The first time I worked a Paulie Malignaggi fight, it was a four-rounder. He was just starting out as a pro. He was this hotshot kid out of Brooklyn. He had a lot of flash, a lot of pizzazz… He was very loud and outspoken, but not to the point where he was obnoxious. I always felt that he kept things within the boundaries of good taste. He was also very intelligent, in and out of the ring. He’s a student of the game and when I would speak with him in passing, I could tell that he did his homework. Being that Paulie and I are both from the east coast, I was very familiar with him throughout his career and I always thought very highly of him.
In 2006, at Foxwoods Resort, I worked Paulie’s fight with Donald Camarena and I have a poster from that fight on my wall. That fight was right before his fight with Miguel Cotto, which I worked as well. To be quite frank, Paulie took a beating against Cotto. He had a fractured orbital bone and various facial injuries, but he convinced me and the doctor to let him continue. Lesser men would have folded in this scenario, but Paulie displayed tremendous heart and determination. Not only did he finish the fight, he won [some of] the later rounds! If I recall, it was an 8-4 fight[theofficial cards were 115-112 and 116-111 (twice) for Cotto].
Let’s move on to his fight with Amir Khan… I worked that fight and it was Amir’s night. No question. When I look back at that fight, what I find to be mind-boggling is that it lasted beyond the sixth round. At that point, Paulie was done and he no longer had a realistic opportunity to win. But he BS’d me! He convinced me to let him come out for seven, eight, nine, ten, and eleven. The doctor and I were checking in on him after every round from the sixth round on, but Paulie hung in there and created the illusion that he was in the fight. I finally stopped it in the eleventh. Just like with the Cotto fight, he showed a lot of grit and toughness.
Every time I run into Paulie, whether it’s at a social event or a convention, I always tell him that when he was in heaven ready to be born, he was in the front of the “Heart Line”, he was in front of the “Guts Line”, he was in front of the “Toughness Line”, but he missed the “Power Line.” In over thirty bouts, he just has a small handful of knockouts [31-4 with 7 KOs]. He has all of that fight and willingness inside of him, but no real power to speak of. I like to kid him about that and we have a good laugh.
Most recently, I worked Paulie’s fight against Vyacheslav Senchenko, which took place in the Ukraine. It was his first major fight out of the United States. Being that he was on foreign soil, I think he was somewhat relieved that I was going to be the third man in the ring. In fact, he confided in me before the fight and expressed concerns about the judges. He even went on to Boxrec and researched the officials who were working this event. That’s the kind of kid Paulie is. He’s very thorough, and he cares about his career so much that he will go to these great lengths to make sure he’s playing on an even field.
I tried to put his mind at ease. I said, “Have I ever taken a point away from you? Have I ever given you a hard time? You’re going to be fine in there!” He looked at me and he appeared more focused than I’ve ever seen him before. He said, “this fight means everything to me, Steve. The networks don’t want me. That’s why I’m fighting out of the United States. But if I pick up a major belt, I’ll be a player.” At the press conference before the fight, he said that there was nothing he would rather do than to bring the belt back to the United States of America and make his first defense in Brooklyn. He declared that he would win the fight, and as he put it, he would work his “magic”.
I attended a media workout and watched the fighters put on a show. I had a very pleasant conversation with Eric Brown, who now trains Paulie. Brown is a trainer at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym and he also works with Peter Quillin, “Kid Chocolate.” He told me that when Paulie approached him about training him, he told him that at this stage of his career, he couldn’t teach him anything new. But what he could do is help him refine what he already does. From what I’ve seen, I’m very impressed with the work he’s done with Paulie and how he conducts himself. I also spoke with Roberto Diaz, who is a representative from Golden Boy. He’s a great guy and an excellent fight person. Also present was Paulie’s lawyer, Steve Bash, who is a well known attorney in the boxing world. It was a pleasure to see Paulie with Golden Boy and surrounded by such an intelligent crew.
Having observed Paulie for the past ten or eleven years, recently, I’ve noticed there’s something about his mannerisms and his overall demeanor that’s changed. He used to have kind of a wild hairdo. In fact, there was one fight where he had these hair extensions that started falling out all over the ring. Do you remember that? It was his rematch with Lovemore N’Dou. But now, he has a short haircut. It’s the perfect haircut for a fighter. The outfits he wears aren’t wild and flamboyant like they used to be. It’s as if he’s grown up in every way. He’s very grounded and I’ve seen a tremendous amount of maturity.
From my view, Paulie talked the talk at the press conference and the weigh-in and he walked the walk in the ring. He completely dominated a champion, who I have had the pleasure of working with on two previous occasions. Senchenko is a gentleman of the highest order and he’s a damn good fighter, but Paulie had his number. It was a beautiful display of boxing. In the second round, I saw the swelling begin on Senchenko’s left eye and I thought it could be an impending problem later in the fight, which it was. By the seventh round, it was almost closed. His corner asked me for one more round and I gave it to them, but I was watching closely. In the ninth round, Senchenko was hit flush with a right hand that he didn’t see and that was it. Paulie won by TKO!
There was a crowd of about 10,000, but when the stoppage came, you could hear a pin drop. Nobody complained. Everyone was very respectful. Senchenko came up to me afterward and thanked me for giving him the extra round. I said, “You earned it, champ.” This was Paulie’s second stoppage victory at welterweight and I wondered if this new division has given him more power. Paulie missed the “Power Line” in heaven, but does the extra seven pounds make up for that? As a referee, my train of thought is neutral during the fight, but once I step out of the ring, I immediately become a fan. I was really impressed with what I saw and I can’t overemphasize the dramatic difference in the Paulie who I knew as a kid fighting in four-rounders, to the Paulie who is now the WBA welterweight champion. As a member of the fight community, I’m very proud of him.