Paulie Malignaggi had implied in the build-up to his Bare Knuckle FC debut against Artem Lobov that he just had to show up to win. In the end, the two-time boxing world champion was left bloodied and beaten. So, what went wrong?
Moments after the final bell sounded after five rounds of grueling action in Tampa, Florida on Saturday night, Paulie Malignaggi bowed towards Lobov with his right hand extended.
It was a conciliatory move from the 38-year-old boxer, a gesture to call a truce on a feud which had its genesis during a couple of heated sparring sessions inside the UFC Performance Institute a couple of years ago.
It was delivered just seconds before he would be awarded victory on the scorecards. Or so he thought.
When Lobov was given the nod via razor-thin judges’ decision, Malignaggi’s face displayed his surprise – but his face, peppered with gashes after the ten-minute bout, also told its own story.
So, how did a two-time world boxing champion known as “The Magic Man” fail to conjure a victory over an MMA fighter with a mixed record?
1. MALIGNAGGI IS NOT SUITED TO BAREKNUCKLE BOXING
As Ricky Hatton mentioned in the lead-in to Saturday’s fight, there aren’t many top-level world champion boxers less equipped for the ruleset of bareknuckle boxing than Malignaggi. His notoriously brittle hands had become a central narrative and, true to the script, his right hand gave way in the second.
Also, as noted by former world champion Antonio Tarver on commentary, Malignaggi was extremely uncomfortable on the inside whenever his opponent would push forward – a notable disadvantage when his opponent’s game plan is engineered around negotiating situations in which he could clinch.
2. MALIGNAGGI UNDERESTIMATED BOTH ARTEM LOBOV AND THE RULESET
Lobov has been finished just once by strikes in his career (way back in 2011) and was never going to be a likely candidate to fold to a pugilistic assault by Malignaggi, regardless of his status as a former world champion.
It is quite understandable why Malignaggi may have thought that his boxing skills, developed over the past couple of decades, could see him through against Lobov.
But the deviations from the standard boxing ruleset compared to its bare-knuckle cousin neutered the American’s ability to keep the fight at his preferred distance.
3. MALIGNAGGI WASN’T IN FIGHT SHAPE
The fact that Malignaggi didn’t quite look the same physical specimen as he did in his prime years isn’t a surprise. He has been retired for more than two years and opted to cram in a bespoke fight camp for his engagement with Lobov, while taking enforced breaks here and there to fulfill his commentary obligations with Showtime and Sky Sports.
He also admitted that he did very little sparring in the build-up, owing to a problem with his nose. It was hardly the ideal preparation to face a fighter like Lobov, who had been extremely active during Malignaggi’s spell on the sidelines.
4. MALIGNAGGI HAD HIS FOCUS ELSEWHERE
Whether or not he’ll admit it, Malignaggi was attempting to use the feud with Lobov as a conduit to a money-spinning fight with Conor McGregor. Defeating his sparring partner, Malignaggi surmised, might be the perfect way to coax the Irishman into the ring to settle a score from two years ago.
Any prospect of that now seems dead in the water. It appears, on the surface at least, that the New Yorker overlooked Lobov on Saturday night, but one suspects that the brand-new scar extending past his left eyebrow will serve as a permanent reminder of that error of judgement.
5. MALIGNAGGI CARED MORE ABOUT HIS EYEBROWS THAN THE FIGHT
The pre-fight build-up showed a stark contrast between the two fighters, with Lobov arriving in a t-shirt and jeans, while Malignaggi arrived in a succession of extravagant outfits and expensive watches as he attempted to belittle the Russian with his wealth.
The clear effort Malignaggi put into his attire, and his personal grooming, led to Lobov teasing the American, labeling him a “p*ssy” who “plucks his eyebrows.”
Watching all the build-up to the much-anticipated bout, it was hard not to imagine whether Malignaggi had put more effort into selling the fight and looking good at the press conferences than he did preparing for the contest itself.
Lobov’s eyebrow barbs at the time suggested that very point before the fight, and they certainly appear to ring true now we’ve seen how the fight played out.
As for Paulie’s eyebrows, Artem did a little grooming of his own, as he left the American with a nasty cut that may leave “The Magic Man” scarred and with a little less eyebrow to pluck.