Shame on Houston
By Vikram Birring, Doghouse Boxing (Sept 3, 2009)  
For a man who is about to engage in the most primal form of human warfare in a few hours, Paulie Malignaggi is surprisingly relaxed as he lay on his stomach in his Hilton hotel room.

A DVD of Floyd Mayweather’s toughest bout, against determined Jesus Chavez plays on a portable player.

Chavez shares the same trainer as Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz, Malignaggi’s foe on this night. Paulie watches the screen intently, looking for clues on how to beat a resolute opponent.

“Mayweather doesn’t get credit for body work,” Paulie notes as HBO unofficial judge Harold Lederman amazingly has the score even after six rounds. “Mayweather doesn’t get credit for anything he does,” chimes in brother Umberto.

Laughs abound as George Foreman “oooohs” at a missed Chavez punch. That laughter subsides into horror as the screen gives a frightening reminder that humanity was subject to witnessing three bouts of Evander Holyfield and John Ruiz. Umberto succinctly sums it up: “worst trilogy ever!”

Malignaggi’s cousin Petey, affectionately known as Petey Meatballs, and effectively the leader of his Malignaggi team, paces nervously, back and forth, restlessly. As his cousins laugh and joke, he can’t stand in the same spot, not nervous, he says, just concerned.

As for the running match, ironically, after a spectacular display of brilliant defense and pinpoint counter punching, it was Mayweather who ended up as the “Matador,” making a man who walked into the ring who had no thoughts of losing quit on his stool.

“That’s it kid, the best that ever did it.” And so ends the final study session before the big bout. Team Malignaggi leaves their fighter to rest up.

Countdown to fight: six hours.

Downstairs, Umberto, Petey, Paulie’s two physical therapists, and some other friends gather for a final meal. Petey still appears uneasy, refusing to eat. “I don’t eat on the day of the fight,” he explains succinctly. Umberto places his hat on the table. Petey demands he remove the hat from the table. “You superstitious Petey?” “Just take the hat off the table!” And orders are followed.

Countdown to fight: four hours: thirty minutes.

Malignaggi’s image appears on the big screen in Toyota Center and is quickly greeted with a smattering of boos. He smiles, appearing confident. He has a new trainer now, Sherif Younan, best known for his merciless training sessions with his son “Sugar Boy,” so intense Younan was thrown out from Gleason’s Gym. The cut man is the same as always, Danny Milano, well-respected in the boxing business.

After an entertaining scrap between fellow Brooklynite Danny Jacobs and Ishe Smith, Robert Guerrero and Malcolm Klassen nearly put the 7,500 fans to sleep. An idle mind is a man’s worst enemy, and to prove this phrase, four brawls erupt in the audience. In one, a man leaves on a stretcher, blood dripping from a stab wound.

Countdown to fight: ten minutes.

The words of the late Arturo Gatti stream from the loudspeakers, but the crowd is in too hysterical to realize this.

The rawest of emotions are few: love, anger, fear, happiness, and hate. The fans’ treatment of Paulie Malignaggi as he walk is not just hostile, but outright dislike. One gets an uneasy feeling, as he is literally walking into a lion’s den. This is just not regular booing, but outright, vicious disdain for the New Yorker. It is an ugly scene.

Juan Diaz receives the opposite extreme, love and adoration from his hometown crowd. Among the thousands, his parents, who weeks ago watched their son graduate from university, a crowning achievement that weighs above any boxing trinket.

The match begins.

In round one, Malignaggi pumps the jab, circling as best he can in the eighteen by eighteen foot ring. He occasionally follows up with rights. His punches win in quantity, but unknown if they do any damage, partly because of the crowd’s complete silence to his offense, and partly because of his reputation as not being a puncher. Nonetheless, he takes the first, and looks confident, not the hesitant man who did not let the trigger go against England’s Ricky Hatton in November.

In round two, Diaz’s aggression pays off, as he lands what appear to be devastating punches. The image of Malignaggi’s head snapping back with each blow only adds to the effect. This continues on until round five, when Malignaggi begins to box again. But in the ongoing rounds, Diaz appears to land the majority of the harder punches, or perhaps only giving the appearance since with each landed Diaz punch, the crowd explodes in cheers.

Round ten is Malignaggi’s best three minutes of the fight, other than a surreal moment when referee Laurence Cole stops the action to pull up Malignaggi’s rapidly slipping trunks. He embarrasses Diaz, making him miss and boxing beautifully, throwing punches and circling throughout the round. He has figured out his foe, but it seems to be too little, too late. A man in press row slits his throat at Malignaggi after the round, he is quickly escorted away.

In round twelve, Malignaggi goes for the knockout, knowing he has no chance to win on the scorecards, whether he is really winning or not. This type of action favors Diaz, and he closes the match with solid flurries. To the astonishment of the crowd, Paulie’s corner men lift their man high, to a volatile reaction. Diaz does the same, and again, receives warmth. It is like a Rocky film in real life.

The scores are read, and they are a foregone conclusion. Diaz wins on all cards, 115-113, 116-112, and 118-110. The first two seem reasonable, but the eight point gap is inexplicable, as if it were filled out over morning breakfast. Gale Van Hoy has a reputation for bad decisions. A few hours earlier he handed local prospect Jermell Charlo a 58-56 gift against Armenian Vardan Gasparyan. He scored Jermain Taylor 117-111 against Cory Spinks in a very close affair that Spinks arguably won. He robbed Christy Martin one year ago against a local woman boxer, calling a one sided beating a draw. At his advanced age, he would be a danger to roadways if he were to get behind a wheel, yet senselessly gets judging privileges in most big Texas bouts.

The Texas State Commission placed him to show that it has competent judges, but instead shot itself in the foot. Malignaggi warned anyone who would listen that he had no chance to win, that he was in a gunfight with an unloaded pistol, and he was right. It will be a long time before the bright lights of HBO return to Texas, and sadly to say, for good reason.

Shame on Texas.

Questions or comments,
Vikram at:

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