By Charles Jay
Let’s suppose Paul Malignaggi’s story is completely straight. He was less than 24 hours off a plane before going into a 12-round sparring session with Conor McGregor. he didn’t have all the time in the world to loosen up. His accommodations were not ideal. He does admit to getting winded in the latter part of that session, during which time there were some clips posted by UFC president Dana White showing him getting allegedly knocked down.
Maybe that’s a knockdown; maybe that’s a slip, but what was he really doing there in the first place? He had made some critical remarks about McGregor’s ability to box – in fact, going so far as to call him out in December for a fight (presumably if the bout with Mayweather fell through). Did he think they were going to fly him out there for the purposes of making HIM look good?
Yes, we are in the midst of the hype machine. Yes, boxing people – the professionals in this business – do not often put a lot of stock in the results of sparring sessions. But these are not boxing people involved here, for the most part, and clearly Malignaggi realized that everything was going to be done to put McGregor in the best light.
Still, if you are looking to come away with something that might lend you a little encouragement on your way to the betting window with some McGregor money, it’s a flush left hand that McGregor landed in one of those clips distributed by White. He is not without some pop, if you’re standing there waiting for it to come. Not to say that Mayweather is ever going to leave himself open for anything like that, but at least the MMA champion landed a punch on a professional fighter.
By the way, Showtime isn’t going to use any of that stuff in its “All Access” series promoting this thing. Stephen Espinoza, who is in charge of sports programming, explains that he was presented an edited version of the clips by the McGregor camp, which essentially showed highlights of his, and that they would not let them be used in any other form.
“We were told if we didn’t use the whole segment as they edited it then we couldn’t use it at all,” Espinosa told the Sporting News. “So in the end, Conor’s camp withheld permission for us to use it. Otherwise we definitely wanted to use it.”
Malignaggi, as we know, retired after losing four of his last eight fights. He said that they wouldn’t let him work out before this sparring session. Steve Forbes, the former IBF 130-pound champion, contends that the McGregor camp reached out for him as well, even though he has been retired for almost three years. And he saw a trap. They were reaching out for guys who have credentials, but aren’t active or in shape to go long distances. Chris Van Heerden, a South African who once held the IBO welterweight crown (and who IS active, we grant you), says he was a victim of some “propaganda” on the part of McGregor’s camp but at least had some video evidence to counter that. He acknowledges Conor’s power, but has also been vocal about his weaknesses.
“He’s dropping his hands, and he’s putting his chin out there. Stuff like that,” he told a reporter. “Pretty bad. He doesn’t throw in combinations. That’s the big thing that MMA fighters lack. And that’s the upside of boxing.”
All of this, however, kind of strays from the point we’re trying to make. Ideally, it’s great for Malignaggi, as part of the Showtime broadcast team, to get that “up close” experience so he can pass some insight on to the viewers. And when we examine some of his quotes after accepting the invitation to camp, that seemed to be his agenda. But he was badly positioned right from the beginning as someone who had offered up a disparaging opinion of McGregor. Human nature being what it is, that may have provided extra motivation for McGregor and White to manipulate the situation to make him look bad and make themselves look good at the same time, if they did indeed manipulate things.
So Malignaggi now comes out of this debacle, believing that he has to perform some”damage control,” and it doesn’t necessarily paint the best picture of him. Regardless of the selectivity of the footage released, the clips have gone viral, to the point where this has become a major part of the “news cycle” and remains that way. Malignaggi has, in effect, become a character in this whole drama, and that isn’t really where you want to be if you are someone describing the event for the team (network) that is not only distributing the fight for pay television, but also actively promoting it as something that is worth the money they’re charging. You would like to think you could get some objectivity out of them, but now they have a guy who’s got an ax to grind. So will his “insight” be any good now?