“Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. Y’all cats know how I do my thing.
Brooklyn King that’ll snatch your bling…”
So said the Masta Killa in 2006, a year in which Zab Judah knocked down Floyd Mayweather (check YouTube if you don’t believe me) and Paulie Malignaggi won the hearts of the boxing world against a still undefeated and body-punching Miguel Cotto. A lot’s changed since then, but Brooklyn remains very much Brooklyn. And that’s really what’s at stake this weekend, in a contest that could easily be dubbed a “pridefight” rather than a prizefight, given the respective positions both competitors find themselves in. This Saturday, the Barclay’s Center will once again play host as fellow New Yorkers Judah and Malignaggi face off in a battle to determine the Hudson River hierarchy and, if we’re being brutally honest, not a whole lot else.
You see, this is precisely the problem. Outside of parochial bragging rights, this is a bout that really doesn’t matter. Of course it’s nice for Malignaggi and Judah to compete in front of their hometown crowd, given that they’re each native Brooklynites and fiercely proud of their city, but there’s not a whole lot at stake here. Malignaggi may have talked up the possibility of a rematch with Adrien Broner should he emerge victorious, but it’s a stretch to imagine too many fans salivating over that one. Similarly, Judah’s made noises about emerging back into the title picture should this weekend bring victory, but I can’t take the guy too seriously when he’s the wrong side of 35 and perilously close to slipping into double figures in career losses.
Yet that’s not to say there’s no life left in them, given that each acquitted themselves well in their most recent outings at the same venue earlier this year.
Back in June, Malignaggi fought his heart out when he met rising star Adrien Broner, losing his 147 pound belt amidst a torrent of misogyny and deeply sexualised insults. He put on a brave show, far more so than most anticipated, but he was still defeated relatively clearly, sentiment be damned. Likewise Judah is also coming off an unsuccessful title fight in which he outstripped most predictions, having been defeated by Danny Garcia in the very same arena back in April. Again, he was able to defy the odds and predictions of most observers and rally back to take Garcia the distance, sweeping the final few rounds of a fight in which he had been systematically beaten down to that point.
That Zab is still able to confound expectations after 18 years as a professional is testament not only to his talent, but also to his defiantly mercurial nature, feeding that undeniable truth that we never know precisely which version of him will show up on a given night. He can be lethargically irritable and monumentally frustrating, as was the case in upset losses to the likes of Carlos Baldomir and Cory Spinks, but he’s turned up the heat enough times to never be truly counted out. The twilight of his career has produced the odd memorable last stand, such as dismantling highly-touted prospect Vernon Paris in 2012, or outpointing feared puncher Lucas Matthysse (remember him?) in what was, in the eternal words of Al Bernstein, a tremendously close fight.
Malignaggi’s not exactly known for his consistency either, and the fast-talking Italian-American has flip-flopped in recent years between outfoxing and knocking out the likes of former titleholder Vyacheslav Senchenko (in the Ukraine no less), digging deep to take Broner the distance, and benefitting from a hearty dose of home cooking in a risible showing against the unremarkable Pablo Cesar Cano. Like Judah, he’s been around a while, having turned pro 12 years ago, and remains unfazed by whatever boxing has left to throw at him. In the buildup to this fight he’s talked consistently about pride and respect, both for the sport and for his opponent. That’s really what defines this match-up. It’s as close to two guys openly celebrating each other as I’ve ever seen in the ring.
Undoubtedly Malignaggi will look to be the busier of the pair, firing off his customary flurries of punches and carrying precisely zero knockout threat. He’ll look to discourage his opponent through activity, which we’ve seen the cat-like Judah bothered by in the past, and hope that the former lineal welterweight champion becomes disillusioned and reticent when throwing back. Judah, for his part, will try to land the big left uppercut, which has retained most of its speed despite closing in on 20 years as the marquee punch in his arsenal. He will duck and weave and back straight up, relying on his prodigious natural athletic ability to get him out of trouble and keep the fight close, at least for the initial rounds.
As almost anyone could tell you, there’s very little chance of a knockout in this fight. Paulie’s too feather-fisted and Zab’s too economical with his output. Plus Malignaggi has an excellent chin and is as tough as they come mentally. He’s been troubled by speed before, most notably against Amir Khan when he was utterly decimated before his corner put a stop to it in the 11th round. But that won’t happen here, despite Judah maintaining much of his once legendary quickness. Each is too long in the tooth to risk everything on an all-out assault and, besides, the animosity between them is so conspicuous by its absence that I fully expect an arm-in-arm interview at the final bell, with each man taking turns to wax lyrical about his opponent in such a brazen display of affection even Jim Gray’s ice-pop of a heart will begin to thaw.
Prediction: A competitive fight with a close opening six to eight rounds, before Malignaggi pulls away to win a hard-fought but clear decision.