Malignaggi Magic In Winning First Title

A year after failing to win a junior welterweight title off Miguel Cotto, Paulie “Magic Man” Malignaggi got his second opportunity Saturday night against IBF Champion Lovemore NDou. This time, he made sure not to come away empty handed.

Sporting an outrageous mohawk that may not have topped the blue hair he brought into the ring with him against Edner Cherry in February but still managed to turn its share of heads, Malignaggi took advantage of his second chance in the spotlight.

Having the distinction of being among the few fighters that have gone the distance with Cotto, Malignaggi and NDou were looking to prove that they weren’t ruined fighters like so many of Cotto’s victims as they squared off for the title. NDou was also seeking legitimacy for himself as a champion, having acquired the belt when Ricky Hatton opted to vacate it in favor of fighting Jose Luis Castillo. The reign of “The Black Panther” would be shortlived, however, as Malignaggi dominated him from the opening bell until the last in a way that many upper tier current or former junior welterweights, including Sharmba Mitchell, Junior Witter, and Cotto, couldn’t.

The trick for Malignaggi was speed. He consistently beat NDou to the punch throughout the fight, controlling the rounds with his jab and sneaking in some well placed right hands, landing four in a row at one point in round 2. A clash of heads opened a cut over Malignaggi’s left eye in round 5, but it didn’t stop the challenger’s momentum as he stayed on top of NDou all night. After catching a warning for punching the back of the head in the same round, NDou was docked a point by Referee Eddie Cotton for a similar infraction in the next round. Because NDou had only received one previous warning, the deduction seemed premature, if not unjust, and it’s not like he didn’t already feel like the whole world was against him, claiming beforehand that he knew he would have to beat Malignaggi convincingly to get the nod. As it turned out, he never came close.

Potentially down as many as seven points, a desperate NDou turned southpaw in round 7 and tried holding Malignaggi in one place by repeatedly stepping on his foot, but, despite such confusing tactics, Malignaggi stayed on course for his biggest win and first title, responding over the next several rounds with sharp jabs and straight right hands that knocked NDou’s head back. In round 9, Malignaggi demonstrated why speed is just as good as, if not better than power as NDou recklessly threw a right hand but walked into one from Malignaggi that sent him collapsing back onto the seat of his trunks. He wasn’t hurt, but he didn’t help himself any as he fell even farther behind on points, suddenly needing a knockout to retain his title.

It was not to be as Malignaggi, blood leaking from the cut over his eye, finished strong, unleashing combinations on NDou as the seconds ticked off the clock in the 12th round. “The Magic Man” dropped to his knees and collapsed at the final bell, unable to hide his emotions, and was joined in celebration on the canvas by his corner men and promoter Lou DiBella. Malignaggi’s virtually flawless performance combined with the point deductions made the result a forgone conclusion. Official scores of 120-106 (twice) and 118-108 were anything but surprising.

Now, having won his first championship, Malignaggi undoubtedly wants the big fights, and, while he has talked about a rematch with Cotto, who fought a week before him against Zab Judah, his baptism by fire from last year should remain last week with Cotto: in the past. Fighting a week after him is the future as Ricky Hatton takes on Jose Luis Castillo this coming Saturday. Malignaggi stated that he wants to face Hatton next, a fight that “The Hitman” would be expected to take, especially since Cotto is, at the moment, locked up for a fall showdown with Antonio Margarito should he defeat Paul Williams next month. After all, Hatton justified coming back to the junior welterweight division to retrieve the IBF title he had vacated when moving up to welterweight.

Regardless of which direction his career goes from here, on this night, Malignaggi, mohawk and all, embraced the spotlight and lived in the moment, winning his first title with his best performance yet.

DIRRELL DECISIONS STEVENS IN DREADFUL AFFAIR

In a showdown between super middleweight prospects, undefeated Andre “The Matrix” Dirrell claimed a unanimous decision victory over Curtis “Showtime” Stevens in a fight that failed to produce any fireworks whatsoever.

As a point of reference, the crowd was already booing the lack of action by the second round and would continue to boo the entire duration of the fight and on through the announcing of the scorecards, which read 93-97 (twice) and 98-92. There was simply no fight to be made as the much taller Dirrell appeared able to do whatever he wanted with his opponent but didn’t take advantage of Stevens’ disadvantage. Stevens couldn’t. Dirrell wouldn’t.

A comfortable switch-hitter, Dirrell rotated between southpaw and conventional stances throughout the dismal affair. The fight was highlighted not by punches landed but by Dirrell’s antics as he taunted Stevens as well as the crowd. After entering into a brief exchange in round 4 in which he got the best of Stevens, Dirrell proceeded to talk to his opponent, inciting the crowd to boo louder. Referee Richard Flaherty warned him to pipe down, forcing Dirrell to find another way to keep from fighting: keeping Stevens completely out of reach. Dirrell twisted his hips on the way to his corner at round’s end, apparently relishing the role of the despised.

The first round of the main event between Paulie Malignaggi and Lovemore NDou contained more action than the first five rounds of this bore. Not that the fight was remotely difficult to score, but Stevens’ trainer, Andre Rozier, did an excellent job of telling his fighter the situation after the 6th round: that he was down 5 rounds. This viewer had it the same as did HBO’s unofficial scorer, Harold Lederman.

Lederman, pulling no punches in criticizing Dirrell’s style the entire night, dubbed the bout the worst he had ever seen, a case of a taller, superior boxer toying with, but not attempting to really hurt a shorter, overmatched puncher. Landing less than 100 punches, Dirrell was permanently set on cruise control as he jogged down the stretch to the unanimous decision in an increasingly frustrating fight. Stevens didn’t improve matters, landing less than 50 punches, numbers that would serve to support Lederman’s claim although it was, thankfully, only a 10 round fight. With that said, the demand to see either guy again should be all but gone after this debacle.

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