Mouth for war: How Paulie Malignaggi became one of boxing’s most in-demand analysts

Paulie Malignaggi’s voice is like a see-through dress: It hides nothing while revealing just about everything.

Paulie Malignaggi

Paulie Malignaggi, shown here with CBS broadcast partner Kevin Harlan, calls the action as breathlessly as he fights. He'll provide ringside analysis for CBS from Corpus Christi, Texas, on Sunday. (Lucas Noonan/Premier Boxing Champions)

It’s a bullhorn of emotion, a record spinning at 78 rpm, his words often delivered at speeds more frequently associated with redlining tachometers than 34-year-old Brooklynites.

Whatever Malignaggi’s feeling, you feel.

When he gets excited, which is often, his needle-sharp voice not only palpably conveys as much, but it almost seems to further ramp up his enthusiasm—to cloud-abutting heights.

What distinguishes Paulie Malignaggi as a boxing analyst is not only his understanding of the minutiae of prizefighting, but the ability to deliver his analysis in a way that’s as kinetic and fast-moving as the action taking place inside the ring.

There’s plenty of fighters, trainers and boxing insiders alike with a deep knowledge of the sport and the ability to offer their share of insights.

But boxing is a blood-and-guts sport, and Malignaggi, who calls the PBC on CBS card Sunday from Corpus Christi, Texas, conveys all that human drama in an astute, yet stirring way with no filter on his own emotions.

“I think what these networks like is that I have a knowledge for boxing, but they also like that my passion comes out in my broadcasting,” he says. “You can see that I legitimately enjoy breaking down the action and teaching people.”

Ultimately, none of this would matter if Malignaggi wasn’t just plain fun to listen to, though.

A big part of what makes his commentating work so well is that you feel like you’d be hearing him say the same things—with a few more F-bombs, maybe—if you were perched next to him at a neighborhood bar as he watched the fight with a beer-loosened tongue—a tongue he’s loathe to bite.

“Personality sells,” Malignaggi says, having cashed plenty of checks on the basis of said personality. “Everybody wants to be a suit these days, wants to fit the mold, but I’ve always had the I-don’t-care attitude. I think it’s a New York thing, an Italian thing.”

Malignaggi’s broadcasting career began almost by happenstance.

It was September 2012 and he was training in Los Angeles for a fight against Pablo Caesar Cano the following month.

He got a call from Showtime to see if he wanted to be a guest commentator during Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s fight with Josesito Lopez.

Showtime was bringing in different fighters to help call the action each broadcast—trying them out, essentially—after parting ways with Antonio Tarver for a time.

The fight was in Las Vegas, an hour flight from L.A., so why not?

“I went, did the show, we went off the air, and the producers and Stephen (Espinoza, head of Showtime boxing) literally came from the truck and were like, ‘So when are you going to stop boxing and come work for us?’” Malignaggi recalls. “I was like, ‘Whoa.’”

From that moment, Malignaggi began to field more and more offers for broadcasting work even as he continued fighting.

Although he lost to Danny Garcia in Brooklyn last month and pondered retirement afterward, Malignaggi will step into the ring at least one more time. On September 26, he will fulfill a lifelong dream of fighting in Italy, where he lived much of his early childhood, in a six-round bout against an opponent to be determined.

But first comes this weekend's CBS duties. Malignaggi's approach to broadcasting is an informal one: He doesn’t take notes on the fighters beforehand, and he doesn’t rehearse what he’s going to say. He’ll check out the fighters’ records, see how they’ve done in the past against various types of opponents, maybe do a little reading up on them, but not too much to influence his thinking, he says.

And then, it’s on.

Time for Paulie to be Paulie.

“The problem with a lot of TV analysts is that they think they’re the stars, so when it comes time to criticize, they don’t know how to word it correctly and it comes off almost as being rude,” he says.

“You have to word things in a non-arrogant way when you’re a broadcaster and you’re criticizing a boxer. I understand what it’s like to be a star inside the ring, so I’m not out there trying to be a star when I’m the broadcaster.”

And yet, that’s what he’s become.

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