The Passion of Paulie Malignaggi: Part I

The hotel room has the thick air of a gym for a reason. The temperature gets oven-like in here—by design—and some stuffiness remains, like that last bit of heat that lingers at dusk as a hot summer day turns to night.

Paulie Malignaggi

Paulie Malignaggi has been juggling his careers as boxer and TV analyst as he prepares to fight Danny Garcia in Brooklyn, New York, on Saturday night.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part look at former two-division champion Paulie Malignaggi as he prepares to battle unbeaten Danny Garcia in Brooklyn, New York, on Saturday in a bout being televised on ESPN.

In one corner sits a man who won’t do much sitting in the weeks ahead. He’s a little ambivalent about that.

Paulie Malignaggi surveys his room high up in the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. It’s where he’s been working out when he doesn’t have time to work out anywhere else.

“I’ll just pump the heat up as much as it can go, put on my layers of clothes and get in a good amount of shadowboxing, jumping rope and doing calisthenics in here,” he says through a light beard as closely trimmed as a putting green. “It’ll be an hour, an hour-and-a-half, but it’ll be intense. I’ll be dripping sweat when I’m done.”

Malignaggi is in town to work as a TV commentator for the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao megafight. At the same time, he’s training for a fight of his own.

He’s become an in-demand boxing analyst, valued for his ability to digest the action swiftly and then distill his insights with an almost reflexive quickness, his personality juicing the broadcast like verbal Red Bull.

Color commentating has developed into a full-time gig for Malignaggi—and then he went and decided to fight again.

It all began this spring, when he announced that he was returning to the ring for the first time since suffering a painful knockout loss to Shawn Porter in April 2014, which left him concussed and unable to work the fight card he was scheduled to call the next week.

On Saturday in his native Brooklyn, New York, Malignaggi will take on former 140-pound kingpin Danny Garcia, an undefeated fighter with the durability of a steel-belted radial who is stepping up to 147 pounds.

Following his loss to Porter and his fast-growing popularity as a commentator, Malignaggi wasn’t sure he’d ever fight again.

He likes the broadcasting game—it comes to him as naturally as his next breath—but he began to miss the thrill of fighting in front of big crowds, the way it goosed his adrenal glands, that unbeatable high of having the referee clutch his wrist and raise his hand in victory. It’s intoxicating.

But now, Malignaggi has to balance working as commentator full time with the demands of getting ready for a fight, all while living out of hotel rooms, flying into a different city on a near-weekly basis and trying to stay on weight in the face of fatty in-flight pastrami sandwiches.

For a guy who’s traveled to Eastern Bloc countries to take on hometown favorites in front of hostile crowds, fought with a broken hands, broken orbital bones and who once even had a fight marred by an unfortunate hair-extension incident, this may be his stiffest test yet.

“It’s been a bit more of a challenge than even I thought,” he acknowledges. “It’s hard to put into words.”

This from a man who can put just about anything into words.

Outside the window that he’s perched next to, the casino’s rooftop roller coaster can be seen making its way up the tracks before plunging fast into a hard turn. It’s a fitting visual metaphor for Malignaggi’s life these days.

To get a sense of how hectic things have become for Malignaggi, here’s a quick breakdown of a typical day in his atypical life: On the Wednesday before the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, Malignaggi is up at 6:45 a.m. for a segment on Britain’s Sky TV. He then gets a workout in before covering the fight press conference at 2 p.m. From there comes an appearance on Fox Sports 1, then another workout, followed by a production meeting with Showtime before ending the day with yet another workout.

“Every day is a different grind,” he says. “Workout, meeting, workout, meeting. You’re trying not to eat too much in between, you’re trying not to overhydrate and put on too much water weight. You get thirsty, you get hungry, you’re like, ‘Man, I just want to eat right now.’ But instead of eating, you have to work out, which is the opposite of eating.”

Eating right while on the road is a challenge, especially with all the crew meals and dinner gatherings, which Malignaggi often has to skip.

“You kind of have to isolate yourself, have your own little healthy meals,” he says. “You go into your shell in a way, but it’s part of focusing for a fight. Part of that is sometimes having to stray off and be a loner, eat by yourself, count your calories on your own.”

Temptation is everywhere, especially in this setting.

“You walk through the casino and there’s great food all around you,” he says. “When you’re making weight you’re always hungry, and then you’re constantly walking past good meals. It’s enough to drive you mad.”

It’s the culinary equivalent of being at a strip club: Ogle all you want, just don’t touch. But Malignaggi is staying focused.

Hanging at a sandwich shop earlier, he leaves with a fruit cup.

This is just another test in a life full of them.

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

Coming Tuesday: Part II of The Passion of Paulie

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