After The Fall

By Nat Gottlieb Courtesy of

Paulie Malignaggi blames Buddy McGirt's training methods for his devastating loss to Ricky Hatton. Now, both men have moved on, and Malignaggi's career is on the line against Juan Diaz in a fight he calls Judgment Day.

Paulie Malignaggi doesn't pull any punches when he states his case against former trainer Buddy McGirt. He says flat out that McGirt trained him against the grain, forcing him to fight in the pocket and in doing so, took away his greatest asset—his legs. Is this true? Perhaps. The videotape would clearly show that on November 22, 2008—a date that will live in infamy for Paulie Malignaggi—the fighter was thoroughly dominated by Ricky Hatton until McGirt threw the towel in during the 11th round.

It would also show that from the opening bell, Malignaggi looked lost in the ring. Who was this faux Malignaggi who barely let his hands go except to use them to clinch? For someone who had labeled his British opponent a wrestler, Malignaggi did a pretty good imitation of one himself, holding Hatton nine times in the first round alone for no discernable reason. If they had fought with paper bags over their heads, you'd have sworn that Malignaggi was Hatton. The Brooklyn fighter seemed to have morphed from a slick puncher into a slacker.

But there are also things that don't show up on the tape. One of them is the two years of smoldering frustration Malignaggi experienced while trying to into McGirt's training system. Some say Malignaggi simply had a fall from grace that night; he disagrees, saying he'd already been downhill racing for the past year under McGirt while earning lackluster victories over Herman Ngoudjo and Lovemore N'dou.

If you factor in his pent-up frustration, a case might be made that Malignaggi pulled a sort of "no mas" against Hatton, deciding like Roberto Duran that the style he was fighting was useless and simply quit on McGirt. And if that sounds like so much psychobabble, listen to Malignaggi:

"Buddy and I didn't blend well. A lot of the things I'd always done well he didn't want me to do. Me being the type who always wants to listen I went along with what he was teaching me. But it got me away from being the fighter I really was. Buddy doesn't look at your strengths and weaknesses, he teaches all his fighters to fight the same way. Basically, he wants you to fight out of a box, out of a defensive shell and move your head a lot. It's okay to fight in the pocket if that's the kind of fighter you are. But I use a lot of movement. Buddy ruined my main asset by taking away my legs. I like to go in and then move out, go in and move out. I call it creating space so I can utilize my jab and hand speed. He wanted me to go toe-to-toe with Hatton, which I'm not afraid to do, but it played into Hatton's strength. What Buddy had me do helped Hatton. I was a world champion fighter when I went to Buddy, and I left as a mediocre one."

There are some flat notes in Malignaggi's Opus McGirt. For one, he didn't become a champion until his second fight under his new trainer. That is not to say McGirt made him into a champion, but Malignaggi was not one until he came under McGirt's care. Other questions still need to be answered.

If McGirt trains all his fighters the same way, as Malignaggi claims, then why did he decide to work with him in the first place? Why was he so excited about the prospects of putting on leg irons—as he would later characterize the lockdown on his footwork? At the time, Malignaggi embraced McGirt excitedly, announcing in October 2006 that he was firing Billie Giles—his trainer since he was a 16-year-old amateur—and hiring McGirt:

"I'm excited to have Buddy McGirt in my corner," Malignaggi said at the time. "I was very disappointed after my last fight [with Miguel Cotto] and that feeling is something I never want to experience again. I'm turning over a new leaf. I'll be training at Buddy's gym in Vero Beach [Fla.] for all of my fights. The weather there is better for training. Buddy's going to help me beat the best in the world."

Honeymoons eventually come to an end, especially those of boxers and their trainers, but why did Malignaggi prolong his relationship with McGirt for more than two years? Surely at some point in their first year together Malignaggi must have known this union was not working for him. To his credit, Malignaggi partially owns up to that when he says, "I blame myself a lot, too, because I didn't realize what I was doing to myself until much later."

Malignaggi has since changed partners. He has returned to train in New York with a relatively unknown conditioner, Sheriff Younan, and says "Sheriff and I are on the same page. He's a speed trainer. His style fits perfectly with my speed. You're going to see the old Paulie Malignaggi again."

In Diaz, Malignaggi is not getting a tune-up to see how his latest adventure in training is going. Diaz is a formidable fighter. With Malignaggi's brittle hands and the wind of an embarrassing loss at his back, the "Magic Man" needs to pull one out of his hat if he's going to remain a top competitor.

"This fight is Judgment Day for Paulie Malignaggi," he says. "I had a lot of big dreams when I came into boxing, and even though I did win a world championship, I have a lot more I want to accomplish. Come August 22, I have plenty of people to answer to. I've kept my mouth shut. But after I beat Diaz all of my critics are going to hear it from me."


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