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Fighting Words

It may not have been the wisest thing to rile up a tough kid from Brooklyn in his own backyard, but in interviews leading up to this fight in the Theatre at Madison Square Garden on May 15, both Khan and Roach have repeatedly dissed Malignaggi and looked past him to future fights. What has especially riled up Malignaggi is Roach's prediction that Khan will knock him out in three rounds. "I don't think I've ever had a dislike for an opponent more than I have for this guy," Malignaggi says. "I'm going to enjoy sinking my punches into Khan."

Paulie Malignaggi

How much damage those punches can do is a question. With only five knockouts in 27 victories and none in the last seven years, Malignaggi isn't exactly seen as a stoppage threat to anyone. But the 23-year-old Khan (22-1, 16 KOs) might be a unique case. God gave Khan many special gifts, but a chin wasn't one of them. Khan has hit the canvas several times in his career and suffered a brutal first round knockout by Breidis Prescott two years ago that went viral on YouTube and left a huge dent in the Brit's rising star.

Malignaggi's trainer Lou DiBella says it is not out of the question that his fighter could put out Khan's lights. "Paulie doesn't have a lot of knockouts and isn't the biggest puncher, but this guy has a glass chin, and I mean a glass chin," DiBella says. "Paulie is going to hit Khan, and then even though Paulie doesn't have big power, he can hurt him. Juan Diaz is a tough, tough kid and he came close to being knocked out by Paulie."

Khan hasn't been knocked down in any of his four victories following the Prescott loss, but that was probably because Roach took a careful approach in selecting opponents. Each of those fighters had a low knockout percentage, with the exception of a washed-up Marco Antonio Barrera: Oisin Fagan (45 per cent), Andriy Kotelnik (37 per cent) and Dmitriy Salita (50 per cent). In a division loaded with heavy hitters like Marcos Maidana, Victor Ortiz and Devon Alexander, it's easy to see why Khan sidestepped them in favor of Malignaggi (16 per cent).

HBO commentator Max Kellerman says this is something of a modus operandi for Roach. "One advantage you get with Freddie Roach is matchmaking," Kellerman says. "He picks fights that favor his boxers, and is careful about who he matches them with. With Pacquiao, he has had great success because partly he has fought great, and partly he has been matched extremely well."

On the flip side, Kellerman doesn't put much stock in Roach's boast that Khan will take out Malignaggi in three. "Freddie tries to build his fighters confidence by saying things like that. The idea that Khan will blow Paulie out in three rounds -- if it happens you'd have to be duly impressed. Paulie is so tough and has such good whiskers and defense, I don't see that happening," Kellerman says.

Malignaggi demonstrated he can take a licking and keep on ticking in a courageous loss to Miguel Cotto in 2006. Cotto broke a bone in Malignaggi's cheek when he knocked him down in the second round. Despite the pain, and bleeding from the nose and mouth, the Brooklyn fighter got up and showed tremendous heart as he gave his Puerto Rican opponentall he could handle before the final bell sounded. "Khan has been saying he will knock Paulie out early," DiBella says, "and yet Paulie went the distance with Cotto. It will be very tough for Khan to take Paulie out when Cotto couldn't. Nobody can knock out Paulie."

So if this fight goes the distance, how will it play out? Kellerman likes Khan's chances. "Khan has longer arms and hits harder and wins rounds more consistently than Malignaggi. For pure hand speed and foot speed, Paulie has the advantage. But Paulie would have to pull a rabbit out of the hat to win," Kellerman says.

DiBella doesn't think the Magic Man will need any tricks to beat Khan. "Khan is going to come out and will try to assert himself with power. But Paulie can box and move and jab and that's going to frustrate Khan. What's Khan going to do when the fight goes past the early rounds and he hasn't knocked out Paulie?" DiBella says.

Malignaggi's extensive  experience also lies in his favor. "Paulie has already been tested by fire," DiBella says. "Paulie fought before 15,000 Puerto Rican fans at the Garden against Cotto. He has more experience in big fights than Khan. And how is Khan going to feel coming into hostile territory? How will he handle fighting in someone else's living room?"

In the co-feature, 23-year-old Victor Ortiz (26-2, 21 KOs), who like Khan saw a brutal knockout tarnish his star, will face his stiffest test on the comeback trail when he takes on former world champion Nate Campbell (33-5, 25 KOs). "If you want to fight a guy who will test your mettle, Campbell is the guy to do it," Kellerman says. "On the other hand, Campbell is not as elusive as he used to be, and we didn't see much in his fight with Bradley. Ortiz's punch power could be a recipe for disaster against Campbell."

"Paulie has already been tested by fire," DiBella says. "Paulie fought before 15,000 Puerto Rican fans at the Garden against Cotto. He has more experience in big fights than Khan. And how is Khan going to feel coming into hostile territory? How will he handle fighting in someone else's living room?"

Posted 12:00 AM | May 13, 2010

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