New York groove missing from rematch

Kevin Iole

Maybe if Paulie Malignaggi hadn't been so prescient in August, it wouldn't seem so galling today that he's fighting Juan Diaz in Chicago rather than New York.

Maybe if Diaz had the personal conviction to say "anywhere, any time," in August, it wouldn't smell so badly that this fight is in Chicago instead of New York.

Malignaggi lost a fight – badly – that he should have won when they met on Aug. 22. He fought Diaz in Houston, Diaz's hometown, and predicted that the judges appointed by the Texas commission wouldn't give him a fair shake. They didn't.

The scores, particularly the 118-110 margin Gale Van Hoy rendered in favor of Diaz, were appallingly bad. It was a close fight and no one could have argued much had it been 115-113 either way. This, however, was no 118-110 fight.

Diaz is one of boxing's good guys. He's a recent college graduate, hopes to go to law school and dreams of one day becoming the mayor of his hometown. But he also owns a savvy boxing mind and had to know the fight was excruciatingly close.

If Diaz didn't realize it, his mother, Olivia, sure did, burying her head in her hands as the decision was announced. Sometime after the scores were read, preferably in his in-ring interview with HBO analyst Max Kellerman, Diaz should have said he'd fight Malignaggi again on any date in any venue.

To his credit, Diaz agreed to a rematch he didn't have to accept. He'll fight Malignaggi a second time on Saturday at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion in a bout once again to be broadcast on HBO.

Part of what made the fight so compelling the first time was the passion the crowd had for Diaz . It roared with every punch he landed. Because of the disputed decision, Diaz should have returned the favor and given Malignaggi the edge. The New York crowd would have been wild in its support of Malignaggi, particularly given the questionable verdict.

But his manager, Willie Savannah, would not even consider taking the fight anywhere remotely near New York. Regardless of how the fight goes on Saturday, that decision will marginalize Diaz to an extent.

By refusing to take Diaz to New York, Savannah essentially was saying, 'We don't want to fight on Malignaggi's turf because the same thing that happened to him in Houston will happen to Juan in New York."

Every advantage went Diaz's way the first time.

He had a raucous home crowd behind him.

The fight was contested at a catch weight of 138, which favored Diaz since Diaz had been a lightweight and easily made 135 and Malignaggi had had trouble making 140. The bout was held in an 18-foot ring, favoring Diaz, the pressure fighter, over Malignaggi, the boxer.

Worse was the fact that Malignaggi strenuously objected to the judges appointed by the Texas commission and predicted that they'd be biased against him. His cries for help were ignored and he went on to get routed on the scorecard in a fight that was razor close.

Diaz would have done well to agree to fight in New York.

Beat Malignaggi in his hometown, in a conventional 20-foot ring, in front of his fans and Diaz would have proven conclusively he's the better man.

Diaz would come out of the fight a hero under that circumstance. He would have eliminated any potential Malignaggi excuse. He would have gone into hostile territory and rendered Malignaggi's argument about the judging in Texas moot.

As it is, no one will ever forget the stench of that August night in Houston, where everyone involved saw a close match except two of the three judges. Raul Caiz Sr., whom Malignaggi was most concerned about, had it 115-113, an entirely reasonable verdict.

But Van Hoy had it 118-110, inexplicably giving Diaz 10 of the 12 rounds. David Sutherland, who had a horrible score on the undercard that night, had it 116-112, or eight rounds to four, for Diaz.

Diaz' reputation took a hit with the questionable verdict. It appeared he needed help to defeat a guy who had been clearly outclassed by Ricky Hatton.

Diaz wants to put Malignaggi in his past and move on to bigger, potentially more lucrative fights.

"I'm excited, I'm happy and I'm ready," Diaz said. "I feel like Santa Claus came early this year because come Saturday night, it's going to be easy money."

It wasn't easy the last time. Malignaggi predicted before the fight that he'd been a different man than boxing fans had seen in the ring against Hatton 10 months earlier.

He'd fired Buddy McGirt as his trainer and had brought in Sherif Younan to replace him. Younan encouraged Malignaggi to return to his roots, used his hand speed, foot speed and lateral movement and promised he'd be a different fighter.

Diaz had difficult with all of that against Malignaggi. He insists that he'll prove to fans that he is the better me. He's unhappy and he's going to go out and do something about it. "Not just Houston and Chicago, but this time the whole world is going to feel my anger," Diaz said. "They are going to see a 'Baby Bull' they have never seen before."


Perhaps his pressure will be more effective. Perhaps his body attack may make Malignaggi wilt. Perhaps he'll show that he's clearly the better man.

It just would have looked a lot better had he done those things in New York.

That would have ended the controversy, once and for all.