The rivalry between Conor McGregor and Paulie Malignaggi is quickly becoming more compelling than McGregor’s upcoming bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Malignaggi, a former multiple-time world champion and one of the most respected minds in boxing today, was brought into McGregor’s camp to be a sparring partner and help the UFC superstar prepare for his Aug. 26 boxing match against Mayweather.
However, Malignaggi quit McGregor’s camp late last week and made headlines after several photos of their sparring sessions were leaked online.
Malignaggi, who announced his retirement from pro boxing back in March, was upset at the misleading nature of the photos and the blowback he has received since they went public.
“It’s something that I really didn’t ask for,” Malignaggi told MMAFightning’s Ariel Helwani Monday on The MMA Hour. “I showed up with the best intentions to camp and at a certain point you start to realize you’re being used as a pawn where somebody’s trying to get ahead at your expense and not through your help.”
Malignaggi went into great detail about his experience with McGregor during the lengthy, revealing interview.
The first sparring session between the two fighters took place Thursday, July 20. They went eight rounds and, according to Malignaggi, McGregor did well.
“You know what, he probably got the better of me a little bit mainly on conditioning. It wasn’t anything tactical really that he was better than me at but conditioning wise he could push the issue a little bit more than I could,” Malignaggi said. “He was able to work a little bit harder than me, but I saw during the sparring I was able to do certain things, give him a lot of illusions, make him feel like he has to work in certain moments where he doesn’t really have to work but if I give you that illusion a lot of times and put you in certain positions, how you react to it, making you throw punches when you really don’t have to. Making you work when you really don’t have to.
“I generated a lot of work out of him, which does two things. For me, it shows me he needs to sharpen up his intelligence a little bit, his instincts in the ring because he’s inexperienced. But also, even if he threw those punches in those spots I’m getting him to work harder. I’m getting him to work hard even if I’m not working as hard. I’m not able to punch in those spots because my body’s conditioned only to throw so many punches per round at this point. I was like, ‘I gave him the work he needs,’ and that was it.”
The following day McGregor posted this photo:
“I had done that to him too. I was a little ticked off but I wasn’t like ‘this is offensive’ you know? I knew he had his own photographers there,” Malignaggi said. “I wasn’t happy but I wasn’t too unhappy about that first sparring picture, but the next day on Saturday when we had to work again he skipped me. And they had told me we were going to work Thursday and Saturday.”
That didn’t sit well with Malignaggi.
“A fighter to me isn’t a fighter just because he gets in the ring or the Octagon. In round one we’re all strong. Everybody, even the guy on the corner talking about his street fights is tough when he’s fresh. To me the true definition of a fighter is how do you react when you’re tired, when you’re hurting, when you’re fatigued, when you’re just uncomfortable?
“Him not boxing Saturday was a bit off for me because it showed a little bit of lack in your character, but I didn’t say anything.”
McGregor can be seen in episode two of ‘All Access: Mayweather vs. McGregor’ saying Malignaggi “got his ass whooped” in their first sparring session.
After several days in McGregor’s camp, Malignaggi then flew to New York and spent the next week preparing to do commentary for a Showtime boxing event at Barclays Center headlined by Adrien Broner and Mikey Garcia.
The 36-year-old didn’t want his conditioning to be an issue when he was scheduled to return to McGregor’s camp the following week so he made sure to run every day and got in one sparring session with a 25-2 boxer named Thomas Lamanna.
“When I left the first time they just didn’t rub me the right way,” said Malignaggi, who added he didn’t think highly of the accommodations McGregor provided for him and some other sparring partners. “It wasn’t like I was mad but I said ‘there’s something fishy about these people.’ They put me in some kind of crack house. I wasn’t mad but I was starting to become guarded.”
The second sparring session is where Malignaggi learned more about McGregor.
“I get off the plane the following Monday [July 31], I land in Vegas and they tell me, ‘You’re going 12 [rounds] tomorrow.’ Now, for people who aren’t familiar with a boxing training camp, no sparring partner is ever expected to do 12 [rounds] straight,” Malignaggi explained. “No sparring partner is expected [to do that]. The fighter in camp does 12 straight, but when the fighter in camp does 12 straight he’ll do like four with one guy then alternate and bring in another guy for five then maybe the last guy for three and so on and so forth. You break them up. That does two things: You’re getting the sparring partners all at their best without over-fatiguing and then you’re getting each guy fresh while you’re tiring, so it puts you in situations where you have to be uncomfortable. You have to start getting comfortable being uncomfortable. … You build that character in camp.”
Malignaggi continued: “In his mind, looking back, he probably thought, ‘Paulie had a tough time getting through eight [rounds], I’m gonna set him up for 12. I get to the gym the next day and he has all kinds of dignitaries there. He’s got [former UFC chairman] Lorenzo Fertitta there, he’s got [UFC president] Dana White there, he’s got his agent there, he’s got a couple of other people I don’t know there.
“Another thing checked off in my mind because usually sparring was so private I couldn’t even bring in a trainer for my corner. I’d just have other sparring partners work my corner. It was so private that when you walk into the gym you have to leave your phone in a box so nobody could sneak pictures or record. It was so private, yet he was having some dignitaries come in on this particular evening. Again, I thought to myself, ‘This guy thinks he’s going to stop me tonight. He’s banking on catching a guy that could barely go eight, and had a tough time doing the eight the first time and now he brought in all these dignitaries because they can speak about how great he looks at my expense.’
“This guy is all about his ego. He’s actually not trying to get better. He’s got a bunch of yes men in his corner who tell him he’s doing good even if he’s doing bad. It’s all about that, he always thinks he’s doing good even when he’s not. It’s just about him and cheerleading.”
Malignaggi said he was angry at the situation but was more prepared for their second sparring session. McGregor hung tough for the first five rounds, according to the former boxer, before Malignaggi began taking over.
“I’ve done this for 20 years of my life, so from one sparring session to another, the rate at which I progress is a lot faster because the muscle memory comes back. The reaction and timing starts to come back at a faster and faster rate, so even if he got better from the first sparring, I got way better from the first sparring,” Malignaggi said. “The third and fourth [sparring sessions] I would’ve got better and better. This guy understood after two sparrings that his ass was going to get beat the rest of camp.”
As the second sparring session played out, Malignaggi said he began to outclass the Irish mixed martial artist.
“From about six on, he started becoming very hittable,” Malignaggi said. “He started becoming more hittable that I was putting more weight on my shots and sitting down more on my shots and of course the body shots started to affect him more and more and more.
“Of course, I’m talking the whole time, because the first time he made sure to talk the whole time. Now I’m talking more and more and I’m letting him know, ‘you can’t hang, these body shots feel good, right? You’re not used to taking these body shots,’ because in MMA the body shots aren’t the same as in boxing in that there’s consistency to body shots in boxing. It’s a debilitating breakdown from the body shots in boxing. Little by little you feel the air come out of you, the fatigue increases, you can’t throw as hard, you don’t have enough snap in your shots anymore. You can’t throw as often as you want to.”
After round seven, Malignaggi said he began talking trash about McGregor to a ringside Dana White–loud enough for McGregor to hear what he was saying. This was also around the time the “pushdown” round that produced the now-infamous photo occurred.
“The thing about the alleged knock down, it was during one of his worst moments,” Malignaggi said. “He pushed me down on the floor to try and catch a break. The instant I went down, I got up, and I remember I continued to trash talk, I said, ‘Sup buddy, you needed a break?’… I started taking it right to him right after that, saying ‘There’s no breaks here, you don’t get no breaks,’ and I hit him with more body shots, I said ‘Take those, they don’t feel good.’ So I started hearing a whimper with the body shots too.”
Malignaggi admitted he was out of gas after round 10 and just hung on for the final two rounds, in which Malignaggi said McGregor “came on strong and landed some really good shots in 11 and 12.”
Following the 12 rounds of hard sparring, Malignaggi felt any animosity between the two had passed. The two pugilists posed for a picture in the ring and those in attendance gave them a round of applause. Malignaggi believed some mutual respect had been established.
It turns out that wasn’t quite the case.
The two exchanged compliments in the dressing room for the work they had just put in and it was at that point Malignaggi asked McGregor to not post any more photos that would suggest McGregor was schooling Malignaggi in the ring.
“I had this conversation with Conor after the second sparring in the dressing room and this is probably where I realized what a [expletive]head this guy is because at that moment you just did 12 hard rounds and there’s that respect I’m feeling, at least, you know?
“He looks at me, and I expected a, ‘alright, Paulie, you got it, let’s just keep this good work going.’ Instead, he looks at me and he gives me this smirk, smile, laughs at me and he starts walking away from me and he puts his hands in the air and he gives me his back. He’s walking away towards the showers and he’s like, ‘Haha, I don’t know Paulie. We got some good ones in those last two rounds. I don’t know about that.’
“At this point I’m waiting for Ashton Kutcher to walk into the dressing rooms and tell me I got Punk’d because I thought it was a joke. I thought there was no way this guy is that much of an [expletive.]”
Of course additional photos were released on Aug. 4, one day after their second sparring match.
“I said ‘I’m fighting an uphill battle here,” Malignaggi said. “Even if I spar him the rest of camp and start to beat on him more and more and more he’s always going to have these photographers there doing his will and in 10-12 rounds he’s always going to get a couple shots of him landing shots and those are going to be the ones he’s going to post. He’s always going to get ahead at my expense.
“I said this guy’s just a piece of [expletive]. I can’t deal with this. His team is a bunch of piece of [expletive] cheerleaders. They’re not improving him. They’re not getting him better. They’re just telling him he’s doing good even if he’s not. I don’t need to be around these people. It’s not like they brought me in for anything tactical like everybody thought they would.”
At that point Malignaggi decided he had enough and decided to leave.
Malignaggi added: “He’s a scumbag.”