How Paulie Malignaggi became boxing’s most flamboyant fighter

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If he had a different last name, Paulie Malignaggi might never have once arrived at a weigh-in wearing only a stuffed elephant over his crotch. And he probably wouldn’t have shown up at another weigh-in a few years earlier slathered in superhero body paint, looking like he was auditioning for a role in a porno spoof of a Marvel flick (“XXX-Men,” anyone?).

Paulie Malignaggi

Paulie Malignaggi and his infamous braids proved troublesome during his 2008 rematch with Lovemore N'dou.

Like peacock plumage with a Brooklyn accent, Paulie Malignaggi has long been one of the most flamboyant dudes in the sport, a man whose ring attire has rivaled the ostentation of Elton John’s early ’80s stage gear, back when he was snorting so much blow that dressing up as a portly, stoned Donald Duck seemed like a really, really good idea.

“Very early on I recognized that putting on a show was important, making people remember me for a lot of reasons,” Malignaggi explains. “I didn’t want people to just remember me as the guy with the messed-up last name they couldn’t pronounce.”

It all started with the first fight card that Malignaggi ever attended, Prince Naseem Hamed’s take down of Kevin Kelly at Madison Square Garden in December 1997.

Early on in the night, future champs Joan Guzman and Ricky Hatton both fought in separate four-round fights.

“I went to the Garden that night, I watched the whole show, and years later, I remembered Joan Guzman being on that card—but I couldn’t remember Ricky Hatton,” Malignaggi recalls. “Ricky was too plain. Joan Guzman had blond yellow dye in his hair and he had this weird style of fighting.

“It dawned on me that maybe if you have a little extra, you’ll stick out in peoples’ minds, because you’ve got to stand out from the crowd,” he continues. “I felt like my something extra could be my ability to be a showman, my ability to speak and speak fast and just be a show-off in a lot of ways.”

And so began a memorable series of fashion statements from Malignaggi, from hair spikier than a pair of golf cleats to gaudy, skirt-like trunks that looked like something that you might have seen in Braveheart had it been directed by Baz Luhrmann.

Perhaps the height—or depths, depending on your perspective—of Malignaggi’s coif-capades was when he had long Rastafarian braids installed prior to his 2008 rematch with Lovemore N’dou.

“I remember putting up a picture on MySpace, and my girlfriend at the time hits me up, she’s like, ‘Are you crazy? That hair’s going to get all in your face when you’re fighting,'" Malignagi says. "And I’m like, ‘Nah, you’re nuts. Lennox Lewis does this all the time. He ties it up and his hair is fine.’”

His lady was right: As soon as the fight began the braids began to fly every which way, coming loose from the tape used to tie them back.

“Honestly, I think against certain other opponents it might have been fine,” Malignaggi says, “but Lovemore N’dou was a real veteran, and he knew what to do with it right away. He just raked that tape right out of my hair as soon as we got into clinches.”

And so between rounds, Malignaggi’s corner furiously hacked off his hair, much to Paulie’s chagrin.

“I didn’t want to cut it at first, because it took six hours to do that hair," he says. "I wanted to rock it for a little bit, man."

Still, through it all, Malignaggi has never blushed, even in hindsight.

“Besides the braids, which could have cost me the fight, there’s never been a look where I’ve said, ‘That was too ridiculous,’” he says. “That was the whole point. What’s the point in doing stuff like that if you’re not going to gain the attention? And you can’t always expect it to be positive attention—matter of fact, it’s probably negative a lot of times.”

Ok, point taken, but c’mon, man, what about that superhero getup in 2011?

“Hey, that was the whole point to look crazy, the card was called ‘Action Heroes,’” Malignaggi says. “I felt that I had the best look for the weigh-in. I went with the whole agenda of the show. Nobody else did that. I felt like I should have been given a little bit more credit instead of people looking back on it and laughing about it.”

Really, though, Malignaggi doesn’t care if you laugh.

After all, you have to pay attention to him in order to do so.

“The whole point of all of it was to be obnoxious, to generate some kind of opinion," he says. "The bottom line is to win,” he continues, before giving voice to ultimate mission statement, “but I always want to stick out in peoples’ minds.”

For complete coverage of Garcia vs Malignaggi, visit our fight page. 

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