(Paulie Malignaggi, left, lands a right hand on Zab Judah; photo credit: Showtime/Golden Boy Promotions)
Paulie Malignaggi was excellent Saturday night on Showtime and Zab Judah was shit. In the battle of Brooklyn, Malignaggi made Judah resemble the Nets.
It was a card where the opening bout, the draw between Sakio Bika and Anthony Dirrell, surpassed everything that came after it, including a one-sided main event; a clinchfest victory for Shawn Porter over Devon Alexander; and a wipeout, low-contact decision for Erislandy Lara over Austin Trout.
PAULIE MALIGNAGGI-ZAB JUDAH
Malignaggi was smart and aggressive from the opening round, and Judah was unenergetic, confused. He was flat, for whatever reason, because he's over the hill or because he was up at welterweight after a long stay at 140, or because he overtrained, or because he's Judah and Judah has disappeared for long sections of his career. And of course Malignaggi's work, backing up Judah, tagging him to the body, jabbing him, keeping him on his heels — that contributed, certainly.
The 2nd round featured a flash Judah knockdown via a left hand, where Malignaggi stumbled backward and his glove touched the canvas. He immediately complained to the ref and then after talked about their feet getting tripped up, but the replays didn't show that happening and basically it was just Malignaggi complaining like he does sometimes. It was the only round I saw Judah winning, despite final scores of 116-111 and 117-110 times two. Malignaggi had more trouble with his trunks, which were like a bath mat he cut a hole in the middle of, and a head butt-induced cut, than he did anything Judah actually did. And the most fire Judah showed came at the end of the 12th, when the two men got entangled and Judah tried to punch an off-balance Malignaggi and Malignaggi took offense.
Malignaggi said in a post-fight interview that he thought about quitting after the "controversial" (in reality, non-controverial) decision loss to Adrien Broner, but that adviser Al Haymon's team said he'd have a big fight waiting if he fought and beat Judah. It's not clear what that might be. He is a marketable fighter in New York, and beatable enough, so he could fit with any variety of top 10 welterweights, many of which are with Golden Boy and Showtime. And I say that he's "beatable enough" with full respect for the quality of this performance. I'm not saying he'd be beaten — only that he offers the right kind of risk/reward balance.
SHAWN PORTER-DEVON ALEXANDER
Porter has hovered for years at the periphery of becoming a quality welterweight contender, but he broke through Saturday against Alexander. It was an ugly fight in some ways, with Porter doing his usual rugged inside thing and Alexander doing his usual punch-some-then-grab thing.
Porter started hot, and even wobbled Alexander in the 3rd with a big right. Usually, Porter hits people a lot without hurting them, but he hurt Alexander in the 3rd and then repeatedly in the 4th. I gave Alexander the 2nd, barely, and didn't give him another until the 8th. Porter began to slow from his furious pace in the 7th, and Alexander won several in a row as a result. But Porter found a second wind in the 11th and 12th, impressing with his hunger. The scorecards of 115-113, 116-112 and116-112 were about right.
Porter is one of those aforementioned Golden Boy welterweights, so put him in the mix for someone like Malignaggi or the winner or loser of Keith Thurman/Jesus Soto Karass and Adrien Broner/Marcos Maidana.
ERISLANDY LARA-AUSTIN TROUT
What was expected to be an evenly-matched bout between two top-notch junior middleweight technicians and a completely unthrilling fight only delivered on half the equation, as Lara dominated Trout from start to finish.
Lara was sharp as a Ginsu knife, something that isn't always the case for the inconsistent Cuban. He moved well, punched accurately and with no wasted motion, and Trout couldn't find him. Trout, himself a natural counterpuncher, tried to force the action and clearly had no clue about how to do it, let alone against a fighter who was pretty used to people being better at trying to force the action against him. The idea that Alfredo Angulo would give Lara so much more hell than Trout doesn't compute, but that dynamic about who could force the action (Angulo) and who couldn't (Trout) probably factored in. Lara was in full control of the fight, was faster and basically did whatever he wanted, including an 11th round knockdown on a left hand that made up for a couple rounds where Lara doing whatever he wanted meant he was doing absolutely nothing.
It sounds weird to say it, but Lara made a case Saturday night for being the most dangerous available opponent for Floyd Mayweather on the competitive merits. The problem is, he made the opposite of a financial case as an opponent for Mayweather. I can appreciate a slick boxer, as can a large swath of boxing fandom. And what Lara did was brilliant, in a way. But he also could've been significantly more aggressive, including after he had Trout in trouble late, and scored a knockout with just the teensiest bit of risk and at least gotten himself some of the respect heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko does among "boring" fighters — he might be methodical, but at least he stops people. Instead, Lara will fruitlessly call out Canelo Alvarez as a result of not building any fan demand for himself.
SAKIO BIKA-ANTHONY DIRRELL
Full disclosure: I missed the first four rounds of Bika-Dirrell and couldn't catch up to them due to a DVR scheduling error, but most people on Twitter seemed to think Dirrell won the majority of them. But he was up big by the 5th, when he dropped the usually undroppable Bika. Bika protested, but he went down from an accumulation of punches and any shoving down that Dirrell did was incidental to the noodle-legged Bika trying and failing to clinch.
Then, though, Bika got even more Bika-esque, going into that foul-intensive, punch-winging mania that makes him both fearsome and frustrating. He won every round thereafter until the 12th, in my book. From the 5th and a few rounds later, the two men took turns doing heavy damage to each other and turning the bout in the direction of a Fight of the Year contender. But both wore down from the heavy exchange of leather, with Bika's body work and roughhousing flustering and slowing Dirrell, and Dirrrell's accurate counters and demonstrated ability for hurtful business making Bika a bit cautious. The 11th was chaotic, as Bika landed a low blow and hit Dirrell while he was down, forcing the ref to deduct a point. Dirrell was being melodramatic and Bika was indeed being rough, which is to say both were being their namesakes. Bika flirted with a disqualification in the 12th as he rammed his forearm in Dirrell's throat until he bent to the ground. Dirrell also spent the last 10 seconds running away with his hands in the air. Some of this besmirched what was an exceptional fight for the most part where both men had to dig deep.
It ended in a respectable draw. Some thought Bika won, some Dirrell, and only the 116-110 card for Dirrell in the split draw was out of whack. The split draw itself, few objected to. If anyone could've used a performance like this to argue for the likes of super middleweight champion Andre Ward with their showings, neither did, but both could be good for basically any other super middleweight contender. The problem is which of them fight on Showtime, and there the well is a bit on the dry side.