Hatton within Malignaggi's grasp, but business with N'Dou comes first

Updated: May 23, 2008

AP Photo/David Gard

Paulie Malignaggi hopes to impress in front of Ricky Hatton's hometown fans on Saturday.

Malignaggi eyes dream showdown

Paulie Malignaggi was a top junior welterweight contender in May 2006 -- 13 months before he would win a piece of the junior welterweight crown -- when he accompanied his New York City pal Luis Collazo into the ring in Boston.

Collazo was at the TD Banknorth Garden to defend his welterweight belt against Ricky Hatton, the junior welterweight champion moving up in weight in an attempt to win another title.

Malignaggi has a clear memory of that moment with Hatton, who ultimately won the tight decision against Collazo.

"I walked Luis Collazo into the ring for his fight with Ricky and I remember standing in Collazo's corner across the ring and looking at Ricky," Malignaggi said. "I remember thinking to myself that this wasn't going to be the last time I'd have this view of him. I'd have it again when we fought someday."

That showdown with Hatton was a long way off back in that 2006 fight, but now it is within Malignaggi's grasp. But before the two meet, there is work to be done. Malignaggi must successfully defend his title against Lovemore N'Dou (46-9-1, 31 KOs) in Manchester City Stadium in Manchester, England, on Saturday (Versus, 3:30 p.m. ET) on the undercard of Hatton's homecoming defense against Juan Lazcano (37-4-1, 27 KOs).

Should Malignaggi (24-1, 5 KOs) and Hatton (43-1, 31 KOs) both defeat their underdog opponents, they are due to meet in the fall in the U.S., in what will be a major fight.

After suffering a crushing 10th-round knockout against Floyd Mayweather in December 2007 for the welterweight title, Hatton returns to junior welterweight to meet longtime contender Lazcano. Hatton must overcome the memory of that knockout 2007 knockout when he fights Lazcano.

Malignaggi, N'Dou

AP Photo/Fred Beckham

Despite easily outboxing Lovemore N'Dou in their first fight, Malignaggi, left, isn't taking his opponent lightly in their rematch.

Malignaggi is an even bigger favorite in his fight, after he knocked down N'Dou and easily outpointed him in a dazzling, near-shutout decision in June 2007 to win his belt.

"Lovemore knows it's his last chance and Paulie has a seven-figure payday in front of him if he wins. They both have a lot on the line," said Lou DiBella, who promotes Malignaggi and N'Dou.

Malignaggi struggled in his first defense in January, barely keeping his title against Herman Ngoudjo. He said he will be much sharper in his rematch with N'Dou.

"I maybe didn't get up as much as I should have," said the brash New Yorker. "Mentally, sometimes I don't feel that threat and that's a mistake. Look at my last fight. I didn't mentally prepare as well for Ngoudjo as I should have. I was a little lax in the fight. Obviously, it's fresh in my mind and I'm not going to take anyone lax mentally or physically. I know to take Lovemore N'Dou seriously because I know he is coming to win and get back his title.

"Having fought Lovemore already, I know he brings a very fast pace. It's a faster pace than anyone I have fought in my career. The first time I fought him, I was very up for the fight. I know my hands are full with this guy. I have to keep in mind he's coming very strong. I don't like the guy either because he didn't give me any credit for winning the fight. He made a lot of excuses. I dominated him so bad. Just give me my credit."

Malignaggi is also motivated by the potential fall showdown with Hatton, even though he said he is doing his best to put it out of his mind.

"I'm not going to think about that at all," said Malignaggi, who fought twice in England in the amateurs and is excited about boxing there again. "If I think about Ricky, it can easily distract you. Once the fight is over and I have my win, I'll definitely sit down and watch Ricky fight and root for him. I'm definitely excited to get it on with him in the fall. Right now, though, I am just excited to be on this great card, excited to take care of my opponent and put on a good show. Then I'll think about Ricky."

Gamboa, Solis on ESPN2

Although junior lightweight prospect Yuriorkis Gamboa, a 2004 Cuban Olympic gold medalist, easily outpointed Darling Jimenez last week in his HBO debut, he was pushed the 10-round distance and dropped in the fourth round of a sloppy performance. That performance cost trainer Osmiri Fernandez his job, when Arena promoter Ahmet Íner fired him in Gamboa's dressing room, immediately after the fight.

Jimenez, Gamboa

Chris Cozzone/FightWireimages

Out with the old: After looking sloppy against Darling Jimenez, left, Arena promoter Ahmet Íner decided to fire Yuriorkis Gamboa's trainer immediately after the fight.

"I felt this was necessary mainly because Gamboa didn't seem to respect Fernandez," Íner said. "He was more like a 'buddy type.' In addition to that, Fernandez was an amateur coach who came from Cuba to work with Gamboa with barely any pro experience."

Orlando Cuellar, best known for his work with former light heavyweight champ Glen Johnson, was hired as Gamboa's new trainer.

Gamboa's first fight with Cuellar in his corner will come against Jose "Cheo" Rojas in Miami on June 27 in the "Friday Night Fights" main event.

In the co-feature, American fans will get their first look at Odlanier Solis (9-0, 6 KOs), the 2004 Olympic heavyweight gold medalist who defected with Gamboa in December 2006.

Solis, 28, will face former contender Francois Botha (45-4-2, 28 KOs) after their bout on May 30 in Spain was shifted to the ESPN2 card.

Boxing's future on Versus

Saturday's Versus telecast of the Hatton-Lazcano card, which is being promoted by Golden Boy, marks the network's first boxing event with a promoter other than Top Rank, with whom it has had an exclusive relationship since entering the boxing business in 2006.

De La Hoya, Hatton

John Gichigi/Getty Images

Oscar De La Hoya, left, is taking his show to Versus, and he's taking Ricky Hatton with him.

But the Top Rank deal is about to expire. Top Rank has one more Versus card scheduled, June 26 in Las Vegas headlined by newly signed junior welterweight Lamont Peterson with 2004 U.S. Olympian Vanes Martirosyan in the co-feature.

So what is the future of boxing on Versus?

"We love boxing and we've used the last two years to help build it utilizing Top Rank fights," said Marc Fein, senior vice president of programming for Versus. "As we are now two years into it, we're just basically stepping back and talking to everyone, including Top Rank and some other people, to kind of really figure out the future."

Fein said the deal with Golden Boy on the Hatton fight was not necessarily the beginning of a long-term relationship, but that a Hatton fight at the right price was too good to resist.

"We'll see how it does," he said. "I'm sure it will draw some nice ratings and, if it does, internally, we'll take a look at things in the future. But right now, we don't have any firm plans on continuing deals or opening it up to others. We're just kind of taking one step at a time. But when you think of Ricky and the network, you can't pass that up. We will be in boxing."

Although many of the Top Rank's monthly cards were heavily criticized, Fein said he was happy with the way the deal worked out, although it was obvious a new exclusive agreement was not in the cards.

"Right now, we don't have any firm plans on continuing deals," he said. "We don't discuss the deal specifics, but [the Top Rank contract] is soon expiring and, again, we have a great relationship with them and they've done a good job with us. I'm sure whatever we do in the future, we'll continue to have discussions with them."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.

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