No ’08 bang, just Malignaggi

Dec 31, 2007 5:59 AM

The New Year does not begin with a bang.

The first major fight is between one guy named Paulie and another named Herman. They obviously punch up to their names. Paulie Malignaggi has all of five knockouts on his 23-1 record. Herman Ngoudjo has nine stoppages on his 16-1 record, but eight of them came in his first nine bouts — the usual padding.

The bout in Atlantic City begins the year on the major networks. In this case, it is Showtime. Malignaggi is a pleasure to watch for us purists. The trash-talking Brooklynite from my old Bensonhurst neighborhood is quick-handed, quick-footed and hard-chinned. He just can’t punch much, possibly because of chronic bad hands.

Thus, he can not be highly recommended when you have to lay 6/1 against anyone. Herman is not anyone in particular, which means taking the 4/1 buyback odds on him is not the greatest financial decision you’ll ever make.

Ngoudjo’s lone loss came last year on a split decision to Jose Luis Castillo, who was well on his downward slide. Ricky Hatton went through him in four rounds in the former lightweight champion’s next start.

The man from Cameroon, who has made his boxing home in Montreal, came back with a 12-round split decision over hard-hitting, but long-in-the-tooth Randall Bailey.That was last June.

Malignaggi hasn’t fought since then, either. He captured one of the so-called junior welterweight title belts from Lovemore N’Dou, who appears on the Jan. 5 undercard in Atlantic City.

There’s a good reason Malignaggi is such a big favorite. He’s finally gained recognition as a superior craftsman. The Magic Man is not just bling and flash. He showed his solid foundation in his sole professional defeat, going 12 tough rounds with Miguel Cotto with bad hands.

Surgery has helped, but I still don’t think we’ll ever look upon the artful Brooklyn dodger as anything but manos de guacamole.

Hey, Willie Pep wasn’t much of a puncher. Neither was Pernell Whitaker. Until he landed that left hook moving backwards to topple Ricky Hatton, we didn’t think much of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s power potential.

If I had to bet this fight, I’d have to take Malignaggi, despite the fact that he went to rival New Utrecht High School (like Larry Merchant, Sandy Koufax and Vic Damone. I went to Lafayette).

At least he got kicked out, same way as he got kicked out of his house.

Malignaggi, who had to sleep on the streets on occasion, is now on the cusp of big money. He is looked upon as a major "opponent" for Hatton’s first fight post-Mayweather, a sure sellout at Madison Square Garden.

Another British 140-pound belt holder, Junior Witter, would be another nice payday.

Thing is, Malignaggi could win both of these and then face guys moving up, perhaps Juan Diaz or even Manny Pacquiao.

Ngoudjo is not going to lie down. He and Malignaggi have gotten into a rather vicious shouting match. Besides that, Ngoudjo is attempting to become the first from his West African nation to win a world title.

It’s a long year — longer than usual (there being a Feb. 29 in it). So, there’s no need to rush into action. The following weekend is dark, as far as big TV fights are concerned.

The week after is that silly old-timer’s night presented by a man who’s really looking old, Don King. I mean, Roy Jones Jr. and Felix Trinidad Jr. are old enough to know better. So is the world’s greatest promoter, who has padded this pay-per-view doo-doo with a couple of other bad matches.

So while we pay off those holiday bills, we can rest assured that better things are coming, starting in February. In the meantime, you can look forward to my revised top 25 list of "pound-for-pound" fighters next week. Yes, Floyd is No. 1.