Gleason's Gym hosted a media workout earlier this week for Saturday night's showdown between Paulie Malignaggi and Zab Judah. The 76-year-old Brooklyn facility is as iconic as any boxing gym in the world. Inside, they pay tribute to the world champions who trained there by hanging banners along the walls. In one corner of the gym hung Malignaggi's banner. In the opposite corner was Judah's banner.
When it's reduced to the granular level, what's at stake this Saturday when a pair of Brooklyn fighters meet in the main event at the Barclays Center is bragging rights for a gym. The broader view, however, reveals more. Both Malignaggi and Judah are fighting to position themselves for the mega fights in and around the welterweight division. Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez all reside at that weight.
"First of all, I want to say that both of those guys are rejuvenated because of all of the opportunities at 147 pounds," said Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions. "For both of them, one of their best fights are actually their last fight. When Paulie fought [Adrian] Broner he fought a great, great fight and I think he surprised a lot of people. Most people had it as an easy fight for Broner and look what he did. I think he's right there at the top and he knows what this win can lead to and how important this fight is. The same goes for Zab fighting Danny Garcia, most people thought it would be a one-sided affair. And look what Zab did, he turned back the clock. Their biggest fights, their best fights were actually their last fights and that's why this is such a meaningful showdown."
Both Malignaggi and Judah lost those fights. So this matchup will essentially pit two friends, two fighters who share a healthy respect for another, in a fight for their boxing lives.
Judah initially was hesitant to take the fight.
"I said 'Paulie, nah, Paulie is my homeboy,' " recalled Judah. "But I was like, 'Hey, you know this is an opportunity that you've got to take for boxing.' So I guess we're here now. Like I said, this is a fight where there's no animosity or anything like that. It's just us going in there and representing for our city."
Malignaggi feels the same.
"I'd like to echo the same sentiments as Zab," he said. "For a lot of years I came up behind Zab and he kind of laid the building blocks for my generation. He was kind of the guy to look up to and to try to match his accomplishments. It really didn't come to mind, we were in different weight classes and at different places in our career, but people started mentioning it and talking around Brooklyn the past year or two. But I still didn't think the fight had any chance of happening because we were still in different weight classes and kind of had different goals for our careers."
Malignaggi is 33 and has a 32-5 record. He has held the IBF junior welterweight title and the WBA welterweight belt. Judah is 36 with a 42-8 record. He has held the IBF and WBO junior welterweight titles and the WBC and IBF welterweight belts.
"Paulie and I have a great respect for each other, but at the end of the day there can only be one winner and I am going to take that route," Judah said. "I'm going to take that medal of achievement and I'm going to step up and do what I've got to do. Is there any beef or anything? No, there's no beef. But we're both two competitive athletes and Paulie's supposed to say his skills are better than mine and I'm supposed to say that my skills are better than Paulie's. That's what's going to make Dec. 7th a fantastic night of boxing."
At one point in Malignaggi's amateur career, Judah coached him at the Empire State Games. Malignaggi lost in the finals, but the New York City team won the team title.
"The admiration I have for Zab came from trying to follow in his footsteps coming up," said Malignaggi. "I saw him accomplish things that I had the goal to accomplish. It was a motivator to see someone from my city, from my borough, accomplish these things and get some credibility and notoriety doing the same thing that I do. That admiration comes from being that younger fighter looking up to someone like that."
There have been a lot of great fighters from Brooklyn - Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, Mark Breland and Junior Jones to name a few. But it is not often that they have fought one another in major fights. In 1938, Bummy Davis knocked out School Boy Bernie Friedkin at the Garden. In 1947, Herbie Kronowitz decisioned Harold Green for the middleweight championship of Brooklyn at Ebbets Field.
That changes Saturday night.
"It's a really emotional fight," said Malignaggi. "You want to be king of Brooklyn. It's the kind of fight you get up for because there are a lot big fights in your career but there is a lot of extra emotion being able to represent your borough and being able to be the king of Brooklyn. I know I have what it takes to be a world-class fighter. I know what it takes to get back to the top."