Good fights remind us why we love boxing. The atmosphere of an ecstatic crowd, the tension that builds when two fighters refuse to back down, the drama that unfolds as adversities mount – these fights write the history of the sport. Robinson-LaMotta. Graziano-Zale. Ali-Frazier. Hagler-Hears. Castillo-Corrales. Vazquez-Marquez.
However, like most objects of love, boxing is not perfect. For every fight that history reveres, there is a Klitschko-Ibragimov. For every fighter whose name evokes all-action wars of historical drama – Arturo Gatti – there is a fighter whose very mention triggers a primal dread, a queasy hopelessness stemming from the certainty of interminable boredom – John Ruiz.
History chooses to remember the great fights and forget the worst. When I Google “worst boxing fight of all-time” I get 1.9 million hits. None of them makes any actual attempt to compile any worst-of list. “Greatest boxing fight of all-time” results in 20.9 million hits. We’ve all seen writer’s list of favorite/best fights, but how many bad fights get such recognition? I’m here to change that. “The Quiet Man Hug” will, when my stomach can handle it, review some of the more memorably miserable matchups in boxing’s colorful history (yes, I’m sort of stealing this concept from Nathan Rabin’s My Year of Flops column on the Onion AV Club, but I’m giving him credit and pimping his Web site, which needs not my pimping, so we’re cool). No longer will the Akinwandes and Gainers be denied their place in history. Billy Dibb may soon see a curious uptick in his YouTube hits. Most importantly, Nikolay Valuev will be regarded as more than just a hairy, bald, seven-foot freak show. He will be regarded as a hairy, bald, seven-foot freak show who participated in some epically bad fights.
The first entry in “The Quiet Man Hug” was inspired by a very good fight and one of the best post-fight rants I have ever heard. Paulie Malignaggi’s fight with Juan Diaz generated a lot of controversy over Malignaggi’s seemingly justified pre-fight assertions that he couldn’t get a fair fight in Texas. Malignaggi has garnered a lot of sympathy out of the experience and, honestly, is probably in a better position than he would have been if, say, Diaz had won a split decision with Gale Van Hoy giving the nod to Malignaggi and the other two judge’s cards remaining the same. However, while Diaz-Malignaggi was an action-packed stylistic clash and Malignaggi has produced some good fights before, his recent performances had been much less satisfying than his battle with Diaz and his post-fight rant.
Without further ado (and come on, that’s only like four or five paragraphs of ado), that brings me to Paulie Malignaggi’s May 24, 2008 rematch against Lovemore N’dou in Manchester. The fight was on the undercard of Ricky Hatton’s bout with Juan Lazcano; the purpose of the card being to set up a Hatton-Malignaggi bout for that fall in front of Hatton’s adoring Manchester crowd. While Malignaggi dominated N’dou in their first meeting, sweeping a nearly unanimous decision, the second matchup played out much differently. It may have had something to do with a “wardrobe malfunction,” if fake hair can be considered wardrobe.
So here we go, every miserable minute of Malignaggi-N’dou II – The Barbershop Brawl. You didn’t ask for it, but you got it.
0:00 – So I will be throwing out my comments, reflections, etc. at times while I watch the fight, with the time corresponding to my DVD of the fight. This concept I stole from Bill Simmons’ various diaries on ESPN2. Yeah, that’s right, I did it again. I steal. I’ve got kids to feed… (no, I don’t).
1:20 – Lovemore N’dou’s nickname is “The Black Panther Reloaded,” which sounds like a crappy direct-to-DVD remake of a 1970s Fred Williamson flick.
2:20 – Wally Matthews calls out Paulie Malignaggi’s hair extensions and Nick Charles (get well soon, Nick) wonders aloud whether they will affect him in the fight. If this were a story, we’d call that “foreshadowing,” but Charles apparently thought about the consequences more than Paulie did.
4:11 – “Can you imagine blowing a title because of hair extensions?” Matthews asks a little more than a minute into the fight. Malignaggi and N’dou are actually engaging sometimes, and N’dou lands a couple of right hands with Paulie partially blinded by his stupid hair, but there are already a few ominous moments of hugging and posing.lt;/p>
6:30 – “Now he’s got a ponytail working.” Charles and Matthews are all over Paulie’s hair. They gave the first round to N’dou and so did I. Not much happening in round two. More hugging, more posing. It’s more N’dou than Paulie, but Malignaggi is letting himself get tied up and he’s too tentative to engage. At least the hair isn’t in Malignaggi’s eyes in this round, but it’s a good thing Versus did not have CompuBox numbers because they wouldn’t be pretty. Lots of missed punches.
11:10 – It strikes me as N’dou is warned for hitting behind the head that Paulie may be entirely dependent on his opponent to produce good fights. His best fights were against Diaz and his slugfest with Miguel Cotto in 2006. He can be entertaining enough when he completely outclasses and outboxes his opponents, as he did in the first fight with N’dou, but when it gets ugly, it can get really ugly.
14:13 – The hair is coming loose again. I feel like Malignaggi’s hair extensions should have an ominous musical cue, like Michael Myers.
16:03 – Charles notes how emotional Paulie was and how everything (his hair, his eye, which was cut slightly) seemed to be bothering him in the corner. Paulie? Emotional? Never…
17:04 – Both announcers acknowledge that the crowd is less than thrilled at this point, a minute into round five. Malignaggi gets hit and starts shaking the hair out of his face again. I’m amazed that Paulie did not decide to revisit hair extensions for the Diaz fight. Maybe if they ever get a rematch, he’ll consider it.
20:31 – I was a little annoyed with some British fans who criticized the referee work of Joe Cortez in the Mayweather-Hatton fight, when they said Cortez was too quick to break the fighters on the inside. They must be used to longtime British referee Mickey Vann, who apparently hasn’t seen a clinch worth breaking in his career. The result, in my opinion, is a dreadfully boring fight with a mind-numbing pattern: dance, dance, dance, single punch, fall in, clinch, clinch, clinch, clinch, shoeshine out, repeat.
24:43 – After landing a few good right hands earlier in the seventh round, N’dou lands the biggest punch of the fight with about a half-minute left in the round, a big right hand that clearly stuns Paulie. Paulie is ahead in the fight, but he’s been lackluster, he’s starting to get hit, and his idiotic hair is looming.
26:40 – The hair time-out! Round eight is stopped, Buddy McGirt gives Paulie a trim, Mickey Vann holds Paulie’s hair to be tied up, and the British crowd boos lustily. At this point, a giant cane should grab Paulie around the waist and drag him out of the ring.
28:10 – N’dou is gaining momentum and landing right hands with more regularity. Malignaggi is clinching more and boxing less. “Just a miserable round eight,” says Matthews. At least he’s being honest. The announcing has been a lot better than the fight.
29:45 – After a trim early in the eighth round, Paulie gets a military cut in between eight and nine. The extensions are not nearly as resilient as Michael Myers, I guess. Meanwhile, the crowd is chanting “Hatton Wonderland” and Wally has N’dou within two rounds of Paulie. I have the same score.
32:40 – N’dou, on my card, takes his third round in a row and closes to within 5-4 in rounds. Paulie is doing basically nothing right now as Versus shows the replay of Paulie’s haircut. Buddy tells Paulie he’s winning, “but it’s close.” I guess Buddy was a better analyst than trainer for Paulie.
35:22 – Charles laments the lack of body work and claims that both fighters have been headhunting. I find that an insult to hunting.
36:58 – Championship rounds begin with an extended warning and talk from Mickey Vann. I like that a lot more than his lack of breaking clinches. To say the least, the warnings are appropriate or, as the French would say, “about fucking time.”
38:42 – Charles and Matthews are castigating N’dou for not being aggressive enough as Paulie has slowed noticeably late in the fight. When Charles notes that Paulie has probably won the eleventh, Matthews replies bitterly, “But as a boxing match, it’s a mess.” Yeah, it’s a mess all right.
41:11 – Malignaggi walks into a huge right hand from N’dou. Malignaggi is in survival mode in the last round.
43:06 – “Lackluster performance by the champion,” Charles concludes. “BOOOOOOOOOO” the crowd offers.
45:13 – Michael Buffer reads the scorecards. A card in favor of N’dou is read first and cheered. A card in favor of Malignaggi is booed and the decision, again in favor of Malignaggi, is even more lustily booed. Malignaggi is motioning to the crowd that his hand is hurt and Matthews and Charles report that he broke his right hand. Matthews, who did an admirable job along with Charles commenting on this crap, notes that he still doesn’t understand why Paulie didn’t use his left hand in the last handful of rounds. I concur, Wally.
So that’s it. While Malignaggi may not have stolen a decision, he certainly did nothing to inspire the British crowd to expect much from him against Hatton. He went on to deliver an even less effective performance in that fight before an easier comeback fight and then the controversy with Diaz. Hatton would look shaky against Lazcano but then beat Malignaggi decisively. Now, Hatton’s future as a fighter is unknown after his crushing knockout loss to Pacquiao, while Paulie is suddenly the boxing fan’s darling.
I wonder how I would have responded to someone who outlined this scenario for me fifteen months ago. I probably would have told him to get a haircut, hippie.