Brooklyn’s own Paulie Malignaggi is a former two-division world champion who has become boxing’s premier analyst as a broadcaster on SHOWTIME. He’ll be at Barclays Center on Saturday night for the BROOKLYN BOXING tripleheader featuring Adrien Broner vs. Jessie Vargas, Jermall Charlo vs. Hugo Centeno and Gervonta Davis. We caught up with Paulie during a meet and greet at Barclays Center’s BROOKLYN BOXING Pop-Up Shop on Friday afternoon to break down Saturday’s fights and more:
BROOKLYNBOXING.COM: Let’s start by breaking down Saturday night’s fights. What do you think of the headline matchup between Adrien Broner and Jessie Vargas?
PAULIE MALIGNAGGI: It’s a very evenly matched fight. Broner is always a kind of guy that will match up well against ex-super lightweights, those type of weights. I think that’s more of his natural size. I think at welterweight he’s kind of undersized and that starts to play a part in the fight. Against ex-super lightweights he’ll have mixed results only because the other guys will also be world class, and not because they’re too big for him. I really do like this fight a lot for both guys. There’s a lot to prove and it gives it a big viewership. A lot of people get hyped up about a fight like this. I think the action is actually going to live up to it too. Broner’s rarely in a bad fight. But Vargas is also not in many bad fights. I think tomorrow you have an evenly matched fight that will also be fun to watch.
BKBOX: What can we look forward to in the Jermall Charlo vs. Hugo Centeno matchup?
PM: Charlo is really ascending at a fast pace. He looks like the goods. Terrific fundamentals and ability with speed, power. Terrific boxing IQ as well. He’s got a great trainer in Ronnie Shields. Centeno though has been up-and-coming and he’s looking better and better himself. This is a chance for Centeno to have a coming out party, but it’s a tough guy to do it against. But Centeno is a guy who’s been looking better and better. He’s with my ex-trainer Eric Brown who I won a world title with. Eric is no stranger to winning fights as the underdog.
BKBOX: How about the former champs Gervonta Davis and Jesus Cuellar?
PM: Davis is naturally bigger. He was almost going to move up to lightweight not that long ago. So I think the size will also play a factor in this fight. Cuellar is a guy who hurts guys at his weight, but will he be able to hurt a naturally bigger guy in Davis who also stylistically, Cuellar has almost this awkward instability to him. He’s kind of raw. He kind of has his weird half-steps. I think that will fall into play with Davis’ speed and explosiveness. It’s going to be interesting because Cuellar’s tough and he’s durable and he hangs in there and sometimes Davis doesn’t like when you do that, when you hang in there. I really think if Davis is on it could be a performance against a world-class fighter who’s just tailor-made for him stylistically and could make him look really good. It will be interesting to see if Cuellar is able to hang around, what Davis goes for then.
BKBOX: You broadcast Jarrett Hurd’s super welterweight unification split decision win over Erislandy Lara earlier this month. What did you think of the fight?
PM: It was a great fight. I almost felt bad somebody had to lose it. That 12th-round knockdown Hurd really went and got it and it showed that’s why you fight the 12th round so hard, why you’ve got to make sure to close out the show. On the scorecards it wound up being the difference in the fight. It was a fight of the year candidate with a big finish. You can’t really complain about it. I would love to see a rematch. It would be a great fight between two guys that really deserve to be linked together in a fight of the year candidate, and hopefully people will remember that fight for a long time.
BKBOX: Unbeaten Jermell Charlo holds the WBC belt in that division and fights former champ Austin Trout in June. What do you think is next for the super welterweight division?
PM: It still has to be shaken out. I think it shakes out in that they’ve all got to fight each other. Hopefully you’ll start to see that. You’re starting to see them all fighting each other. You’ve made Hurd and Lara. You’re starting to make these fights between these guys and they’re starting to take each other on. If we can see these guys match up against one another, that’s kind of the way you want to see it shape up.
BKBOX: You’ve broadcast recent fights featuring both Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder. What do you see coming up in the heavyweight division?
PM: It’s fun. Obviously the pinnacle fight is Joshua vs. Wilder. But other fights in the heavyweight division, you can mix and match guys around and they will be fun to watch. You’ve got guys like Jarrell Miller, Dillian Whyte, you’ve got guys like even Dereck Chisora and Tyson Fury back in England. You’ve got guys hanging around that can make things fun. I think mixing and matching some of these guys, you have a lot of fun fights besides Wilder and Joshua. Obviously we all want to see Wilder and Joshua.
BKBOX: If they do meet up in the next year or so, how would you break down that fight?
PM: These are both guys that are continuing to improve. They’re going through some learning curves. So it’s hard to really say OK, by the time they get in the ring with each other who’s going to win or who’s going to lose. I think there’s things that both guys will do that are strengths, so both guys can win the fight. I’ve broken them down in various interviews. There’s some tactical, fundamental advantages one guy has over the other and some fundamental, tactical advantages the other guy may have. It’s anybody’s fight. They’ve both shown character, which is a good thing.
BKBOX: At welterweight, Keith Thurman holds two belts, Errol Spence Jr. just made his first defense, and Danny Garcia would surely like another title shot. What does the future hold in that division?
PM: Things are sort of settling in. You’re starting to see Spence and Thurman separating themselves from the pack. Right now Errol’s doing all the work. Thurman has been out of action with the injuries. But I think once Thurman gets back in, people will be excited to see him back and they’ll start building toward that Errol Spence fight. It’s very important that people are patient enough to know that it has to happen when both guys are healthy, because otherwise you get a dud of a fight. I’d rather see both guys healthy and really feeling good and hopefully Keith Thurman’s able to come back and be healthy, because Errol’s been looking great in the meantime and Errol will continue to look great in the meantime. I think when you get the combination of the two things it will make for an explosive fight, a fight of the year candidate.
BKBOX: Is there a boxer right now that you would consider the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter, somebody that deserves that designation?
PM: Vasiliy Lomachenko is the best pound-for-pound fighter for me right now. There’s a lot of good fighters. He’s very smart, athletic, cerebral, talented fighter. But of course, weight classes matter. Even for him, weight classes matter. If he bites off more than he could chew, he’s looking at a risk as well. But for me, he’s the pound-for-pound best.
This interview has been edited and condensed for publication.