PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Bensonhurst’s Paulie Malignaggi will be the underdog when he defends his welterweight title Saturday against Adrien Broner at the Barclays Center.
The 32-year-old will be in the ring with a younger, faster, more powerful challenger already regarded by many as one of boxing’s elite talents. If the action comes even close to matching the two-way bluster of Thursday's final pre-fight press conference — where a pair of the sport's most outspoken trash-talkers went scorched earth on one another — it will be considered a success.
But regardless of Saturday’s outcome, expect Brooklyn — a borough whose pedigree of champions includes Riddick Bowe, Michael Moorer, Joey Giardello and Mike Tyson — to come out a winner with the emergence of Barclays Center as a big-time venue and the possibility of leading boxing’s resurgence in New York.
The card marks the fourth boxing event at the Barclays Center as part of the arena’s three-year agreement with Golden Boy Promotions. The first was in October, when Philadelphia's Danny Garcia defended his junior welterweight titles in the first championship fight to be held in Brooklyn since 1931, when Maxie Rosenbloom outpointed Jimmy Slattery at Ebbets Field.
"It’s certainly going to be the biggest boxing crowd we’ve had so far," Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer said Thursday in the Barclays Center atrium. I’m really pleased with the way we have been building a boxing franchise here in Brooklyn. This clearly has become the destination for boxing."
On Saturday, the hometown fans will be squarely behind Malignaggi (32-4, 7 KOs), who was born in Brooklyn, moved to Sicily with his family as an infant, but returned to Bensonhurst as a 6-year-old.
He was 16 when he was expelled from New Utrecht High School. Months later, his grandfather first laced a pair of gloves on his hands. Within three years, Malignaggi was a New York City Golden Gloves champion. By 21, he'd made his pro debut with a first-round knockout at Coney Island's KeySpan Park.
Yet it's Broner (26-0, 22 KOs), a cocksure Cincinnatian who says he wants to be the first boxer to generate a billion dollars, who threatens to spoil the show. The 23-year-old knockout artist is heavily favorited to capture a title in a third different weight class after winning belts at 130 and 135 pounds.
The months-long buildup has been laden with vulgar trash talk from both sides. Most recently, Broner suggested that he was sleeping with a former girlfriend of Malignaggi's, even phoning her during a press conference last month in Las Vegas.
On Thursday, Broner brought the woman in question to the press conference, threatening to boycott the proceedings if she wasn't allowed on the stage. Golden Boy and Barclays Center officials wisely held firm, fearing the fracas that almost surely would have broken out.
"They put everything that's wrong with boxing in one room and they created Adrien Broner," Malignaggi said. "He's a talented fighter but it takes a lot more than talent to get to the top."
Whether Malignaggi wins or loses, bringing boxing back to Brooklyn is another feather in the cap for Barclays owners.
While the idea of an arena inking an exclusive deal with a California-based promoter was openly questioned at the time — most publicly by NYC-based promoter Lou DiBella — there’s no doubt it’s given a welcome boost to a sport whose local profile had been on the wane.
An unlikely advocate of the Golden Boy-Barclays Center marriage is Bob Arum, CEO of Top Rank Promotions. A majority of boxing's institutional dysfunction can be traced to the cold war between Golden Boy and Top Rank — its two largest promotional companies — whose refusal to do business together rules out many of the sport's most compelling matchups.
"That Barclays Center is getting started in boxing and that it took an exclusive deal with a promoter, I don't think that's a bad thing," the 81-year-old Arum said Tuesday in Manhattan. “It didn’t upset me because I had no desire to go there."
Arum, who continues to promote shows at Madison Square Garden and the arena’s smaller theater space, said the expense of doing fights in New York has driven promoters elsewhere — but it remains a crucial market.
"The disadvantages of doing a fight in New York are, unlike other places, it’s a tourist destination," Arum said. "Hotel rooms are extraordinarily expensive, so the cost of doing a fight in New York are higher than in most places. If cost were not a factor, New York would be preferable to any place because you have fans who care and support particular fighters."
Arum assesses the state of boxing in New York as healthy after “things were down for a little.” He expects to promote several shows at the Theater at Madison Square Garden before the end of the year — most likely with fancied Puerto Rican prospect Felix Verdejo — and is looking to promote the first boxing card at MetLife Stadium in June 2013.
"New York is the media capital and has always been the pinnacle of boxing," Arum said. "It's essential to keep a presence in New York."
Other signs of health on the grassroots level include DiBella's eponymous promotional company, whose Broadway Boxing shows draw spirited crowds to smaller venues like Roseland Ballroom, B.B. King Blues Club & Grill and Hammerstein Ballroom.
Saturday’s main event will headline a nationally televised tripleheader (9 p.m. ET, Showtime), but ticketholders will have a chance to check out some local talent on the non-televised undercard.
Staten Island’s Marcus Browne (4-0, 4 KOs), a three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who turned pro as light heavyweight after representing the U.S. at the London Olympics, meets Mexico’s Ricardo Campillo in a six-round fight. Other local prospects on the card include Bushwick’s Juan Dominguez (10-4, 10 KOs) and Red Hook’s Frank Galarza (9-0-2, 5 KOs).
“We’re proud to be hosting three title bouts on Saturday,” Brett Yormark, CEO of Barclays Center said Thursday, “but we are also looking forward to continuing to launch the careers of other Brooklyn fighters who hopefully will thrive here.”
Malignaggi and Broner will face off one last time before the fight during Friday’s official weigh-ins at Brooklyn Borough Hall and Plaza, which begin at noon and are open to the public.
Tickets for Saturday's card are still available and range from $25 to $250. Doors to the Barclays Center open at 4 p.m. with the first fight beginning at 4:30.