Houston, we have a problem: Paulie’s plight illustrates boxing’s ills

We’ve been advocates of Paulie Malignaggi for over five years here, even interviewing him for the previous iteration of SportsAngle.com. He’s a likable kid, very funny and cocky, but prideful and devoted to his craft, with jabs as fast as his quips. 

Who knew he’d be such a strong voice in calling out what’s wrong with boxing?

Malignaggi fought Houston native Juan Diaz in Diaz’s own city last Saturday night, and essentially Paulie voices his concerns about the sport following his loss on Saturdayacknowledged before the fight that he was going to get a raw deal. Contractually forced to make a catch weight lower than he was used to and fight in a smaller ring that limited his greatest advantage, his speed and elusiveness, Malignaggi made no secret about the fact that he didn’t expect the opportunity to actually win the fight by decision. Essentially, the deck was stacked against him.

His one saving grace was a promise that the fight would be officiated fairly and that the judges would be a varied panel and not just hometown stooges. But as Malignaggi found when he got to Houston, the referee was the son of Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation official Dickie Cole, and the judges included biased Texan Gale Van Hoy, Oklahoman David Sutherland, and Raul Caiz Sr., who Malignaggi called “a gofer for Golden Boy and a guy who’s biased in favor of Mexican-American fighters.”

Malignaggi dominates the final three rounds

Malignaggi was absolutely right about the iniquity of fights staged in Texas. Thomas Hauser at Maxboxing does a great job of running down Cole’s history of horrible officiating and the suspect scoring by those three judges.

Top that off with a fan base that cheered wildly every punch that Diaz threw – whether he connected or not – and Malignaggi was in for a long night against a talented, powerful fighter.

So why take the fight at all? Basically, it was Malignaggi’s best opportunity to fight against a name fighter on HBO. To fight someone the caliber of Diaz, Malignaggi essentially had no choice but to fight him on his turf and terms.

But with everything going against him, Paulie fought a magnificent fight, possibly the best we’ve seen him. He was quick on his feet, very difficult to hit and snapped off an excellent right jab. He both threw and landed punches with heavier volume than Diaz. He was masterful over the final three rounds of the fight, demonstrating a dominance even we did not expect.

Diaz had rounds in which he showed his power advantage, leading to a very close fight. We scored it 7-5 for Malignaggi, while we obviously have to acknowledge our East Coast and personal bias toward him. But with several very close rounds, especially early on, we can certainly understand how the fight may have been scored a draw or 7-5 for Diaz.

But for Sutherland to score it 8-4, and more egregious, Van Hoy to have it 10-2? Well, that’s just insane.

Postfight: Paulie talks at the 3:04 mark

I was a bit dismayed pre-fight when I heard Malignaggi spouting off about the treatment he thought he would get in Texas. I thought it would put him at a disadvantage psychologically and make him look like he was crying wolf if he fought a lousy fight. But not only was he not affected by fighting from behind the eight ball, he was 100% right.

When interviewed by Max Kellerman after the fight, Malignaggi – who saluted Arturo Gatti on his trunks and by playing Thunderstruck by AC/DC, obviously something we endorse – continued to fight, raging against the system that essentially gave him no chance to win the fight except with a knockout. (And Paulie isn’t a knockout fighter; he has five in his career)

I’m telling you, this state never gives a fair shake to anyone who comes to this state to fight hometown fighters. It never happens! … It’s not right!

Paulie continued to broaden his scope and point out why the public at large simply can’t trust the sport anymore.

You know I ain’t getting a rematch, man. Boxing is full of s***, man! I used to love this sport, man. I cannot stand doing this! The only reason I do this is because it gives me a good payday.

I love the sport too. But why should we continue to be loyal when time and time again, this sort of thing happens? How can we be expected to take the sport seriously when a fighter like Malignaggi has to fight someone when he virtually can’t win, regardless of how he performs? Malignaggi’s words resonate as someone who feels betrayed by a sport – a profession – that he adored.

And this isn’t just a Texas thing; boxing has a “long and rich” history of hometown scoring and other such suspect decisions marring the proceedings. Malignaggi’s promoter, Lou DiBella – who we like a lot – acknowledged that a certain degree of hometown bias is expected and even accepted, as in if a fight is very close, the hometown fighter has an edge both in the crowd and on the scorecard.

But 118-110, Van Hoy? 118-110? Was this guy even in the building?

Fire that man. Now.

Paulie’s post-fight presser — Lou DiBella opens

You simply don’t see this sort of nonsense happening in other sports. As Hauser points out, if you go to Dallas to play the Cowboys, you’re going to have a lot of disadvantages, but you won’t have referees who are flat-out going to favor the home team.

In addition, how can it be that the only way Paulie gets this fight – which was a treat for fans – is by completely subjugating his own chances? UFC has it right: They match up the top fighters whenever possible. They make fights that fans want to see, and they do it frequently. Great matchups in boxing are like an oasis to a man coming out of the desert.

Can we expect this to get better, even after Malignaggi airs it out on national television? Of course not. Boxing has had serious problems for a long time, but as long as the core audience still turns out and buys the big fights on pay-per-view – and yes, I’m guilty of this – the sport will never change its ways.

But we can dream. We can hope for a day when we get relatively fair, scientific judging, regardless of location or personal bias. We can wait for a time when promoters can put aside the politics and make fights that fans truly want to see. We can ponder what would happen if a card offers a contingency plan if fights end early, as UFC does, staging deep cards with fights in reserve to re-air after the main event if necessary.

Look, I’m not naive. None of this is ever going to happen.

But God forbid it does. Maybe the next Paulie Malignaggi won’t be afraid to love the sport because just maybe, it might love him back.


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