Malignaggi edges Ngoudjo

By George Kimball@Ringside


Malignaggi edges Ngoudjo

Eugenia Williams is finally off the hook. It took eight years, but she can no longer be described as the most incompetent boxing judge in New Jersey.

Paulie Malignaggi struggled to retain his IBF junior welterweight title over Herman Ngoudjo at Bally’s Saturday night, and whether you agreed with the judges’ verdict or not (and we didn’t), the 117-111 scorecard returned by Jersey judge Al Bennett was either so preposterously inept or so hopelessly corrupt that future challengers were doubtless left wondering whether they can ever get a fair shake in Atlantic City.

And Bennett wasn’t even appointed by Larry Hazzard.

Malignaggi had his hands full with Ngoudjo, a Cameroon native now based in Montreal, in a Showtime-televised fight that had most press row scorecards divided, with some scribes according the champion a narrow edge, many others (including our 115-113 tally) favoring the challenger, and a surprisingly large number scoring the title fight a draw.

In an entertaining bout that included several close rounds (the three scoring officials were in accord on just five of the 12 rounds), it’s impossible to quibble with Steve Weisfeld’s 115-113 card, and Ken Chevalier’s 116-113 total was at least within the bounds of plausibility, but Bennett, who scored seven of the last eight rounds for Malignaggi, was so far off the mark that it calls the entire process into question.

Ngoudjo’s gallant effort wasn’t helped, either, by referee Allen Huggins, who erroneously ruled what replays pretty conclusively showed to have been a fourth-round knockdown a slip.

Malignaggi had completely dominated in his title fight against Lovemore N’Dou last June, but whether it was the accumulated rust of seven months’ inactivity, a suspect hand (Malignaggi denied that his right paw was injured early, but the fact remains that he rarely threw it, even over the first half of the bout), or simply the fact that this time he was getting beat to the punch by that rare opponent, one with hand speed to match his own, he hardly looked the same fighter in this one.

Although Ngoudjo plainly frustrated Malignaggi, the champion maintained afterward that it wasn’t the Cameroonian’s surprising quickness, but the fact that the challenger unexpectedly – and effectively – chose to play the counterpuncher’s role that got him discombobulated.

“We knew Herman would be a very good oppenent, but I’d prepared for a totally different fight,” said Malignaggi. “I expected him to be a lot more aggressive, so I found myself waiting on him, and sometimes that got so frustrating that I got impatient and did some stupid things.”

After two opening stanzas that appeared to be no better than a wash, Ngoudjo came on in third to establish control, and in the fourth he caugh an off-balance Malignaggi with a left that sent him to the floor. (Huggins, unimpressed, waved off the knockdown.)

Unable to establish his jab because Ngoudjo was getting there first, Malignaggi increasingly found himself fighting in full retreat as his opponent repeatedly forced him to the ropes.

By the end of the fourth, the challenger had opened a nick above Malignaggi’’s left eye, and the socket – which had been severely damaged in Paulie’s 2006 fight with Miguel Cotto – had ominously begun to swell.

In the seventh, Ngoudjo enjoyed the most dominant round of the night after staggering Malignaggi with a big right hand early in the round, and spent the next three minutes attempting to capitalize on the damage.

“I was pretty buzzed,” conceded Malignaggi. “I knew what was going on at all times, but I figured I should just try to hang on and hope he didn’t realize just how hurt I was.”

By now the nick had become a full-fledged cut. The overwhelmingly pro-Malignaggi crowd had been chanting “Paulie! Paulie!” all night long, while the occasional French-speaking voice urged Ngoudjo on. Now, as the challenger appeared to have gotten a nose in front, a groundswell of “Herman Boom-a-ye!” began to roll across the sold-out ballroom.

Over the final five rounds, Malignaggi was able to land some jabs of his own, and began to mix in sneaky right uppercuts that, while they didn’t seem to hurt Ngoudjo, at least had the effect of slowing him down.

“I think I may have bruised my right hand throwing all those uppercuts,” said Malignaggi, who said he hadn’t used the right earlier “because he kept tying me up.”

“I thought I won the fight,” said a disappointed Ngoudjo, “I thought I controlled most of the fight, but having three judges were from the United States probably hurt me.”

“It wasn’t one of my better performances, but I thought I won the fight,” said Malignaggi.

Malignaggi improved to 24-1 in retaining his title, while Ngdoudjo, whose only previous loss had been to Jose Luis Castillo, saw his record drop to 16-2.

Malignaggi said he would be willing to entertain a rematch “if it made dollars and sense,” but promoter Lou DiBella apparently has other things on his mind.

“We want Hatton next,” said DiBella.

The Malignaggi on display in Atlantic City Saturday night might handle Matthew Hatton, or perhaps Grady Hatton, but he probably didn’t do much to frighten the fellow who lost to Floyd Mayweather a few weeks ago.

“If Ricky Hatton comes back to 140, which I expect he will, he’ll be very highly rated right away,” pointed out DiBella. “After his hard fight against Mayweather I expect he’ll want to fight in Manchester his next time out. We’d be willing to go there and share the bill with him, which would help build interest in a fight between Ricky and Paulie  later in the year.

“Remember,” pointed out DiBella, “the (IBF) title Paulie has now is the one Ricky used to have.”

Hugo Pineda is a 36 year-old Colombian who made his pro debut as a featherweight and spent most of his useful ring career as a junior welter and welterweight contender, but despite his dubious credentials as a substitute opponent for former light-heavyweight champion Glen Johnson, he still figured to provide a stiffer test than the orginal foe, Irish-born Mike Culbert of Massachusetts. (The 41 year-old Culbert was initially confirmed as Johnson’s opponent despite having had just one fight in the past two and a half years, and in that one he had struggled to win a split decision over a 48 year-old man.)

Two of Pineda’s three career losses had been to Kostya Tszyu and Felix Trinidad, but his light-heavyweight experience consisted of one fight. Johnson, despite frequently looking every one of his 39 years in this one, was never seriously tested, winning all but one of the first seven rounds before stopping Pineda in the eighth.

(The guy whose reputation probably suffered the most from this one wasn’t even there. Johnson, who had knocked out Roy Jones three years ago, it Pineda with everything but the kitchen sink over the first six rounds without seeming to budge him, rendering his punching power more suspect than ever.)

Johnson finally caught up with Pineda in the seventh, flooring him late in the round with a hard left hook that toppled the Colombian, who toppled to the canvas in a delayed reaction. When Glencoffe followed two hooks to the body with a hard right to the head early in the eighth, referee David Fields quickly stepped in to stop it.

The win made Johnson 47-11-2 (Pineda fell to 39-4-1), but more importantly allowed him to progress straight into a promised April 12 title shot against WBC champion Chad Dawson. That bout will take place in St. Petersburg, Fla., sharing a twin-bill with another 175-pound bout matching Antonio Tarver against former super-middleweight champ Jeff Lacy, with the winners presumably to meet somewhere down the line.

“I’m ready and willing to make another run at the championship,” said the Jamaican-born Johnson. “I hope Chad Dawson is ready for a fight.

“There’s been a lot made about the fact that Chad Dawson represents the future of the division,” said Johnson, who pronounced himself ‘fresh and youthful.’ “It’s very important for me to show people that I can beat a rising star.”

N’Dou, the Australian-based South African from whom Malignaggi won his 140-pound title last summer, kept himself busy by dominating Rafael Ortiz, winning all six completed rounds before knocking the Oregonian out with a short right in the seventh. N’Dou, now 46-9-1, still holds paper for an eventual rematch with Malignaggi – an eventuality which could conceivably take place should Paulie and Hatton wind up sharing a card in Manchester later in the spring.

Unbeaten New Jersey heavyweight Chazz Witherspoon was extended the distance in his 8-rounder against Kendrick (The Apostle) Releford, but won a unanimous decision. Judges Robert Grasso and John Poturaj both scored it 78-74, while Luis Rivera had it a point closer at 78-75. Witherspoon is now 21-0, while the Apostle fell to 15-10-2.

In another prelim, Puerto Rican junior lightweight Alberto Amaro (2-1) floored Staten Island’s Nicky DeMarco (2-2) in the first round, and parlayed that two-point margin into a unanimous decision. (39-35 Rivera, 38-36 Poturaj, 38-37 Grasso.)

Between the main event going the distance and several prelims lasting into the late rounds, promoters were left with two walk-out bouts after Showtime left the air.  In the first of them, 2004 Olympic champion Yoriokis Gamboa, a highly-touted Cuban refugee now based in Germany, impressively added to his 8-0 resume by knocking down Mexican Gilberto Luque (7-5-2) three times in less than two minutes for a first-round TKO. Referee David Francisco, a Rodney Dangerfield doppelganger, halted it at 1:54 of the first.

In the other finale, Augusta (Ga.) heavyweight Kevin Burnett improved to 11-1 with a unanimous decision (60-54, Rivera and Grasso; 58-56 Poturaj) over Ryan Thompson (4-3) of Cleveland.

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Bally’s Casino
Atlantic City
Jan. 5, 2008

JUNIOR WELTERWEIGHTS: Paulie  Malignaggi, 139, Brooklyn, NY dec. Herman Ngoudjo, 140, Douala, Cameroon (12) (Retains IBF title)

HEAVYWEIGHTS: Chazz Withersspoon, 229, Paulsboro, N.J. dec.  Kendrick Releford, 213, Fort Worth, Tex. (8)

Kevin Burnett, 261, Augusta, Ga. dec. Ryan Thompson, 263, E. Cleveland, Ohio (6)

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS: Glen Johnson, 174, Clarendon, Jamaica TKO’d Hugo Pineda, 177, Baranquilla, Colombia (8)

WELTERWEIGHTS: Lovemore N’dou, 145, Transvaal, South Africa KO’d Rafael Ortiz, 144, Lebanon, Ore. (7)

JUNIOR LIGHTWEIGHTS: Yuriorkis Gamboa, 130, Guantanamo, Cuba TKO’d Gilberto Luque, 129, Sinaloa de Layva, Mexico (1)

Alberto Amaro, 131j, Cantano, Puerto Rico dec. Nicky DeMarco, 129, Staten Island, N.Y. (4)