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Paulie Malignaggi, Millennials and Social Media

Paulie Malignaggi, Millennials and Social Media

With the most anticipated sideshow of 2017 just over a week away, you may have noticed another name cropping up time and again whenever the topic of Mayweather vs McGregor is discussed, that of Showtime Analyst Paulie Malignaggi.

Malignaggi, a 2 time world champion who fought the prime of his career through the mid to late 2000’s has deservedly taken his place at the top table of boxing analysts in the last 3 years thanks largely to his work initially with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions then later with Sky Sports and Showtime Boxing. 

The Brooklyn born Italian American burst into public consciousness during his epic bout with Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden on June 10 2006 and soon thereafter fight fans worldwide came to realise his mouth was as fast as his jab.

Today we know Paulie, once portrayed as a brash, cocksure young athlete, as someone who although still not afraid to shoot from the hip at any given moment, has benefited from various media platforms to reinvent his image into that of an eloquent, intelligent and articulate individual renowned for the ability to talk the viewer through a fight in a fashion that educates rather than patronises them.

The great Australian cricket commentator Richie Benaud once proclaimed “The key thing is to learn the value of economy with words and to never insult the viewer by telling them what they can already see”. 

Anyone who has had the pleasure of listening to Paulie talk about the sweet science whether it be on TV or his successful podcast “From Brooklyn to the World” that debuted back in 2015 alongside his lifelong friend and corner man Peter Sferrazza (affectionately known as “Peter Cards”) or conversing with any of his 188k Twitter followers knows that he stands alone in his ability to explain to a viewer not only what it is they are watching but why it is happening, pointing out the intricacies of footwork in a battle between an Orthodox fighter taking on a Southpaw opponent, explaining why fighters gear up and down over the course of a 12 round battle, how a fighter uses level changes or ways to close distance.

When you experience this level of analysis you leave that little bit smarter for it.

Anyone that watches Paulie the analyst may question if this is indeed the same individual that was involved in verbal sparring sessions with former foe Adrien Broner that wouldn’t have looked out of place on The Real Housewives of New York.  Is it the same flamboyant individual that had to have his dreadlocks cut off by his trainer mid fight in Manchester in 2008? 

For those who may point to that being a younger Malignaggi, one finding his way in the world and still experimenting and growing as a person, you would be correct but he was never simply the loud mouthed New Yorker the press painted him to be – he was a student of the game from the off, one that knew that talent only takes you so far and understood what was required to stand out in a sport built on hype, knowing that one loss can condemn you to the “has been” or “never was” scrap pile in the eyes of the paying public.

That attitude is one that Malignaggi has been extremely vocal about on his various platforms within the last few years, the idea that anyone involved in boxing whether it be the media, the fans or fighters themselves not being so quick to dismiss a losing fighter, knowing what it takes to reach the elite level and that very few even make it that far but those that do risk never truly being recognised or rewarded for their greatness once they experience the despair of a loss. 

Malignaggi understood quickly what it took to become noticed to not only get to the top but to stay relevant once he arrived.  Gifted with quick wit and a quicker mouth, he knew to exploit it, ramp it up to 11 when the cameras were rolling and to add some flare to the physical appearance.   This has to be in the fighter to begin with of course, it cannot be manufactured as Paulie pointed out when he fought Broner back in 2013, the paying public can easily see through a forced façade.

"It's gotten a little bit crazy, we'll admit that. I can take some of the blame, but I can't take all of it. I can only apologize for my end, but at the end of the day, this is how the creation of Adrien Broner happened, in my opinion. They put everything that's wrong with boxing in one room, did everything that's wrong with boxing in that room and gave birth to Adrien Broner and you people are eating it up.” – Malignaggi on Adrien Broner (2013)

 The financial implications for losing fighters can be devastating with promoters, networks and fans baulking at parting with their money for a fighter deemed not worthy solely because of a blemish on their record to another elite level fighter.  Boxing receives a lot of criticism for fighters wanting to protect their records and for opponents being cherry picked through different federations but can they really be blamed given the alternative?

In a sport where there not only has to be a winner and a loser but the participants are putting their lives on the line every time, you can understand the frustration and the ideology that they should be compensated more so if anything than athletes who play team sports where games are decided by points scored and not physical abuse, employed by leagues that will compensate them with pension funds, healthcare and financial guidance yet fighters have none of this and no guarantee of a pay cheque past their previous fight.

Self-promotion and personality in the fight game can be the fine line that catapults and separates one individual from another of similar talent. Make the money while you can, get in and get out.  What sounds so simple very rarely comes to fruition for someone possessing that so called X factor required to capture the attention of a worldwide audience. Muhammad Ali had it in the 60’s & 70’s, Mike Tyson had it in the 80’s, Floyd Mayweather had it in the 00’s.  2013 saw the emergence of the man MMA had been waiting for… enter Conor McGregor.

McGregor’s rise in a 4 year span from a fighter that couldn’t afford to pay £250 for a walk out song to one that will receive the thick end of £100m for his upcoming bout in a sport he has never participated in as a professional is a freakish anomaly, likely to never be repeated. 

His method: Being the right guy in the right place at the right time.  “Mystic Mac” has used every trick in the book to promote and exploit himself a sport still in it’s infancy by borrowing tried and tested methods used by the likes of Mayweather himself that he borrowed from Ali who looked to Superstar Billy Graham for inspiration.  The difference between those gentlemen and the Irish superstar is that his time has coincided with the age of millennials and the era of social media being king.

Through his charming yet spiteful wit, flashy lifestyle and twinkle in his eye, this heavy handed assassin has managed to garner the attention and obtain the interest of people who would struggle to pick Jon Jones or Anthony Joshua out of a line up.

McGregor knows every soundbite or clip he puts out from his own accounts reach instant audiences of 5.4m on Twitter and 16.7m on Instagram and he is very calculated with what and when he chooses to provide content.  When he does, it is lapped up.  It goes viral. Quickly.

UFC President Dana White and Commentator Joe Rogan have been quoted numerous times attributing the growth and success of MMA partially to the inherent nature within our DNA to crave violence and bloodlust, combine that with the accessibility of instant information and the platforms of soundbites and highlights that are Twitter/Instagram/Facebook/Vine/YouTube and you have a networking environment that does the marketing for you.

This past fortnight, the 2 week countdown to the August 26th bout, an important period in any promotion schedule for an upcoming PPV bout trying to entice any potential buyers has seen McGregor’s camp and Dana White release edited video content from a sparring session between the two alleging that McGregor knocked down Paulie who himself had previously stated he had been pushed to the ground in the session.

The Showtime Analyst, employed to be part of the comms team on the 26th was invited to camp by Conor to “make him pay” for comments about his transition from the Octagon to the Boxing Ring.  “Look 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.”

The aftermath has been nothing short of farcical with thousands of fans using their 140 characters to dictate that their opinion is fact, McGregor’s army of fans dictating that a 20 second clip determines that McGregor is the future king of the sport and telling the 2 time world champ in no uncertain terms that he is a bum and was just another circus clown to be toyed with at the Ringmaster’s disposal.

For every calculated tweet McGregor puts out he reaches 28 people to Malignaggi’s 1 based on their Twitter followers alone.  Add White’s reach into the mix, a man with a vested financial interest not only in this fight but in keeping his company’s one and only true cash cow happy for future revenue and this increases by a further 4.7m Twitter followers and another 2.5m on Instagram.

Floyd Mayweather, master of promotion in the boxing world over the last decade has had to do next to nothing this past month with the promotion taking care of itself via the leaks, the snipes and through Paulie choosing to reciprocate the verbal warfare with McGregor’s legion of admirers, many of whom would not old be enough to remember the Brooklyn pugilist in his prime.  

Amongst the remarks that come the way of Malignaggi are those that relate to his record of 36-8 with only 7 KO’s.  Suffering from hand problems from very early days into his professional career he had to adapt his style, utilising his excellent jab and using every bit of his boxing nous to dictate fights.  He holds the record for his losses coming against the highest overall ranking of opponents of any fighter for fights at world title level which shows the calibre of his “level”.

Ask former Mayweather foe Manny Pacquiao, results, forever etched on a permanent record in a Win-Loss column with no description of whether a result was terrible/rigged/misjudged cannot be amended and the fighter is the one that has to live with it being a reflection of a lifetime’s work. 

Whether or not an everyman with access to social media who can’t articulate what a check left hook is should be free to offer their judgement and opinion to someone who has dedicated their life to a sport and strives to educate the masses is fair is up for debate but it is certainly now commonplace pre and post-fight night and will be utilised furthermore as a cog in the publicity machine.

Floyd Mayweather was earlier this week asked about the fight by ESPN: “This isn’t a fight, it’s an event” and he is correct.  Saturday August 26 sees a night of sporting theatre, a season finale preluded by 12 weeks of build-up and intrigue, consisting of feuding clans (some dressed as Leprechauns), hidden agendas, deceit and wealth ultimately resulting in one King invading another’s land hoping to dethrone his enemy.

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