By John Torenli
Between much-anticipated sold-out shows featuring Barbara Streisand and Justin Bieber, the Barlcays Center will serve as Brooklyn boxing's center stage on Oct. 20.
And Paulie "The Magic Man" Malignaggi fully intends to be the main event on that historic night.
The Bensonhurst native visited the soon-to-be-finished state-of-the-art arena on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues last Friday, to build interest for what he hopes will be the first defense of his newly captured WBA Welterweight title.
"Even after I won it, I didn't think about the belt," said the 31-year-old Malignaggi, who won the championship with a TKO of previously undefeated Vyacheslav Senchenko in the Ukraine on April 29. “I was just thinking ‘Barclays.’ I stepped back in the dressing room after, and Robert Diaz from Golden Boy [Promotions] was like, ‘Barclays! Here we come!’ And I was like, ‘Yup — that’s right!’ We were talking about it all the way back in Ukraine, but now we’re here. I would be very surprised if I wasn’t the headliner, I’ll tell you that."
So, apparently, would Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment President and CEO Brett Yormark, who hasn't yet crossed the t's and dotted the i's on a potential Malignaggi title defense, but would appear very close to doing so, especially when considering the arena's three-year deal with Golden Boy, which signed the Brooklyn-bred pugilist last year.
"Our goal — nothing has been determined yet — is to have Paulie defend his title here in Brooklyn," said Yormark while Malignaggi took his tour of the Barclays with a white construction helmet over his trademark spiked hair. "What better place? This building is an aspirational venue for anyone that's ever called Brooklyn home. Our goal is for people growing up on boxing to one day say, 'I want to box at the Barlays Center'."
Malignaggi is way past just wanting to box at the arena, he's already campaigning for his opponent in fellow Brooklynite Dmitriy Salita, an Orthodox Jewish fighter who will provide a natural drawing card against the Italian-American Malignaggi.
"This is a throwback fight to the days when the arriving immigrants to America would fight each other in the ring," said Salita's advisor, Eli Tov. "This is a Jew fighting an Italian."
"I think me and Dmitry would be a huge event in Brooklyn," noted Malignaggi, who boasts a 31-4 career record compared to Salita's 33-1-1 mark.
Regardless of whom Malignaggi ultimately steps into the ring with that night, the first pro card at the arena promises to draw a packed house, especially since the bout will precede the Nets' inauguaral opener at Barclays sometime in November. For Malignaggi, fulfilling the dream of defending his title on his home turf is something he's admittedly been envisioning for years.
“I was picturing it as soon as I walked in,” Malignaggi said. “The cool thing about the arena is it seems like everything is right on top of you. It gives it a real homey feeling, and it will make it real tough for anyone visiting to fight here.”
Malignaggi has staged quite a comeback following a potentially devastating defeat against Amir Khan at Madison Square Garden just over two years ago. Known for his quick wit and way with words, Malignaggi appeared headed for a career as a ringside broadcaster, but his love for the sweet science wasn't quite squelched. He rebounded from the Khan loss — his third in five bouts — to win four straight fights, including April's title tilt in the Ukraine.
"It's almost like bonus time," Malignaggi said of his recent renaissance. "I'm just going to enjoy it."