By John Torenli
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Paulie Malignaggi did the unimaginable Saturday night at the Barclays Center. He won the fight, but lost the crowd.
The 31-year-old Bensonhurst native followed decisive wins by fellow Brooklynites Danny Jacobs, Dmitry Salita and Peter Quillin by eking out a controversial split decision victory over Mexico's Pablo Cesar Cano, causing an uproar in the state-of-the-art arena, which hosted the first night of championship boxing in our fair borough since the 1930s.
Malignaggi, who didn't have his WBA welterweight title on the line after Cano failed to make weight Friday, was a 118-109 loser on one of the judges' cards while taking the other two by a narrow 114-113 score. He even suffered a humbling knockdown in the 11th round, getting caught by a sharp right hand by the bloodied but game Cano, who fought through a nasty cut over his left eye.
The crowd, which was electrified after watching Quillin knock France's Hassan D'Nam down six times en route to grabbing a share of the middleweight crown, had come to see their hometown boy bring in a new era of Brooklyn boxing with a masterful performance.
Instead, they got a tight fight, which could have gone either way, and seemed to turn in Cano's favor when Malignaggi hit the canvas.
But the "Magic Man" quickly got to his feet, staved off further attacks from Cano and left the ring with a key victory as he tries to set up his next bout against popular British pugilist Ricky Hatton in London next year.
"I thought I won the fight," Malignaggi exclaimed over the torrent of boos reigning down from the sparse but animated crowd. "I don't think [the decision] was controversial by any means."
Malignaggi may have a point.
Though Cano seemed the stronger fighter at the end, the quicker, more skilled Malignaggi appeared to consistently outpoint him in the early rounds, clearly dictating the pace. But Cano came back with a fury, despite blood soaking his face throughout the evening. He stunned Malignaggi with a solid right in the fourth and clearly landed the bigger power shots as the bout progressed.
For Malignaggi, who had pointed to this night almost two years ago when he signed with Golden Boy Promotions, the result was what he wanted and needed, but the effort was admittedly lacking.
"This was the first show in Brooklyn in 80 years, so It was disappointing that I didn't knock him out," noted the champ, who seemed stunned when the partisan crowd turned against him during an interview in the ring with SHOWTIME's Jim Gray.
Of course, there was a strong Mexican contingent in the arena, many of whom had come to see Erik Morales avenge his loss to Danny Garcia in the main event. Garcia, who held on to his WBA and WBC super lightweight belts with a fourth-round knockout, wrapped up the historic occasion, which brought Brooklyn boxing icon Mike Tyson ringside for a peek at the local talent-stacked card.
"This is amazing," said the former heavyweight champion and Boxing Hall of Famer. "This is a milestone night for Brooklyn. It's good to see people happy and good to see people who have jobs here in the Barclays Center."
Quillin, a Cuban-American who was raised in Manhattan but resides in Brooklyn, provided the most entertaining bout of the evening. Though he continually felled D'Nam, knocking him down twice in the third, sixth and 12th rounds, the Frenchmen refused to give up his belt up, rising time and again and stalking Quillin around the ring.
Ultimately, Quillin settled for a well-deserved unanimous decison, and let the crowd know he could here them chanting for "Kid Chocolate" as he realized his dream.
"Brooklyn's in the house!" Quillin shouted after consoling the beaten and battered D'Nam. "I'd like to thank New York City for making me a man. It's great to be a world champion. It took a great boxer to come to my backyard and fight a great fight. But this was God's will."
Jacobs needed just 1:13 of the opening round to knock out Missouri's Josh Luteran, marking his return to the squared circle after a well-chronicled 19-month bout with cancer which threatened to derail his career, not to mention his life.
"It was a left and a right and he said goodnight," Jacobs told reporters moments after his triumphant comeback. "It means the world to me, being a Brooklynite. To be a part of this historic event, with my friends and family here."
Unfortunately, the crowd was just filing in when Jacobs scored his TKO, but that didn't dull the 25-year-old fighter's enthusiasm as he dropped to his knees in joy and seemed to float back toward the lockerrooms following the lightning-quick win.
"I didn't really get a chance to soak in the moment. Everything happened so fast," Jacobs added. "I thought my career was over at one point, so this is the greatest night I've ever had in the ring."
Salita, originally rumored to be Malignaggi's opponent on the historic fight card, earned a six-round unanimous decision over Missouri's Brandon Hoskins after Jacobs' victory, doing his best work in the final two rounds to impress the judges.
Boyd Melson of Bay Ridge was the only local fighter not to score a win in the ring, settling for a six-round draw against Jason Thompson, also from Brooklyn, in the first fight ever at Barclays, unless you count the near-scrap between the Nets' Deron Williams and Washington's A.J. Price during the preseason opener at the arena two weeks ago.
Also on the undercard was a 12-round snoozer between challenger Devon Alexander and Randall Bailey for the welterweight title. Alexander took the unanimous decison, but the crowd was miffed by the lack of action between the combatants, and saved its biggest cheers for the Corona Ring Card Girls while showering Alexander and Bailey with boos throughout the bout.
"I know I could do way better," Alexander insisted as his voice was barely audible on the P.A. system above the din of disgruntled fans.
Malignaggi followed suit during his post-fight press conference.
"It was a little bit disappointing to not have the title on the line in the fight," he said. "I was really looking forward to having my title on the line. I didn't lose focus, but it was a little disappointing."
Disappointing or not, the first championship boxing event in Brookyn since Maxie Rosenbloom outpointed Jimmy Slattery in a 15-rounder at Ebbets Field on Aug. 5, 1931 was certainly a night to remember.
And more importantly, it was just the first of many more fight nights to come on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.