Known for his brash persona, slick fighting style and flamboyant outfits in the ring, two-time world champion Paulie Malignaggi has carved out his niche in the contemporary boxing landscape. Malignaggi has fought against Hall of Fame opponents like Miguel Cotto, won world titles at light welterweight and welterweight and is now one of the most respected up-and-coming boxing analysts in the game.
But Malignaggi is not a mere example of style over substance. The Brooklyn native, now 33, has grown up both in and out of the ring. These days, he has taken a more mature approach to the fight game. Malignaggi also likes to take a look back on his humble beginnings as an Italian-American immigrant and never forget how fortunate he has been to find a sport that has helped shaped him into the man he is today. We caught up with Malignaggi on one of his visits to the West Coast to talk about boxing, cars, and his car customization shop, Magic Man Customs.
How did you discover boxing?
When I started to get into a little trouble, my grandfather and my uncle took me to a [boxing] gym to try to keep me out of trouble and give me some direction. I was 16 and never really had anything I cared about before. My grandfather was the biggest male role model I ever had as a kid.
What was your personality like growing up?
I got into my share of scraps. When you’re in school and you’re not the biggest kid, you’re going to get into some fights. I would stand up for myself when I needed to.
What do you love so much about the sport?
Nothing matches the feeling of winning a fight. It only lasts a few moments. When you hear the crowd love you and that adrenalin rush of hearing the announcer calling your name and you holding up that world championship belt.
How’d you get the nickname Magic Man?
I remember my fourth professional fight; my old promoter kind of gave me that nickname right on the spot. And it just kind of stuck.
What fighters were your biggest inspirations in and out of the ring?
Arturo Gatti was a big family favorite. He had a similar story to me. Both our families emigrated from Italy. We both had to struggle our way to a better life. Arturo was someone I definitely looked up to. When I turned pro, I ended up meeting him.
You are known for your slick, elusive fighting style, big personality, and crazy outfits. How did you develop that entire ring persona?
It’s funny because even though Arturo was my role model, he didn’t fight like that. I remember the shake-and-bake fighters like [Hector] Camacho, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roy Jones, Jr. My man Camacho had wild outfits and a wild attitude. I thought to myself, I always had this in-your-face kind of personality anyway. And I’m fast. I can make that translate into the ring. And if you have a little bit of attitude behind it to get the crowd involved. I love that, too.
What’s your mindset when fighting?
I think it’s kind of changed. Early on, there was a lot of emotion. I was angry. Later on in my career, it’s all about being responsible. About being a man, going in there and doing your job. A man does his job and does it well.
Greatest moments in the ring?
When I won the U.S. National Championship as an amateur, I had only been boxing for three years. And then winning my first World Championship in 2007 was a big accomplishment.
Who were your toughest opponents?
My toughest opponent was Miguel Cotto. He was the most complete fighter I’ve faced by far. He wasn’t just a banger.
What is something people may be surprised to find out about you?
As much as people may think I’m that kind of (brash) personality, I do that a lot for boxing. When I’m on my own time, I don’t always act like that. I’d be a real pain in the ass if I acted like that all the time.
How do you feel about your broadcasting career on Showtime? How did you get into that?
It’s pretty amazing. I feel kind of lucky. [Showtime] wanted to try out different fighters, and I kind of aced it. I’ve always loved to talk boxing and analyze fights, even with my friends. I’m a big fan. If there’s a big fight, I want to be there.
Compare nerves when broadcasting vs. nerves when getting in the ring to fight.
I don’t want to sound super-arrogant, but it isn’t that tough. I have a great crew around me. I just talk like I’m talking boxing with my friends. I don’t really get so nervous.
You seem to have a great love of boxing, whether it’s your fight or not. What do you love so much about it?
Sometimes it’s a love/hate relationship. Sometimes I get frustrated with it. But I’m addicted to boxing. If there’s a big fight coming up, I want to be there. Some fights, I can’t just wait to call [as a commentator] or just to watch.
A lot of fight fans from both sides like to pit boxing vs. MMA. What are your thoughts about all that?
I respect both sports. Whether it’s MMA or boxing, they’re both combat for a living. You’re literally bleeding for your money. Putting all of yourself on the line. It takes so much character to put yourself through that. I’ve got to respect that and I give a lot of credit to all those guys.
Tell us about your favorite cars you own.
The best part about owning all these cars is that I worked hard to get what I got. Now that I have some nice rides, it feels really good to know what I did to get here. Just being in my car, I’ll look at the steering wheel at the Ferrari symbol, and I’ll just think, “This is mine! I got it with my fists.” It’s cool to know how far I’ve come. My family came to this country and we were on food stamps. Now I have a house, nice cars and nice things.
A lot of celebrities had to drive some pretty bad rides before they got famous. What’s the worst car you have ever owned?
That’s the thing. I couldn’t even afford the hooptie. I had to ride the bus. I used to take a train to the gym everyday. I didn’t get a car until I after I turned pro.
Where did you get the idea for starting up Magic Man Customs? Was it always a dream of yours to start up a customizing business like that?
My business partner and friend Frankie (aka Future Legend) has always had body shops and has always worked on cars. We’re partners in the Future Legend clothing brand and he asked if I wanted to go in on Magic Man Customs together. It’s been great from the start. At the end of the day, I stand by my brand and people are happy with the results.
Tell us about your personal cars that you have gotten worked on at your shop. How does each of your cars define different aspects of your lifestyle?
Well, the Benz is my everyday car. Years from now, I’m going to look back on it and think, “This car was very good to me!” It’s my most reliable car, but it’s not great in the snow. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great ride for the snow. I’ll have to work on that.
How does the Maserati fit your style?
It’s the hot car to look at, especially during the summer. The Maserati Quattroporte was actually black, but I got it wrapped orange. Frankie literally hand-painted the wheels black with the Maserati symbol in the middle to match the car. You’re going to know it’s me driving down the street.
What kind of mood does your Ferrari F430 put you in when you drive it?
The Ferrari, man, it’s got so much power; it feels like a rocket ship when you drive it. Just the looks I get when I drive it, it feels good. Who doesn’t want a Ferrari? At Magic Man Customs, we do a lot of custom jobs. Paint, wrap jobs, everything. We threw a wrap on my Benz. Its original color is black, but we have it matte grey silver. Next I’m going to do some kind of pearl white for the summer. I want to have rides that make people “break their necks” while looking at them.
So do you have your dream garage in Magic Man Customs?
I pretty much have my dream garage. The only thing that we don’t do in-house is the powder coated wheels; it’s the one thing that we have to outsource. But everything else is done in-house. Once we complete that, then Magic Man Customs will be the garage I’ve always wanted.