By G.E. Simons
As we move into the final countdown cycle of McMayweather Inc., the
sub-narrative raised and incubated by a facially grazed Paulie Malignaggi this past week, is a timely reminder that surreal as this event is, there is actually a very real final outcome.
The debate has exclusively swirled around the validity of the encounter between the world’s greatest living boxer and the world’s most significant mixed martial artist, whilst the cartoon verbal violence has dazzle-shipped the real violence out of the conversation.
Whatever the validity of their ultimate sharing of a boxing ring, in gloves of as yet confirmed ounce weight, this will be a real and physical encounter between two real athletes who will be trading real punches that cause real damage.
Combat sports, whatever their rule set, are no joke.
Just because Conor McGregor looks like a glistening avatar who has just stepped out of Xbox gameplay. And just because Floyd Mayweather is a walking talking brand experience doesn’t mean that the night of August 26th is a live video game streaming for the amusement of the Black Mirror generation.
There is a fight coming and there are ongoing preparations to be made. It is a testament to his confidence and loyalty that McGregor has largely surrounded himself with his usual training team, helmed by Head Coach John Kavanagh and Striking Coach Owen Roddy.
The broader Team has included sparring partners in Irish amateur phenom Tiernan Bradley, journeyman professional yet noted spar-hand Dashon Johnson and unbeaten London welterweight Louis Adolphe.
But it was the simmering addition of former world champion and seasoned campaigner Paulie Malignaggi that has caused real intrigue, insight and inquisition this past week.
The recently retired Malignaggi could have actually been an ideal addition to the Las Vegan leg of final preparations bringing experience, craft and a forensic analytical approach to the sport, but from the off the whole thing felt, off.
Back in December 2016, McGregor was granted a boxing license in California with that news met with a mixture of negativity, amusement and bristling anger by the boxing community.
This included Paulie Malignaggi who posted a video via Twitter which culminated in his saying “I know you apologised about absolutely nothing last fight, but after I am done with you, I am going to knock the beard off you homie, you are going to be apologising for everything you have been trying to do to get into boxing.”
“Who the f*ck is that guy?” was Conor’s reply at an Irish Q&A event days later.
Fast-forward to the early summer of 2017 and Mayweather boxing McGregor at a catchweight of 154lbs is confirmed for 26th August 2017 at the MGM Grand Las Vegas.
Los Angeles. Toronto. New York. London.
As the violent vaudeville of the MayMac promotional tour came to an end, McGregor confirmed that Malignaggi would indeed be drafted in for some work, “Yeah. Look Paulie talked a lot of sh*t. he’s been brought in to spar and then he’ll answer to what he’s been saying and then we’ll go from there after that. But we’re gonna have a knock in the gym.”
Forget tapping into Paulie’s experience, craft and analytical skills then – this was McGregor looking to reprimand Malignaggi on his turf and in tough terms.
So, it was surely only Malignaggi’s ego and of course his obvious desire to continue nudging for a pension boosting PPV of his own with McGregor, that got him on the plane, then into that headguard before stepping into a UFC Performance Institute ring…
Since his London defeat to Sam Eggington on the undercard of Tony Bellew’s feature attraction with David Haye back in March, Paulie Malignaggi has gone from being the part time Magic Man to the full time Media Man and good at it he is too – but magic is one thing pure illusion is another.
They sparred twice.
First time Malignaggi emerged suggesting that McGregor “Was not very likeable.” That “It got a little rough, it got a little tense.” And “He brings his game face to sparring.”
Yet still he returned for more.
“There was a lot of violence.” Malignaggi told ESPN of the second session. “I thought I was a little bit set up.”
Of course he was. In fact, not so much set up as he served himself up.
Team McGregor’s next move was the Instagram posting of images which showed the American on the canvas in what appeared to be a knockdown.
“It’s all about his status, he’s a scumbag.” Malignaggi told the MMA Hour Podcast.
“He pushed me down during one of his worst rounds.” He continued by way of addressing the images of him downed.
This interview being the most comprehensive of what had been a Malignaggi Media Tour to rival the global MayMac endeavour, where he appeared on pretty much any platform that would have him to reiterate amongst other things that he was pushed down.
Now at least edited once it is, but Dana White’s subsequent release of around 10 seconds of sparring footage clearly shows McGregor connecting and Paulie falling.
There was no push, a punch put Malignaggi down and he is one Uomo Duro or he certainly once was.
Now we know this is all part of the broader promotional galaxy. There are lots of things orbiting. There are lots of layers. The narrative has to be driven and driven hard right up to the final moment of PPV click commit.
But there is ultimately a fight in August at the heart of all this thoroughly modern Sportstainment.
As Tiernan Bradley told The Irish News “Conor told us all when Paulie came into camp, this is not a spar. I want to fight him. I’m ready for war.”
Malignaggi had his own agenda too. No problem. But savvy as he is and as keen as he is to align himself to the McGregor freight train, it was obvious what was coming and the level of his surprise gives credence to Conor’s suggestion that he left the camp with head trauma as well as a bruised ego and grazed face.
So, for all of the Polar Bear Minks and Drake filling the links. For all the Eejit Bitch jibes and the [email protected] You pinstripes. For all the Handmade Suits and TMT branded Tracksuits…
…Don’t forget that as American playwright David Belasco once said, “Boxing is show business with blood.” – We’ve had the show business and soon there will be blood.
For that, there has to be respect.
Follow G.E. Simons on Twitter @BrawlingWithInk