For the first time in more than 17 months, Brooklyn's Paulie Malignaggi will be in the ring instead of announcing from his ringside seat. He was going to work his way back gradually, but a cut suffered in training for a bout with journeyman Daniel O'Connor canceled that fight in May.
Instead, Malignaggi (33-6, 7 KOs) will take a giant step up against undefeated Danny Garcia (30-0, 17 KOs), who is moving up to welterweight for the first time, in a 12-round non-title bout Saturday night at Barclays Center.
That's the main event on a Premier Boxing Champions card that also includes Daniel Jacobs (29-1, 26 KOs), who holds a secondary WBA middleweight title (beneath "Super" champion Gennady Golovkin), against former world champion Sergio Mora (28-3-2, 9 KOs).
Following his fourth-round TKO loss to Shawn Porter on April 19, 2014, Malignaggi settled comfortably into an announcer's role while receiving great reviews for his verbal skills. "I thought I was retired," Malignaggi said recently. "For six months, I didn't think about fighting or wanting to come back. I had no desire to."
Explaining his change of heart, Malignaggi said, "I was in the gym, and I started working out and felt pretty good. I said, 'I can still give this a good run. I can handle myself in the ring with some pretty good fighters.' "
There's little question Malignaggi would have outclassed O'Connor, but when a feature spot opened up against Garcia on a lucrative PBC card, Malignaggi didn't hesitate. The fact Garcia struggled in two of his past three bouts, winning a majority decision over Mauricio Herrera while defending his WBA and WBC 140-pound titles 18 months ago and then escaping with a majority decision over Lamont Peterson in a non-title bout at a 143-pound catchweight last April, might have fueled Malignaggi's confidence.
"The Herrera fight could have went the other way, and the Peterson fight could have went the other way," Malignaggi acknowledged. "I think it's not so much that Danny has been looking bad as much as a certain style troubles Danny.
"I know Danny pretty well. The kind of style I have has troubled him in the past. I think it's troubled him enough to where he's going to be hellbent on making adjustments. I expect a very sharp Danny Garcia. But I feel I bring more to the table with my set of tools within that style. So, I like my chances."
As Garcia sees it, most of his recent troubles stemmed from the battle to make weight. Now that he's going to be a 147-pounder, he expects to be much stronger and faster.
"It feels great to be at 147," Garcia said. "For the first time in a long time, I could worry about training to get better and not training to lose weight . . . At 147, you're going to see a more athletic Danny Garcia, and I'll be able to use my legs more, use my jab more and see punches clearer. When you drain yourself, it's hard to see punches."
The 34-year-old Malignaggi might be a decided underdog at this stage of his career, but he also represents a dangerous challenge for Garcia, 27, as he makes the move up. "A win over Danny Garcia will be a shock to a lot of people, and that will kind of set me on my path," Malignaggi said.
He meant the path back to a title.