When Paulie Malignaggi meets Adrien Broner tomorrow night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, the record for most shit talked prior to a mismatch may well be shattered.
A much-ballyhooed promotion leading up the fight has done little except confirm that these two enjoy nothing more than the roar of their own bluster. Broner, Cincinnati, Ohio, likes to explain why he’s heavily favored. Malignaggi likes to explain why those odds are silly. And to hype a fight in which a 15-to-1 betting favorite exists, a lady friend of both has been placed in the middle of their dry spats, possibly because clown shoes and Harpo horns are no longer seen as worthy props. Listen to enough of this nonsense and you’ll notice that Malignaggi has the far sharper tongue, but, unfortunately for him, a game of the Dozens doesn’t await inside the ring.
To his credit, Malignaggi, 32-4, with 7 KOs, has recently ditched the spoiling tactics that often made him frustrating to watch. While the Brooklyn native has always had busy hands, anything resembling inside work was considered too treacherous to attempt, and he responded to an opponent’s aggression by dipping down and either grabbing their midsection or bumping them with his shoulder while skirting away. Nowadays, he still largely avoids long stretches in the trenches, but he doesn’t cheat to achieve those means.
The problem is, without all the clinching, Malignaggi is as slippery as a dry bar of soap. Cement-footed Pablo Cesar Cano was happy to see this fan-friendlier version of the 32-year-old last October, finding him surprisingly open for glacial left hooks and sweeping right hands. Further complicating the issue, of course, is the lack of starch in Malignaggi’s punch, and he remains at a power deficit in nearly all of his bouts. Speed has compensated for such disadvantages in the past, but when his opposition matches his quickness, debacles like his 2010 bout with Amir Khan—in which Malignaggi lost every minute of every round—are imminently possible.
While Adrien Broner, 26-0 with 22 KOs, is slow to make smart culinary choices—either in strip clubs or during preparation for Vicente Escobedo—he’s far from slow in the ring. Coming forward behind his left shoulder, the 23-year-old breaks down his opponent with an array of check hooks, lead right hands, and combinations to the body. His synthesis of speed and power often makes foes look as if they’re drowning in quicksand. Not that his level of competition has been particularly noteworthy. The only real struggle in his career came against the awkward, sturdy Daniel Ponce De Leon a few years ago. Ponce De Leon has made plenty of fighters look uncomfortable, so Broner appearing skittish against him in his first prime-time event is understandable. He’s since looked spectacular in overpowering a slew of super featherweights and lightweights, but because his victims lacked the durability or unorthodoxy of Ponce De Leon, it’s hard to measure how much he’s grown from his 2011 escape. And while his offense can’t be questioned, his defense can, which makes his leap into welterweight fascinating.
Nonetheless, Malignaggi is a safe landing spot. “The Magic Man” is probably tough enough to prove Broner’s sixth-round knockout prediction audacious, but he can’t punch, and now that he’s older and more conscious of his audience, he can’t avoid a punch. He’ll likely land his fair share of jabs, along with the occasional right hand, but whatever offense he produces is destined to be swallowed by Broner’s heavier artillery. And when the quicksand starts appearing bottomless, tough decisions might await Eric Brown, Malignaggi’s trainer, and referee Benjy Esteves, Jr.
“Easy work,” Broner likes to say. That’s a fair assessment, since he has the talent to make what’s difficult for the ordinary appear simple. But it’s also easy to be prophetic during the lead-up to a mismatch, and despite the relentless chatter, that’s all this is: easy work following an uneasy promotion.