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All You Need Is Love

Paulie Malignaggi won over a lot of hearts in minds in his courageous losing battle with Miguel Cotto. This time he has to do the one thing he didn't do against Cotto -- win the junior welterweight title.

There's something amusing about Paulie Malignaggi fighting a guy with a first name of Lovemore. If ever there was a boxer who loved himself more, it was Paulie Malignaggi.

In truth, there is much to love about Paulie. He is a perpetually upbeat young man who is handsome, dresses flamboyantly and boxes in the same colorful way. He also has great natural skills, and speed the Road Runner would envy.

While a slick-style fighter, Malignaggi is not short on heart, grit and determination, something he aptly demonstrated in his fight last year with then junior welterweight champ Miguel Cotto. In a second round knockdown, Malignaggi suffered a broken cheekbone, yet got up off the canvas to give Cotto, a welterweight boiled down to 140 pounds, all he could handle in a gutsy performance that earned much adoration.
Then again, much about Malignaggi's life is improbable, not the least of which is the fact that he was the subject of a documentary shown earlier this month at the Hoboken International Film Festival, entitled, "Magic Man."

Second to winning, adoration is right up there on Malignaggi's scale of things he craves most.

In the Alice in Wonderland world that is the alphabet sanctioning bodies, Malignaggi (22-1, 5 KOs) finds himself after a loss to Cotto and a February victory against unranked Edner Cherry, challenging for a world title once more, this time against belt holder Lovemore N'dou (45-8-1, 30 KOs) June 16 on HBO's "Boxing After Dark."

To some, this might seem an improbable position for Malignaggi to be in. He has never beaten a Top Ten fighter and yet he is getting a second chance at a world title. Then again, much about Malignaggi's life is improbable, not the least of which is the fact that he was the subject of a documentary shown earlier this month at the Hoboken International Film Festival, entitled, "Magic Man."

Brave Street Productions, which made the documentary, publicized it as "a film that chronicles the rise of Brooklyn light welterweight contender Paulie Malignaggi to his dramatic fight with Miguel Cotto." One of the partners of Brave St. Tammy Leetch, characterized "Magic Man" as 'a real life Rocky story.'" While Hoboken will never be mistaken for Cannes, at least Rocky's story ended with a world championship.

As for this fight, one thing is for certain, Malignaggi has no love for Lovemore.

"He's been talking a lot of trash about me," Malignaggi said of N'dou, a South African native who calls Australia home. "Lovemore made a mistake. He is playing mind games with the king of mind games."

That N'dou is a world champion is only a shade less improbable than young Malignaggi getting a second shot at a belt. N'dou's last fight was a sanctioned title eliminator against an undistinguished Naoufel Ben Rabah for the right to challenge Ricky Hatton for his title.

N'dou won the eliminator and Hatton was ordered to defend against him. More interested in money than trinket belts, Hatton refused his mandatory and chose instead to take a lucrative June 23 match against Jose Luis Castillo on HBO.

The sanctioning body then stripped Hatton of his belt and wrapped it around N'dou, who became a champion without beating a champion. And so it goes.

This fight is one of contrasting styles. Malignaggi has an edge in youth, speed and boxing skills. N'dou, who has been fighting professionally since 1993 and is 35, has the edge in experience, especially at the championship level. N'dou has fought and been competitive in championship fights against Cotto, Junior Witter and Sharmba Mitchell.

"I would like to fight Cotto again somewhere down the line. He is a big void in my career," Malignaggi said.

While no Joe Calzaghe, N'dou has also been something of a homebody. Of his 54 fights, 47 have been held in either South Africa or Australia. Seven times he has crossed the Atlantic to fight in the U.S., and he is 2-5 in those bouts, his only victories coming against the forgettable Jun Gorres and Damian Fuller.

With Malignaggi, what you have seen is not necessarily what you will get in this fight. When Malignaggi fought Cotto, it was just his first under new trainer Buddy McGirt, a former world champion and now trainer of champions.

"I am a more complete fighter now," Malignaggi said. "In my first camp with Buddy, it was mostly about seeing how we bonded, what kind of chemistry we had. There wasn't enough time to make many changes. This time we have concentrated more on a lot of those things Buddy felt needed improvement."

One of the first things McGirt noticed Malignaggi was doing wrong was that he was punching with his hands open. Now they are closed, adding a bit of badly need power to his arsenal. McGirt also saw that Malignaggi had a very good left hook, but didn't use it. Nor did he work the body much, if at all. Against N'dou, McGirt expects to see more body work and less head-hunting. The trainer has also encouraged Malignaggi to not jump out of the pocket when his opponent punches him, but to stay in there and let his quick hands go.

Stylistically, this is a tough match-up for N'dou, who has a track record of struggling with speedy fighters. Witter, Mitchell and to some degree Ben Rabah all have above average speed. The Rabah fight speaks volumes about N'dou's problems with fast fighters. The bout was very much up for grabs on the cards before the outclassed Ben Rabah retired on his stool after the 11th round. The scores at that point were 105-104 twice for N'dou, 106-104 for Ben Rabah.

While N'dou lost to both Mitchell and Cotto, there were extenuating circumstances. For both fights, N'Dou came in late as a replacement for an injured opponent, and the two bouts were just three months apart.

N'dou took the fight against Mitchell in 2004 on just seven days notice, after Kostya Tszyu had to pull out because of an injury. Still, N'dou kept the fight reasonably close on two cards, losing 113-115 and 112-117. The other judge scored it 118-110. Mitchell's face looked battered at the end, and some felt N'dou had won the fight.

Against Cotto in 2005, N'dou came in with two weeks notice, and had just fought 22 days earlier. Cotto, whose current 29 victories include 24 knockouts, was unable to take N'dou out. The fight proved competitive on two cards, 113-115 and 112-116. The other judge scored it, 111-117.
Whether Malignaggi realizes all his goals is debatable. What is not, he says, is this: "People will miss Paulie Malignaggi when I'm gone."

N'dou's match-up with champion Witter in 2005 was even closer, with the three judges scoring it 112-114 twice, and 111-115. Clearly, N'dou can fight more than a little against top competition. Or at least he could two and three years ago.

Malignaggi has respect for N'dou as a fighter, but is supremely confident (what else would he be) that if he imposes his game plan on N'Dou, he will beat him.

"I see it as a fast-paced fight," Malignaggi said. "N'dou feels he has to pressure me and try to tire me out, and outlast me. But I am in great shape and it isn't going to happen. And I have seen pressure before with Cotto. I expect my experience in the Cotto fight to help me a lot."

Even though he is fighting a "champion" who was handed a belt, the title means a lot to the 26-year-old.

"It's very important to me. It is one of my main goals, along with getting into the Hall of Fame. A title would catapult me into bigger fights," Malignaggi said. He hopes one of those fights is a rematch with Cotto.

"I would like to fight Cotto again somewhere down the line. He is a big void in my career," Malignaggi said.

Whether Malignaggi realizes all his goals is debatable. What is not, he says, is this: "People will miss Paulie Malignaggi when I'm gone."

That may not be any time soon, if the words of that immortal fight analyst Benjamin Franklin, ring true:

"He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals."

Paulie Malignaggi is Old Ben's kind of fighter.

Whether Malignaggi realizes all his goals is debatable. What is not, he says, is this: "People will miss Paulie Malignaggi when I'm gone."

Lovemore N'Dou vs Paulie Malignaggi

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