Malignaggi (left) returned home to Brooklyn for the opening of the Barclays Center (Photo by Jayson Colon, FightImages.com).
Brooklyn Native Earns Split Decision Victory in Front of Home Crowd
It was a triumphant return home to Brooklyn for local favorite Paulie Malignaggi (32-4, 7 KOs), who helped open the brand new Barclays Center on Saturday night with a gritty split decision victory over a game Pablo Cesar Cano (25-2, 19 KOs). Malignaggi overcame a late scare in the 11th round after a sharp overhand right from Cano caused the lone knockdown of the contest, but the heart of the reigning WBA Welterweight Champion enabled him to persevere from the situation.
“I thought I out-boxed him pretty clearly,” Malignaggi said of Cano. “I thought I controlled the action. I know he was pressing the action, but he wasn’t really landing a lot of shots, you know? He’s a warrior, and I have a ton of respect for Pablo. I came into the fight with a lot of respect for him. I knew he was going to come to fight. He was strong – I don’t know if it had to do with him not making weight – but he was definitely strong. It was a good fight. I thought I won pretty handily, though.”
The fight was originally slated to be the first world title defense at welterweight for two-division champion Malignaggi, who dismantled former titleholder Vyacheslav Senchenko in the Ukraine this past April to win the WBA crown via TKO. However, all that changed once Cano was unable to make the 147-pound limit prior to the fight, making this contest a non-title bout.
“It was a little bit disappointing to not have the title on the line in this fight because this was the first show in Brooklyn in 80 years where there was going to be world championship boxing,” Malignaggi admitted. “I was really looking forward to having my title on the line as well. I wanted to be a part of that history. I’m not going to say I lost focus, but I was definitely disappointed that out of all the fights tonight, my title wasn’t on the line.”
Malignaggi was able to do his best work in this pairing when he worked off his trademark jab, and he repeatedly found his mark in the early going. In the second round, Cano got caught with a stiff right hand that opened a pretty significant cut over his left eye, giving Malignaggi a target to attack similarly to what he had in the bout with Senchenko. The corner of Cano did a really good job on that eye throughout the 12-frame competition, however, and it was mostly sealed by the time the championship rounds came around.
Despite the quickness and ability to comfortably slide in and out of confrontation that Malignaggi often displays, this bout was fought mostly on the inside and turned out to be a very physical affair. The Brooklyn resident caused large swelling under the left eye of Cano by peppering him throughout the encounter with a sharp jab, but the close-range scrap paid dividends for the Mexican fighter in the 11th frame. In a round that he was dominating, Malignaggi dipped inside late in the stanza and found himself on the receiving end of a flush overhand right that sent him to the canvas. He quickly popped back onto his feet and reassured the crowd that he was fine, but it was a very clean shot from Cano.
“I think I just got a little bit lazy,” Malignaggi said of the blow. “I thought I was controlling the action, catching him with almost every jab I was throwing, so I was trying to control the pace. I got a little bit lazy, and he came over the top with a nice right hand. He caught me good. No complaints there. It was a sharp right hand. I kind of slept on him a little bit there.”
After recovering from the knockdown, both men banged it out in the 12th and final frame, and the judges would then be needed to voice their thoughts on a hotly contested match-up. The first score revealed a laughable 118-109 tally in favor of Cano, but Malignaggi would emerge victorious after the next two cards were 114-113 counts in his favor.
After the bout, Malignaggi did state that he was very interested in a rematch with Englishman Ricky Hatton, who recently decided to embark on a comeback. He will battle Senchencko next month in Manchester in what will be his first fight in over three years. The first time Malignaggi and Hatton fought, the Brit made a successful defense of his IBO Junior Welterweight Title in Las Vegas back in 2008.