NEW YORK -- The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about a Paulie Malignaggi-Zab Judah matchup is this: It hasn’t happened yet? For years, Malignaggi, 33, and Judah, 36, have fought in similar weight classes. Both are from Brooklyn. Both are appealing to television networks. Yet it’s only now, in the winter of their careers, that a matchup is made.
“[A fight] really didn't come to mind,” said Malignaggi, who will face Judah on Saturday night at the Barclays Center (Showtime, 8 pm ET). “We were in different weight classes and at different places in our career. But people started mentioning it and talking around Brooklyn the past year or two. But I still didn't think the fight had any chance of happening because we were still in different weight classes and kind of had different goals for our careers.”
Circumstances have a funny way of changing that. Last April, Judah dropped a unanimous decision to junior welterweight titleholder Danny Garcia. Two months later, Malignaggi lost a split decision -- and his welterweight title -- to Adrien Broner.
With dwindling options, Malignaggi and Judah turned to each other.
Said Judah: “In my preparation for moving forward [after losing to Garcia], to do what I do [my promoters, Golden Boy Promotions] said Paulie. I said 'Paulie, nah, Paulie is my homeboy.' But then I was like, 'Hey, you know this is an opportunity that you've got to take for boxing.' So I guess we're here now.”
Neither fighter is a stranger to tense promotions. Malignaggi and Broner engaged in a vulgar back and forth. Members of Judah's and Garcia’s teams brawled at the introductory press conference and nearly came to blows again at an autograph signing session in Brooklyn a few days before the fight.
The buildup to this this bout, however, has been tame. Press conferences are cordial. The weigh-in on Friday ended with winks and smiles. Malignaggi and Judah have a long history -- Judah coached Malignaggi as a teenager during the Empire State Games -- and both profess respect for the other's accomplishments.
“Number one, I admire Paulie because he's from Brooklyn,” Judah said. “He stands up with that Brooklyn pride. He represents Brooklyn wherever he goes. He talks about it and keeps it fresh in people's ears and eyes. Number two, he's a fighter. I respect that every fighter has the heart and audacity to climb into the ring and take on competitive fights, so you've got to respect him as a human being.”
Added Malignaggi, “The admiration I have for Zab came from trying to follow in his footsteps coming up. I saw him accomplish things that I had the goal to accomplish. I watched Zab accomplish each and every one of them before me. It was an admiration and a motivation to see someone from my city, from my borough, accomplish these things and get some credibility and notoriety doing the same thing that I do. When somebody does it so close to home they automatically get that admiration when they're older than you, and you see them accomplishing those things and you kind of want to follow in their footsteps.”
Ultimately, this fight is significant for both men. The winner will likely earn a high profile 140- or 147-pound title shot. The loser will be pushed one step closer to retirement. “It’s not hard to get up for a fight like this,” Malignaggi said. “I know I have what it takes to be a world class fighter. I know what it takes to get back to the top. Winning a fight like this and getting myself a chance to get another world championship in my career is something I don't doubt.” -- CHRIS MANNIX