Paulie Malignaggi: The next face of boxing?

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

It doesn't take that great a leap of faith to believe that in a year, maybe a year-and-a-half, Paulie Malignaggi will become the face of boxing.

The WBA welterweight champion has always been a glib, accessible, entertaining interview, as well as a skilled, if a little underpowered, boxer.

But Malignaggi is on the verge of reaching superstar status as an announcer. He's been doing analysis for Showtime's boxing broadcasts and he's demonstrated the kind of ability that, combined with experience, could soon make him the best in the business.

He's thoughtful, insightful and well-spoken, quick to notice trends and able to explain them in a manner the audience understands. Broadcasting a fight, particularly in a three-man booth, is no easy task, and Malignaggi has come off in his rookie year like a 10-year veteran.

That's why it has been so strange these last two months to see Malignaggi come so unglued in his public appearances while he's promoted his title defense on Saturday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., against Adrien Broner.

[Also: Paulie Malignaggi claims favoritism being shown to Adrien Broner]

Malignaggi has always talked trash before a fight, but until he signed to face Broner, it's always been light-hearted and good-natured.

But as he's trained for Broner, it's almost as if he's been overcome by some unseen force. He's matched Broner insult for disgusting insult, demeaning women, treating them as sex objects and showing disdain for the sport that has made him rich. 

He's lost the cool that helped make him so popular in the first place.

At a kickoff news conference in Las Vegas on May 4, Broner called a woman he said was named Jessica while he was on the dais. He said she was Malignaggi's ex-girlfriend.

On Thursday, Broner brought the woman to the Barclay's Center for the final news conference.

When he took the dais, Malignaggi spoke directly to the woman in the audience and asked her what his mother's name was. Stories had been published saying she'd dated Malignaggi for six or seven months.

When she didn't know his mother's name, Malignaggi used it as proof that they weren't close and hadn't dated.

"Let's put this thing behind me now," Malignaggi said. "This is somebody I slept with. Athletes sleep with a lot of women. It's 2013. It's what we do. All right?"

His response came off crass, crude and far too Broner-like. It probably didn't win him many new fans and might have cost him some of his existing ones.

Malignaggi and Broner both came off disgusting, and the stench of it rubbed off on Golden Boy, Showtime and the Barclays Center.

[Watch: Adrien Broner and Paulie Malignaggi's emotionally charged press conference]

At least Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer pleaded before the news conference for the fighters to act civilly and to keep their comments about boxing, though he didn't act to stop it when it quickly got raunchy. It was a two-bit soap opera, not a professional sports media event, yet Showtime Sports' social media account gleefully tweeted a video link to the news conference, calling it "a fun one."

Yeah, it was a hoot all right.

Boxing not only should be better than this, it has to be better. This horrible two-month act just played on all the negative stereotypes that exist about fighters.

From a boxing standpoint, the question is whether all of Broner's talk has caused Malignaggi to come unhinged and lose concentration on what he needs to do.

Malignaggi, who is 32-4 with seven knockouts and has won world titles at super lightweight and welterweight, needs to worry about outboxing Broner and neutralizing his power, and not about one-upping him with one-liners at a news conference.

His four losses came to Miguel Cotto in 2006; Ricky Hatton in 2008; Juan Diaz in 2009 in a fight that Malignaggi appeared to win going away; and Amir Khan in 2010.

Particularly in the Cotto, Hatton and Khan fights, he was beaten by men who were considerably larger and who were able to impose their size and strength on him.

They could hurt him but he didn't have the kind of power to do the same.

Broner is tremendously skilled, but the hype train that is pushing him is far greater than his accomplishments in the ring. It's why it wouldn't be a shock if Malignaggi were to score the upset.

The combination of an underrated fighter along with one who might be looking past a guy he clearly doesn't respect might make Broner vulnerable to the upset.

"He has good speed and good timing, but his power is overrated," Malignaggi said. "A lot of what he does is overrated."

Golden Boy is clearly grooming Broner to be its next superstar, though Schaefer has plenty of respect for Malignaggi.

He found the wide odds favoring Broner preposterous and, win or lose, expects Malignaggi to come up with an elite performance.

"Throughout his career, Paulie has been one of those guys who's been able to rise to the occasion," Schaefer said. "The bigger the challenge, the better the performance he puts in."

[Also: Four fighters who self-destructed on their road to boxing stardom]

The Broner fight could be Malignaggi's last big chance. If he loses, he's not going to be a popular opponent because he's a slick boxer with the ability to make guys look bad. That's not the kind of guy managers want to put their rising stars in against.

So Malignaggi has much at stake in the ring on Saturday.

Win or lose, though, he still has the talent – in front of the microphone – to become the face of boxing.

Hopefully, his antics in the, ahem, promotion of the Broner fight won't ruin an otherwise promising career.

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