Khan, Malignaggi brawl during fight weigh-in
NEW YORK -- Junior welterweight champion Amir Khan and Paulie Malignaggi have been trading verbal jabs for weeks, and their mutual dislike escalated into a shoving match during their weigh-in at a hotel ballroom Friday.
They'll finally exchange blows on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
Khan will be defending his WBA version of the title in his first fight in the United States, taking on former IBF titleholder Malignaggi just across the East River from his home in Brooklyn. The fight is expected to sell out the Garden's smaller theater.
If promoters were having any trouble selling tickets, they got some help from the near-brawl that took place between the fighters' camps Friday at the Essex House.
Both had made the 140-pound limit and turned to face each other for the traditional stare-down photo opportunity. They began arguing and briefly touched heads before they started pushing each other, and several dozen people began to rush the small stage.
No punches were thrown and the room was eventually cleared out.
"Here's where things get dicey," said Malignaggi's promoter, Lou DiBella. "Will it sell more tickets? Maybe. But honestly, from my standpoint I was scared. I've been in this 20 years now, and I was still scared when that was going on."
DiBella was incensed that a weigh-in that was supposed to be closed to the public wound up with about a hundred supporters for Khan, the former Olympic silver medalist from Britain. There were only a couple dozen people from Malignaggi's team in attendance.
"It was disgraceful," DiBella said. "When they weighed in, they charged the stage, and I don't think Khan knew it was happening behind him. I think he thought it was Paulie's people. It was Khan's followers, and Khan shoved Paulie, and it was a dangerous scene."
It's unclear whether any fines or suspensions will result from incident. State athletic commission chairman Melvina Lathan did not return a call seeking comment.
"It was getting pretty heated, but thank God nobody got injured and nothing bad happened," said Khan's promoter, Richard Schaefer. "Big fights always attract a lot of people, and I guess some of those people made it into the ballroom where the weigh-in was held."
Schaefer had a different perspective on who started the incident.
He said he was standing near the fighters when they started to argue, and was about to step in to separate them when he "saw Malignaggi grabbing Khan's neck. And then the pushing started and a lot of people jumped in the middle, and I then took Amir off the stage to the corner and everybody calmed down there. And that's all I really saw."
Khan (22-1, 16 KOs) had been considered one of the hottest prospects in boxing until a stunning loss to Breidis Prescott two years ago, but he's regrouped to win four straight fights and a world title. Along the way, he stopped previously unbeaten Dmitriy Salita in 76 seconds.
He's revamped his physique and his style, transferring some of his upper-body muscle to his legs under the watchful eye of Freddie Roach, who also trains Manny Pacquiao. The two fighters have sparred together numerous times over the past year.
Khan's first fight in the United States has reminded many people of when Naseem Hamed came over in 1997. He also made his debut at the Garden against another New York-based fighter who was prone to speaking his mind, Kevin Kelley. The promotion featured plenty of trash talk and the fight had a series of knockdowns before Hamed ended it with a fourth-round knockout.
"I'm going to send a statement to the 140-pound division," Khan said earlier this week. "I can't wait to beat him, you know, because Paulie needs shutting up and I think I'm the only guy who can shut him up properly. He won't think about coming back, because I think this is his only last chance he's ever going to get."
Malignaggi (27-3, 5 KOs) should have a hometown advantage and has been in numerous high-profile fights during his career, ring savvy that he can use to his advantage.
But he's giving up size and power to the champion, and their speed is a wash.
"This is the redemption right here, this is what I was waiting for, because nobody thought I would be back in a world championship fight," Malignaggi said. "Everybody is saying this guy is so great, he's the future, all this. Don't forget that after the fight Saturday night."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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