I can’t help it, I kind of like Paulie Malignaggi. When I first started watching him he was enjoyable as a cartoon heel, a fun guy to root against. His fast-talking, guido, frost-tipped, metrosexual act made him eminently loathable. His fighting style is unattractive; a retreating, jabbing, clowning, and spoiling mush that can be borderline painful. He seemed a mockery of the slick African-American fighting tradition mixed with the righteous indignation and attitude I most prefer.
But he took his two beatings , from Cotto and Hatton , like a man and I started to warm a little. And Saturday’s fight against Juan Diaz was one to remember.
Now, first, let me say the cries of robbery seem a little overstated to me. I didn’t keep score, but I had the general feeling the fight was a pick’em with enough close rounds that it wouldn’t be a tragedy either way. Of course, I also knew who the HBO kept boy was and, as such, had no doubt that Diaz would be the winner.
I also wonder how much the announcers influenced the perception of the scoring of the fight. I don’t think they were biased, but the BAD team certainly has a different philosophical viewpoint than Lampley/Merchant, who prefer ineffective aggression above all else. If they had been on the microphone I’m almost sure we’d have heard one of Lampley’s classic, ‘you can’t tell which punches are landing, but you can see who’s coming forward and throwing the harder shots.â€ Yeah, that 118-110 scorecard was awful, but forgive me if this isn’t the fight I choose to ring the unquenchable gong of injustice over.
Which is not to say that the game isn’t rigged and the fix isn’t in, as Malignaggi claimed. Paulie should know this quite well, considering he has been the recipient of two controversial decisions against visiting African fighters; the all-time leaders in scorecard screw-jobs.
Still, I loved his performance in the postfight. Not that it wasn’t a little whinging, but the speeded-out talking style and righteous fury was winning. The best thing about boxing is that it’s so clear that it means something to the athletes because the stakes are so high. Malignaggi let loose with a torrent of regret and anger that was childlike and primal. It was ethnic and personal and entirely out of control. It was the type of interview that would get an athlete suspended interminably from any of the major sports; eccentric, paranoid, uncouth, homophonic, and despairing.
I loved it. You got to see the underlying fragility of the man’s journey into the ring. What an act of faith it must be to step under those lights if you’re a guy like Malignaggi. He couldn’t kill a fly with his best punch but he toes the line with monsters and hard men. He enters the ring a lion tamer with no whip; and you could see the barely contained faith slip through. ‘I managed the ring of fire and all I got was this lousy T-shirt!â€ Or more accurately, ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!â€
The thing that makes boxing great is that a fighter can say these things and get away with it. That Floyd can give an interview on Bossip and not have to bow and scrape and issue a heartfelt apology in the commissioner’s office. It’s the badlands out there; the last generation of gunfighters , lawless and without center.
The converse of this radical freedom, of course, is the first part, the screw-job. There is no fair shake, there is no underlying structure. There are simply giant cracks that allow us to walk along the edge with the unhinged, to get a closer look at the real than is possible in all other sports. It’s the thin line of the unmanageable, why weather patterns are more interesting than planetary orbits. People are always claiming boxing needs to get organized and clean, but I hope it never happens, because the cracks are how the light gets in.