Last month, Paul “Magic Man” Malignaggi vacated the International Boxing Federation junior welterweight champion title, which he’s held for the past year and successfully defended three times, so that he may fight the welterweight world champ, the great pug-faced hope of Britain, Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton. Nov. 22, MGM Grand, HBO. A seven-figure payday. He’s arrived.
Only Little Paulie doesn’t see that way. He wants the world to know his name.
Mr. Malignaggi, 27, has come a long way from throwing dice and cutting class at New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst—starting with a pair of Golden Gloves in ’98—but the fact that everyone from back in the day had bet on him losing still weighs on him something awful. It’s the reason he decided to wear his hair in dreadlocks on fight night back in May. Manchester Stadium, 56,000 crazed soccer blokes turned out to see hometown hero Hitman Hatton duke it out with Juan Lazcano. The Magic Man, filling the undercard slot, was defending his title against the man he took it from the year before, South African slugger Lovemore N’dou.
Mr. Malignaggi came out dancing, shimmying the shoulders, shadow-boxing and shaking around the giant mop on his head. Here I am! he was trying to say.
“I’ve always colored my hair and come up with weird hairdos,” said Paulie before biting into a “Champion Slice,” made with lasagna sauce and named in his honor, at his favorite pizzeria, Portobello’s in Tribeca, a few Saturdays ago. “It’s about letting people know I’m here. I had it tough getting here.”
He was born in New York but soon after moved to Sicily, where his dad was trying to make it as a pro soccer player. His parents split when Paulie was 6, and his mother took him to Brooklyn. They had it rough. Sometimes crackers were all there was for dinner. Mama remarried, to a bully who liked to push Paulie around. Eventually they had a fight and he was sent to live with his grandparents. After he was expelled from high school for fighting, grandpa walked him over to Gleason’s Gym.
“A lot of people didn’t believe in me,” Mr. Malignaggi said.
He won the Manchester bout in a split decision, but in a tragic turn of events, his weave stole the show. The damn ties kept coming out. Fake hair was flopping in his eyes when N’dou rocked him with two big right hands in the seventh. His trainer Bobby McGirt gave Paulie a quick trim between rounds. Brooklyn pretty boy suffers hairdo malfunction—the Brit crowd ate it up!
“It got a bit out of hand,” Mr. Malignaggi said.
There will be no braids when he comes out of the tunnel on Nov. 22 at MGM Grand, but maybe he’ll pull out the platinum Mohawk he sported while mopping the mat with N’dou the first time. Paulie loves fashion and he’s not afraid to admit it.
“But now that I’m grown up, I like the trendy look … flashy jewelry.” He gestured at the rope of diamonds around his neck and the giant diamond watch on his wrist. “I like the classier look. Dressier sneakers, shoes, button downs …”
He’s done some modeling, dressing up for Details and Esquire and ad campaigns. “I’m very confident in my looks,” Mr. Malignaggi said. “I have no problems with the opposite sex, believe me. I am very confident in my sexuality. I have no problem modeling. I know I’m a fighter. I have nothing against homosexuals. I’m not saying I’m against them, but I’m saying the masculine part of me shouldn’t be confused.