By Benjamin Block
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Former two-division boxing champion Paulie Malignaggi is a popular figure once again.
He’s the only acclaimed boxer — ahead of Floyd Mayweather — to step inside the boxing ring to spar with and experience Conor McGregor’s tactics, yet he’s not saying anything about it to anyone.
Malignaggi hasn’t been this significant since he took his 21-0 record into a 2006 fight against a scary Miguel Cotto in his prime. He went on to lose that contest by a unanimous decision, which was the first of eight defeats over a nearly 16-year career. However, his respect in the boxing community never waned, and in retirement, it still hasn’t.
Last week, inside the glitzy Brooklyn Marriott at the weigh-in for the July 29 Adrien Broner-Mikey Garcia fight — a bout where Garcia methodically silenced an overhyped Broner — Malignaggi, now a boxing analyst for Showtime, was the main attraction.
Boxing purists and mixed martial arts fans — looking for any shred of inside information in the lead-up to the Mayweather-McGregor fight — showered Malignaggi with specific questions that he mostly dodged.
Like vultures hanging on his every word, waiting for him to spill some valuable anecdote about what McGregor is like in the ring, Malignaggi divulged nothing that would quench the aching imaginations of the hovering media and combat sports fans.
Instead, he offered conservative sound bites, confirming that as a fighter McGregor is in fact “awkward,” and that while he felt the Irishman’s strength during their sparring, he didn’t have “oh my god” power.
For Malignaggi to even say that is a 180-degree turn from his reaction in December, when upon learning that McGregor had expressed an interest in obtaining a boxing license, Malignaggi tweeted, “I am going to knock the beard off you homie,” citing McGregor’s disrespect for boxing.
McGregor responded to Malignaggi’s attack with, “I don’t know who the f— that is but I’ll slap the nose off him if he ever mentions my name again.”
Months after that trash-talking exchange, McGregor sought out Malignaggi’s services.
So now that the two are cordial and training together for the remainder of camp, Malignaggi has made it clear that he would not gush over any details about McGregor’s approach to the fight until his call on Showtime PPV.
However, on Tuesday an unprovoked Mayweather made things very interesting.
The 40-year-old took to his Instagram account to say that he intends to tell McGregor, “Let’s fight in 8 oz gloves.”
This could be a ploy by Mayweather to persuade more PPV buys on the night of the fight, but if his claim is true, and McGregor accepts, then the whole dynamic of the fight would change.
Gloves two ounces lighter than the originally agreed-upon 10 ounces could give McGregor more than just an outside chance of hurting boxing’s best-ever defensive fighter.
Many arguments have been that 10-ounce gloves would neutralize McGregor’s power, that is to say if he can even squarely land a punch on Mayweather.
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The MMA star, who is used to fighting in 4-ounce gloves in the octagon, responded on Instagram on Wednesday saying: “Pick whatever size gloves you want as well little man. I fight with 4oz. I don’t give a f— about the size of the glove.”
Each day leading up to this fight threatens to break the internet and all its social media platforms, especially since almost everything being said is hearsay.
This leaves the only other person besides Malignaggi who could actually report back with information on McGregor, and that is boxing referee Joe Cortez. Cortez has been brought in by McGregor’s camp to judge his sparring sessions.
But the best insight that Cortez could conjure up, as he told SiriusXM Boxing on Monday, was that McGregor and Malignaggi “got a little bit out of control” during their sparring.
The referee of 40 years had no substantial feedback, or at least none that he was willing to share, after watching McGregor box up close.
So with a little more than three weeks out, and only two unbiased people — Malignaggi and Cortez — that know for sure how real or hollow McGregor’s promises are to knock out Mayweather, the rumors will just continue.
Since sparring is vastly different than an actual fight, any tactics or details that Malignaggi or Cortez could reveal about McGregor would be taken with some skepticism anyway.
The world will just have to wait to unwrap this gift on Aug. 26.
Follow Benjamin on Twitter at @benjaminblock21