By Adam Berlin on December 8, 2013
To lose is human. It’s what a man does with defeat that defines the man. (Naoki Fukuda)

At one point, a fan yelled at Judah, “Zab, you’re fighting like you’re from Yonkers.” A greater NYC insult I haven’t heard…

Brooklyn continued its return to the big-time fight game, courtesy of the Barclays Center, with a main event that featured two Brooklyn veterans. Most refreshing was that both Zab Judah and Paulie Malignaggi entered the ring as multiply-defeated men. In this age of undefeated fighters over-protecting their Os, I was looking forward to seeing two seasoned pros, pugilists who’d fought and lost and learned, display their well-honed skills. 

Zab Judah was coming into this fight with a loss to champion Danny Garcia. In that fight Zab gained respect even as he was losing on points. Garcia dominated the early rounds of their April 27th bout, also at the Barclays Center, then knocked Judah down in the eighth, but the Brooklyn crowd spurred on their hometown favorite and Zab revealed something which had often been absent from his arsenal, namely heart. Judah ended the fight strong, stunning Garcia, and seemed proud of his performance even in defeat. The lesson Zab learned from his not-so-devastating loss: Zab Judah could stand up to pressure.

Paulie Malignaggi was coming off a June loss to champion Adrien Broner.  This Brooklyn Native with his fast feet and hands, and even faster gift of gab, pushed Broner as he’d never been pushed. I disagreed with the split decision verdict, but I credited Malignaggi with making the incredibly gifted Broner look a little less gifted. The lesson Paulie learned that late June night concerned his status as a fighter: Paulie Malignaggi was still smart enough, quick enough, and tough enough to hang with the welterweight elite.

Two men. Both from Brooklyn. Both battle-tested. And both coming off confidence-building losses. The dynamic felt old school in the best way. 

Before the main event, three very competitive bouts were scheduled so kudos to Showtime on two counts—one, for strong matchmaking, and two, for starting tonight’s televised card at 8 pm. The first fight I ever saw was a Saturday afternoon bout, me and my Dad watching Wide World of Sports on TV. At age ten, I wouldn’t have been allowed to stay up for a midnight main-event start time. If the networks are serious about cultivating a new generation of fans for a sport whose fan base is supposedly diminishing, the premium channels might want to consider moving after-dark shows to before-dark timeslots.

The first fight of the evening was between Sakio Bika, a veteran marking his fortieth fight and the first title defense of his super-middleweight belt, and Anthony Dirrell, who came into the bout with an O that wouldn’t go, at least not completely. Sakio Bika is nicknamed “The Scorpion,” but I’ve always thought this an inaccurate ring name for a man who does less stinging and more mauling. Perhaps “The Cockroach” would be a better moniker and I don’t mean this as an insult. Roaches survive on pluck, fighting for survival by any means necessary. That’s how Sakio Bika fights and that’s how he fought tonight. Round 1 saw him throwing haymaker right hands and using his head to butt Dirrell to the canvas. Bika’s wild, swing-for-the-fences shots continued even as Dirrell found success with sharp, short right hands of his own. In the fifth, Dirrell finally cracked the brawling nut by cracking Bika’s jaw. Bika went down hard and while he finished the round on his feet, he was clearly hurt. As Dirrell strutted back to his corner, the man they call “The Dog” played to the crowd, miming a rocker celebrating victory. To Bika’s credit he came out strong in the sixth, didn’t give Dirrell a chance to capitalize, and dominated the fight until the ninth when Dirrell regained command and started scoring with cleaner shots. I scored the tenth for Dirrell as well. In the eleventh Dirrell felt all the ugliness, if not the wrath, of Bika. Anthony was hit on top of the head, which sent him to the canvas. Then he was hit below the belt. Then he was butted and suffered a gash over his eye. Bika was penalized a point, which made the round even on my card since Sakio was the busier man, even if much of that busy-ness was riddled with fouls. The last round was close and so the fight went to the scorecards. I had the fight 114-112 for Dirrell, but the judges disagreed. Scores were 114-112 for Bika, 116-111 for Dirrell and 113-113, a split decision draw. I was glad to see Sakio Bika win a title this June after years of rough toil, but I’m not a big fan of his style and thought Dirrell was the better boxer and sharper puncher tonight. Dirrell’s O didn’t go, but in these days of too many undefeated prospects, a draw has some stigma attached. If nothing else, the rematch, if there is a rematch, will be interesting to watch.

The second main event pitted two pure boxers against each other. Erislandy Lara, whose only blemish is a controversial majority-draw decision loss to Paul Williams, was up against once-defeated Austin Trout, who lost a close decision to Saul Alvarez. This was a match-up of brains over brawn—both of these men are intelligent fighters; both know how to box and make adjustments on the fly. Unfortunately, the Barclays Center fans were in no mood for finesse and the Boos began during Round 1. By Round 3 chants of Booorrriiinnnggg echoed through the arena. Lara is impressive in the angles he offers, in his slashing style, and in his speed. Trout hung tough, taking some shots but slipping many more. For ten rounds there was no threat of danger, and danger, the moment we wait for, the testing moment when a man gets hurt and either fights past the hurt or doesn’t, never came. Then in the eleventh Lara caught Trout with a left on the temple that put Trout on jelly legs, reminiscent of a similar reaction Trout suffered when Alvarez stunned him eight months ago. But Erislandy Lara doesn’t have the killer instinct and so the fight lasted its duration. The scores were a virtual shutout for the Cuban. 

Everything is relative, an adage brought to ring life in the next bout between Shawn Porter, who entered the ring undefeated save for one pesky draw, against Devon Alexander, whose sole loss to Tim Bradley happened almost three years ago. Next to Lara and Trout, the Alexander/Porter bout looked like a battle of heavy hitters, at least in the first round before acclimation set in and truth became clear. Neither man has one-punch knockout power and so there was no imminent danger for either man. Still, there was guts and busy action and lots of blood throughout the fight, first leaking from Alexander’s eye from a head butt in Round 7, then leaking from Porter’s eye from a butt in Round 9. Blood dripped for the rest of the bout. While the fight was competitive, urgency was replaced by routine from the fight’s midway point on. It felt like a story whose driving action falls away too quickly before the end. The moral to this story was a close victory for Porter. He retained his O, but this is one undefeated fighter who will need to work harder and more dramatically to capture our imaginations. 

Deep into the show the Barclays Center looked fairly empty. But when the featured fight of the night got underway, the seats were filled with Brooklyn fans looking forward to seeing a battle for the borough’s bragging rights, and a commemorative belt that would come along with it. 

Zab Judah, with fifty professional fights under his well-worn belt, entered first wearing glittering red and gold trunks. His reception was more muted than I expected. The decibel level rose for Paulie Malignaggi, whose black-and-white trunks were of the Macho Camacho-skirt variety. The Magic Man wore a skeleton-kerchief around his mouth, a strange symbol for a man who had only stopped seven men in thirty-seven fights. When the Brooklynites met at center ring, the similarities were many. Same weight.  Same height. Both heavily tattooed. Zab’s head was shaven. Paulie sported a Mohawk.

The bell rang and Malignaggi went right to work, finding his range with a quick jab. Judah seemed content to stay patient, waiting, assessing his opponent for later rounds. Paulie landed a sharp right mid-round that snapped Zab’s head—both men looked surprised. The other thing Paulie’s face registered was red. Not a single clean shot had landed on Paulie’s mug, but his left cheek was crimson when he walked back to the corner.

In the second Zab started quickly. A left and an outstretched leg put Malignaggi down, and while Paulie sprang to his feet and protested, the ruling stood and the knockdown stayed official. It was a 10-8 round. And at least on my scorecard, it was the last round Judah would win. I expected this to be a very competitive fight—if I’d been forced to put my money where my mouth was, I’d have bet on Judah. I figured Zab to match Paulie on speed. I figured Zab to outmatch Paulie in the counterpunch department. And Zab’s punching power is certainly greater than Paulie’s. I would have bet wrong. 

For the rest of the fight Malignaggi fired stiff jabs from different angles, mixing in the very occasional hook to the body or right to the head. Paulie slashed his way forward, backing up Judah, and Judah never returned fire. I kept waiting for him to pull the trigger, but except for an opening flurry in the seventh, Zab did virtually nothing. When a thumb appeared to get into Zab’s eye, he backed away from the fight and complained to the referee. When Paulie’s red face opened up and bled, Paulie didn’t utter a word. Paulie’s resolve remained intense as he pressed and pressed the action. At one point, a fan yelled at Judah, “Zab, you’re fighting like you’re from Yonkers.” A greater NYC insult I haven’t heard.

Going into the last third of the fight it seemed clear Judah was a shot fighter. At thirty-six, he is three years older than the thirty-three year old Malignaggi. And he had fought thirteen more fights than Malignaggi. Whether or not these numbers told the real story, Paulie had figured out the Judah equation. Rounds nine to twelve were all Malignaggi. Not only was Paulie throwing faster, he was throwing harder. Judah’s body language read defeat. There were moments when the chants of disapproval reached an unintelligible peak—were these boos, or was this a desperate chorus, where boo just happened to rhyme with JU-dah? I couldn’t tell. There were other moments when so little leather landed that the fight became a pantomime of fighting. Then the one-sided action would resume as Paulie piled on points. 

The only dramatic action came in the last seconds of the fight. Zab and Paulie became entangled and fell against the ropes together. Neither man went down and in a strange way it looked as if Brooklyn were helping Brooklyn.  The bell rang and some shoving followed, but it was more show, less violence. Clearly, Zab Judah didn’t want a real fight to break out. For Paulie Malignaggi, he had nothing more to prove.

The final scores were 116-111 and 117-110 twice for Paulie Malignaggi. I had it 118-109.

Paulie had won the Brooklyn belt and it was time for me to get out of Brooklyn. While I waited for the D train to Manhattan, two disgruntled fans were cursing the fight, thankful they hadn’t paid for their tickets. “He didn’t even throw a combination. He didn’t even throw a punch. I’d be pissed if I paid money for that shit,” one man said. The other man nodded his agreement. 

I didn’t pay money either, one benefit of writing about the fights, but for all its one-sidedness, this was still an entertaining fight. I kept expecting Zab to pull the trigger and open up. I kept expecting Paulie to tire. I was impressed, round after round, with Paulie’s persistent jab, impressed with how he ignored the blood and the boos, impressed with a career’s worth of skill in his legs and arms. It was a blowout, but there was enough virtuoso in Paulie’s performance to make it worth watching. The crescendos may have been absent, but the jabs sounded true and compelling notes. 

1 am. The train finally came. During the subway ride home, I thought about the one big difference between these two veterans, one this fight didn’t change. The difference concerns legacy. Potential can be a beautiful word, but becomes sullied quickly if that potential isn’t fulfilled. Zab Judah was a natural-born boxer from a fighting family. He seemed the first-coming of Mayweather when he started his career. Unfortunately for Zab, he never fulfilled his promise, losing almost every time he stepped up. The list of men who beat him is notable: Kostya Tszyu. Floyd Mayweather. Miguel Cotto. Joshua Clottey. Amir Khan. Credit Zab Judah with fighting the best. But discredit him for too often finding a way out of the fight when the fight got too hard. For his part, Paulie Malignaggi was never a natural, not like Zab. Malignaggi proved his grit the first time he stepped up. I was in the Garden the night Cotto beat him and while I expected Cotto to bulldoze the brash kid, Paulie’s guts and skills exceeded my expectations. Malignaggi’s career has continued to exceed expectations as he’s picked up some belts along the way. For the Magic Man potential was never a dirty word. For Super Judah, well, it was; he never fulfilled his super potential—what he could have been muddied a very respectable career. Destined to be great, greatness became the un-crossable mote to the promised land of legends. 

I don’t think either man in tonight’s main event learned any new boxing lessons; neither old dog learned a new trick. And maybe that was the point. Paulie Malignaggi and Zab Judah already know boxing. They have fought and won. They have also fought and lost. Tonight they did battle and displayed, even in hesitancy, a lifetime of skill. Perhaps some of the undercard fighters, tired from their non-televised bouts, freshly showered and sitting comfortably in their ringside seats, their precious Os still intact, recognized in watching these two veterans put on a show that careers do not end with loss. Almost every great fighter has lost at least once, usually much more than once. And most of boxing’s legends are great precisely because they did lose, great because they learned from losing. 

Tonight’s fights were Showtime fights, so the MC at the microphone was Jimmy Lennon, Jr.  But I couldn’t help thinking about HBO while I was thinking of Os.  Whenever two undefeated fighters face off and Michael Buffer is performing at the mic, he makes a big deal barking out how “somebody’s O must go.” The way he says it, he’s missing the point. In Buffer’s intonation the message seems all too clear—the loser will be tarnished forever. But there are nuances to the phrase about Os going, nuances about defeat ruined by Buffer’s blatant delivery. To lose is human. To lose is part of sport.  It’s what a man does with defeat that defines the man. Tonight, two of Brooklyn’s own, with many losses on their ledgers, further defined themselves.

Adam Berlin is the author of the recently published boxing novel Both Members of the Club (Texas Review Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize). His other novels are The Number of Missing (Spuyten Duyvil), Belmondo Style (St. Martin’s Press/winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award) and Headlock (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). His stories and poetry have appeared in numerous journals. He teaches writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and co-edits J Journal: New Writing on Justice. For more, please visit

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  1. Don from Prov 10:31am, 12/09/2013

    “Zab boxed like he had money on Paulie”——

    I like that.  May be old for all I know but I haven’t heard it before.
    Anyway, excellent write-up, Mr. Berlin.

  2. Joe 09:47am, 12/09/2013

    Anthony Dirrell should have actually fought like he wanted to win the title, Trout vs Lara was tough to watch but I thought No Doubt at least made a good effort of it.  The Great showed us just how “normal” he is And the Magic Man vs Super was about what I expected: Zab standing around and Paulie doing all the boxing and counterpunching.  HBO won this weekend’s show in my opinion.  I’ll take Mack the Knife, The Mandigo Warrior and Rigo this go round.

  3. ElCapatazDeCargadores 09:57pm, 12/08/2013

    After reading this article, I watched the Mal-Broner fight and have to conclude that The Magic Man won that one also.

  4. Jay Bulger 04:50pm, 12/08/2013

    Well said.  One of the best fight recaps I’ve read in some time.

  5. Pete The Sneak 01:48pm, 12/08/2013

    Lee, Yonkers is a suburb just outside of NYC called Westchester County, and although it has it’s pretty tough areas, it’s not one of the 5 Boroughs that make up New York City; thus to tell a person from Brooklyn (the hood) that it looked more like the battle from Yonkers is to tell that Brooklyn-ite he is as far removed from representing Brooklyn as someone who lives in Yonkers…Peace.

  6. Lee 12:56pm, 12/08/2013

    NYIrish-Khan with a heavy cockney accent?  A heavy Northern accent more like. Cockney is London mate-although to be perfectly pedantic, one would need to be born within the sound of Bow Bells to be a genuine cockney. I remember a Boston writer making the same mistake with Ricky Hatton calling him ‘this native son of Manchester with his broad cockney accent…’ Hilarious in a word. So, what’s the deal with Yonkers then? The reference is quite lost on me.

  7. Ted 12:31pm, 12/08/2013

    Paulie looked great because he had an immobile shot fighter in front of him. Cano exposed Paulie.

  8. Pete The Sneak 12:00pm, 12/08/2013

    LOL…NY Irish…Yes, I think that’s an appropriate term indeed…Peace.

  9. NYIrish 11:40am, 12/08/2013

    Pete, regarding Trout, I think it’s called mismanagement.

  10. Ted Spoon 11:34am, 12/08/2013

    Solid write up as usual, Adam. I too was impressed with how Paulie didn’t gas; perhaps the fight against Broner served to shake off some rust. That jab has quite the snap at times and he even got his right hand going - not quite the “one-armed bandit” Adrien dubbed him. If Floyd picks another ‘young, hungry lion’ and fights Khan perhaps Garcia could give the Magic Man another shot at the big time. Paulie didn’t just look like a wily veteran but an ambitious one.

  11. Ted 11:25am, 12/08/2013

    Kirkland-Tapia blew Brooklyn away

  12. Pete The Sneak 11:13am, 12/08/2013

    Funny how Zab decided to finally fight one second after the 12th Round…Judah, time to really call it a career…I’ve never seen a person win a world title and remain as calm, lucid and introverted as Shawn Porter…I don’t think Dirrell’s celebrating and running around during the 10 second warning did him any favors…Say what you want about Trout, no one can accuse him of taking easy paydays…While looking at Devon Alexander, I keep thinking geez, facially he reminds me of someone. Then it hit me. He has a slight resemblance to Evander Holyfield…All in all, decent night of fighting in Brooklyn…Peace.

  13. Ted 11:08am, 12/08/2013

    Great recap, though your dislike for Buffer and his hyperbole is becoming a tad more apparent.

  14. Ted 10:48am, 12/08/2013

    Zab need to retire—NOW

  15. NYIrish 10:27am, 12/08/2013

    Zab boxed like he had money on Paulie. Judah got old. He can’t rise to the occasion mentally. Paulie zipped thru a crisp 12 rounds.
    I missed Paulie at the commentators desk. Amir Khan droned on and on. I really like the heavy cockney accent. Maybe they could pull an old drunk out of a pub in the Scottish highlands next time. Fahgettaboutit !

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