shot against then-WBA Welterweight titleholder Vyacheslav Senchenko. The fight took place in Donetsk, Ukraine, about 250 miles from Senchenko's hometown of Kremenchuk.
Senchenko was undefeated coming in, and Malignaggi's low-knockout record made him a sure underdog. The best way to avoid a hometown decision is to make the decision yourself, and Malignaggi did exactly that. Malignaggi was all over Senchenko and eventually the fight was stopped in the ninth round, with Malignaggi registering just his seventh career knockout victory.
Nearly two years ago when Malignaggi was a promotional free agent, the deck was stacked in favor of Golden Boy Promotions, since the company had already made a commitment with the upcoming Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Malignaggi always wanted to be a part of the first card in his home borough.
It feels great. It feels great, man. This is one of the main reasons I was happy to sign with Golden Boy two years ago, that I could be a part of this show and I could be a part of this event on a big stage in a big fight. And I was glad I did my job and Golden Boy did a tremendous job bringing me back, and now the moment is here and I'm ecstatic for it.
Malignaggi is on a three-match winning streak since moving to welterweight in December of 2010. His fight prior to that was a TKO loss to Amir Khan where he was barely competitive, as Khan matched Malignaggi's speed and then some. He's 31-4 in his career, but for someone who many boxing fans will just never give the proper credit to, you can make a case that Malignaggi has never had a bad loss. Conversely, a case can be made that every time he has stepped up into an elite class he has lost, but his four losses have come at the hands of Khan, Juan Diaz, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto. The loss to Diaz was one of those risky propositions of fighting in an opponent's backyard, as Diaz won a dubious decision in Houston. They rematched four months later in Chicago and Malignaggi avenged the questonable loss with relative ease.
Either way, Malignaggi is getting towards the end of his career. He acknowledges it, but with a wealth of talent in the welterweight division, there are still big fights out there if he can continue winning.
I continue to fight because I stay hungry. I stay hungry because I have a lot to prove to myself because I didn't achieve what I wanted to achieve. I'm a two-time World Champion, but I had so many more goals that I had set out for myself when I turned pro, and I'm probably not going to achieve them all, because there's just too many and there's not enough time, but I just want to achieve as much as I can before I call it a night.
A win over Cano won't launch Malignaggi into any sort of superstardom. He's about as popular as he ever could have been given his style. But each win moves Malignaggi closer to one more big-time fight, like those earlier in his career against Cotto and Hatton. The win against Senchenko was crucial to keep Malignaggi relevant. Now that he's there, fights like Saturday's must keep the train rolling.
Thankfully for Malignaggi, this time he doesn't have to travel very far.