Malignaggi’s beef exposes bigger problem

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

Paulie Malignaggi was a loser Saturday, but the real loser was the sport he has revered and honored for so long.

One needs to parse HBO boxing analyst's Max Kellerman's post-fight words carefully to understand what happened to Malignaggi, and more importantly, to the sport of boxing on Saturday when Malignaggi lost a unanimous decision to Golden Boy Promotions star Juan Diaz at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Malignaggi was outraged. He was angered not only by the defeat, which before the fight he flatly predicted would happen with Raul Caiz Sr. and Gale Van Hoy on the judging panel, but also by the margin with which he was beaten.

He lost by scores of 115-113, 116-112 and 118-110 in a fight that most, including the HBO announce team, saw as a close, competitive bout. Harold Lederman, HBO's unofficial ringside judge, scored it 115-113 for Malignaggi, the same score as Yahoo! Sports. Even Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya said the 118-110 score for Diaz and David Sutherland's 100-89 verdict for Danny Jacobs over Ishe Smith in an undercard bout were too wide and did no good for boxing. (Jacobs is one of Golden Boy’s top prospects.)

The recently retired Chuck Giampa, who has done numerous title fights, said the bout could've been a draw or 115-113 either way.

It was that kind of a match. Diaz is a pressure fighter who stalked Malignaggi relentlessly, winging shots and, in boxing parlance, making the fight. Malignaggi possesses the power of a squirt gun, but he boxed brilliantly, walking Diaz into punches and making him miss shots he normally lands with ease.

The fight was so close that, as ring announcer Michael Buffer was reading the scores, Diaz's mother, Olivia, buried her head in her lap and was praying that her son would pull it out.

Van Hoy's card, though, had it 10 rounds to two for Diaz, who was not only the hometown hero, but the man with the promotional contract with Golden Boy.

More on that later, though.

Malignaggi promoter Lou DiBella appeared stunned by the verdict and said he "wanted to puke" after hearing it. He was also worried whether Malignaggi, who made $187,500 on Saturday, would get another opportunity in light of the loss and in light of the fact that he doesn't fight for Golden Boy.

"The kid couldn't fight much better than he fought tonight," DiBella said. "He came in here under the worst set of circumstances possible and he performed beautifully. This is the way he feeds his family. Forget about this fight. We all knew what was going on here. What concerns me is if this kid doesn't get another chance. He supports his family doing this and he did his job as well as he could.

"Anybody who is remotely familiar with this knows what is going on. So [expletive] the loss. I don't care about that. What I care about is making certain this kid doesn't get screwed because of all the [expletive] that always surrounds this sport."

After the fight, Malignaggi was over-the-top angry. As the pro-Diaz crowd lustily booed him as he was being interviewed in the ring by Kellerman, Malignaggi pleaded for understanding.

"I don't know why Houston is booing me," Malignaggi said. "You guys are a great fight town. I have nothing against Houston, man. This is a great fight town. You guys were a loud crowd. It ain't nothing against you guys, but I had to deal with a lot of politics, man. That was ridiculous.

"I knew I was going to have to deal with this. You have guys like Raul Caiz. That's Golden Boy's gopher. I said it before and he actually was. But he had the closest scorecard, man. I'm telling you, this state never gives a fair shake to anybody coming to this state to fight a hometown fighter. It never happens."

Malignaggi couldn't contain his emotions. He had spent weeks predicting he'd be screwed, pointing out the many obstacles, other than Diaz, he faced in pursuit of a victory.

The ring was 18 feet, which favors a pressure fighter, instead of the customary 20. Advantage, Diaz.

The fight was held in Texas, where Diaz lives. Advantage, Diaz.

The contracted weight was 138½. Diaz is a lightweight who was moving up from 135 pounds and had no issues making weight. Malignaggi is a super lightweight who has had great difficulty making 140. Sweating off another 1½ pounds dehydrated him even further, so much so that on Friday before the weigh-in, his mouth was so dry that the gum he was chewing stuck to his teeth. Advantage, Diaz.

Malignaggi pleaded not to have Caiz Sr., who is of Mexican descent, on the judging panel, because Diaz is a Mexican-American and he feared bias. He also believed Caiz has in the past favored Golden Boy fighters. And he begged not to have Van Hoy, whom he insisted in interviews with multiple media outlets before the fight would favor the Texas-based fighter. Despite his protests, Caiz Sr. and Van Hoy were appointed anyway. Advantage, Diaz.

With a microphone in his face and the injustices so raw, Malignaggi let loose a torrent of emotion. When Kellerman asked about a rematch, Malignaggi could contain himself no longer.

"You know I ain't getting a rematch, man. This is boxing," Malignaggi said. "Boxing is full of [expletive], man. I used to love this sport. I used to love this sport, man. I cannot stand doing this now. The only reason I'm doing this is because it gives me a good payday. Boxing is full of [expletive]. Every [expletive] fight.

"[I'll take] anything that comes my way. I'm just an opponent after losing the fight. Juan can go call out the winner of [Juan Manuel] Marquez and [Floyd] Mayweather or the winner of another big fight. I don't have that luxury because I got robbed. I got the short end of the stick. I have to sit back and hope I get used as an opponent in somebody's hometown again. This is the [expletive] I got to go through."

The outrage about this fight is not that one judge saw a bout as a one-sided blowout that everyone else believed to be excruciatingly close. The real story of this fight, and of what is going on in boxing, was told following the bout when Kellerman made his closing remarks before HBO's program went off the air.

"Let me preface this by saying everyone deserves a fair shake and there's no excuse for a fighter not getting a fair shake under any circumstances," Kellerman began. "However, the marketplace spoke tonight. Paulie Malignaggi, it's not as though he couldn't have cultivated an ethnic following in New York. He has, to some degree, an Italian fighting out of New York City. But given his style, and his lack of punching power, he has not been able to cultivate the kind of following that Juan Diaz has been able to here in Houston with a Mexican and a Mexican-American fight crowd that really appreciates – and just fight fans generally – that really appreciate his style of fighting.

"The fact that every Juan Diaz fight is always exciting and so for that reason, Juan Diaz winds up with the powerful promoter and the hometown decision. Possibly, if you consider this a hometown decision. So even though every fighter always deserves a fair shake, I think here the marketplace spoke and Juan Diaz gets the nod."

The marketplace ought to speak and make its displeasure with such politics known.

It shouldn't be up to a fighter to cultivate a following in order to get a fair shake from officials. But Kellerman pointed out what everyone who has worked for any length of time in boxing knows all too well: It's not what you do but who you know that counts.

Golden Boy has a long-term deal with HBO and is guaranteed regular dates. No other promoter enjoys that luxury, a move that creates an imbalance in the marketplace and makes it difficult to compete.

Television dates are critical to the success of a boxing promoter, but Golden Boy, whether or not it has television-worthy bouts, has several years' worth of dates. Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer deserves kudos for negotiating such a deal, but it's questionable why HBO would want to be part of such a thing. It will get the best fights when it has the promoters bidding against each other and bringing it the best fights. But for some reason, HBO has tied its future to Golden Boy, which is the No. 2 promoter in the sport behind Top Rank, which has a deeper and more promotable stable.

Promoters like DiBella, Dan Goossen, Gary Shaw, Don King and Top Rank's Bob Arum have to all but plead to get dates on the network. By contract, Golden Boy gets them regularly, which doesn't do much for the fan who pays HBO's monthly subscription fee only to get boxing, which a lot of people do.

You're not getting the best boxing available on HBO; you're getting the best boxing Golden Boy can deliver. There's a significant difference.

Kellerman sent the message loudly to anyone who listened: If you're a free-agent boxer, sign with the powerful promoter, the one who has the output deal with HBO, and the powerful promoter can put the match in a place where friendly judges are chosen and where the ring size is to your liking and where every conceivable advantage will go your way.

Van Hoy's scorecard on Saturday was a joke, predictable as it might have been. That, though, was not the most egregious thing that occurred.

What has to be galling to any fair-minded sports fan is an insinuation that unless you play ball with the sport's power brokers, you're not going to get a fair shake.

That, not Van Hoy's ridiculously one-sided scorecard, is what ought to make you sick to your stomach.

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