By: Jesse Donathan
Things didn’t exactly go as planned this past weekend at Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) for Paulie Malignaggi, with “Magic Man” coming up short on the judge’s scorecards in a unanimous decision loss to former UFC mixed martial artist and Conor McGregor confidant Artem Lobov. The notoriously bad blood between McGregor and Malignaggi helped set the stage for Malignaggi’s showdown with “The Russian Hammer” Lobov, which ultimately found its roots in leaked sparring sessions to the press of selectively edited footage between the Irishmen and “Magic Man” depicting McGregor getting the better of the exchanges in the leadup to McGregor’s mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Bitter and embarrassed, Malignaggi has went on a public relations campaign to set the record straight about McGregor since and has had quite a bit to say about MMA’s fervent fanbase along the way. “I think of it like, thank god that this fan base in MMA is so (expletive) stupid that they actually have made this possible,” Malignaggi told MMAFighting.com. “They’re very cartoonish, very out there,” said Malignaggi in comparing mixed martial arts fans to their professional wrestling counterparts.
In the aftermath of Malignaggi’s “wafer-thin” loss to Lobov, mixed martial arts fans across the internet had a field day with the Brooklyn, New York native. The promotional ground work Malignaggi laid in the leadup to the fight with Lobov obviously effective, with Malignaggi reportedly being crushed by the fight world in the aftermath of his defeat. This was a public relations success for BKFC despite the otherwise lackluster main event performance and one which will surely pay dividends later down the line.
The first round between Malignaggi and Lobov was little more than a feeling out process, there wasn’t much in the way of action from either fighter and a pretty good case could be made for it being scored 10-10 as a result. Things would start to pick up in the second, with Malignaggi coming alive and putting his hands on Lobov’s face. The fact of the matter is the entire fight was kind of disappointing, but the second and third rounds belonged to Malignaggi who was the more active fighter in the ring. The last two rounds however were quite obviously Artem Lobov rounds, with the Russian showing a pulse at the beginning of the fourth stanza and doing enough to steal the round 10-9.
The fifth and final round was also obviously a Lobov round, with Malignaggi putting little together in the way of offense which may have been the result of his notoriously fragile hands breaking. Despite little to no offense, Malignaggi displayed great footwork but with his lack of offensive output it’s difficult to come to any other conclusion than it being a 10-9 Lobov round.
In determining the outcome of the fight, I would score it a draw personally though it likely does boil down to how one perceives the results of the opening two minutes of the fight. Unfortunately, the judges saw it differently with Artem Lobov winning a unanimous decision victory, leaving Malignaggi in disbelief, searching for answers. The former junior welterweight and welterweight champion reportedly signed a two-year contract with BKFC according to ESPN, but following his loss to Lobov Saturday night the former two-division champion once again hung up his gloves.
It was an uphill battle for Malignaggi from the start, the aging 38-year old former champion has a lot of miles on the road and is at the twilight of his career. Having already retired once, everyone knew Malignaggi didn’t have much left in the gas tank and as such leaving the arena Saturday night victorious without having stopped Lobov dead in his tracks simply wasn’t going to happen. Always a fighter to wear his heart on his sleeve, the vibrato coming from a retired but victorious Malignaggi in maligning the remaining fighters under BKFC contract wouldn’t have been nearly as much of a promotional success as the alternative. And the rest is history as they say with Malignaggi riding off into the sun set with some very hard pills to swallow for his efforts.
Interestingly, earlier in the night reports surfaced on social media indicating not everything was on the up-and-up at BKFC 6 prior to the main event. According to reports, “Rumor has it Paulie had something on his hands and got caught,” reads the social media post originating from former UFC juggernaut Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.
“Commission and president of Bare Knuckle seen rushing to the back where the locker rooms were once they heard about the incident…Came back with a disappointed look on their face,” reads another post from the verified Instagram account.
“If you’re going to hide something, this is the place,” said Freddie Roach in a November 12, 2010 NYTimes article titled, “Hand Wraps Draw Boxings Eye, and Scrutiny,” by author Greg Bishop. Though a bare knuckle contest, the athletes fighting under the BKFC banner were required to wear hand wraps for additional support.
Whether it was loaded wraps or not, a bareknuckle version of plaster of Paris, it’s tough to say. The fight obviously went on as scheduled and ultimately played out a success as social media was alive in dancing over Malignaggi’s grave after the former two-division world champion talked himself in front of the firing squad. Whether Malignaggi was purposely working the promotional angle or simply being himself, the end result was the same. “Magic Man” will be on the lips and tongues of fans for long to come as the road Malignaggi paved for BKFC continues to draw interest from both the boxing and mixed martial arts communities fascinated with the blast from the past.