Is Malignaggi trying to set up a payday fight with McGregor?

by
Steve Marcus / REUTERS

Prior to the Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather media tour, most MMA fans had no idea who Paulie Malignaggi was.

He was just a fairly average-sized man in a suit bantering back and forth with Brendan Schaub on Showtime's broadcasts, killing time as fans waited for McGregor and Mayweather to finally arrive for their high-octane press conferences.

A month later, the former two-time world boxing champion has made it seem like the bout on Aug. 26 will be a two-on-one contest - and it doesn't appear to be by coincidence.

While it would generally be a major no-no for Malignaggi - who will be ringside on the call for the big fight - to thrust himself into the story he's covering, the former boxer could be aiming to cash in on the situation he's found himself in.

Initially, Malignaggi joined McGregor's camp as a sparring partner as a move made in good faith to gain intel for the broadcast and to improve the general competitiveness of the bout - at least that's what we were led to believe.

The 36-year-old boxer, who retired in March, gave McGregor and his camp complimentary remarks throughout his first few sessions, claiming "there's a method to his madness" and that there was "lots of violence" throughout training. The partnership between "The Notorious" and "Magic Man" seemed to be going swimmingly, giving credibility to the Irishman's camp while keeping the retired boxer relevant.

However, within two weeks of joining McGregor's training, Malignaggi apparently had enough of the "madness" and left the camp after photos were released framing him in a poor light. But he didn't leave quietly, unleashing a storm of criticism at "The Notorious" and his team.

For most MMA fans and fighters, these photos were just par for the course and what they've come to expect from "The Notorious." The former boxing champ, however, felt he was disrespected.

In the blink of an eye, Malignaggi went from showering McGregor's camp with accolades to calling it a "circus" and challenging the Irishman to release all the footage of their sparring sessions. He then decided to make a string of media appearances with the sole purpose of bashing McGregor.

None of Malignaggi's comments gave much insight into the camp other than the fact that he didn't like it; his remarks were nothing more than insults aimed at the UFC's only double champ.

McGregor was too busy with his training to respond to his former sparring partner's disrespect, but lightly addressed the comments at his open workout on Friday.

"The guy is a mouthpiece. He got his ego badly dented," McGregor told media. "It was concussion talk ... He got to exit under a cloud of questions and exactly what a mouth like him wants."

Not long after McGregor finished his media session Friday, UFC boss Dana White answered Malignaggi's challenge and released footage of the sparring session, which seemed to reveal a misstep on the boxer's part.

Malignaggi didn't back down with his response, calling the UFC president a "f---in' cue-ball-ass fraud" on Twitter as he continued to defend his point despite the video evidence countering it.

For a 36-year-old boxer-turned-broadcaster with a 36-8 professional record and world championship belts in two weight classes, this all seems like quite the overreaction if it's just about how he looked in a couple photos. That's because there is something more valuable at stake - one more big fight.

Malignaggi is in a unique situation. As a broadcast analyst, he will have the attention of millions come Aug. 26. He also has enough of a reputation in the boxing world to draw attention from the sport's fans, and could potentially be McGregor's next opponent if he can manage to drum up enough interest.

Malignaggi's age and recent retirement put his athletic expectations not far off Mayweather's, and his distaste for McGregor, White, and their sport in general provides a juicy boxing-versus-MMA storyline.

Even if Malignaggi was unknown to MMA fans a month ago, he could fill the void and be the next step should the Irishman want to continue his boxing career - and make a pretty penny doing it.