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'His whole story is a lie. You know he didn’t have it as hard as he tries to sell'

Paulie Malignaggi discusses his relationship with Conor McGregor in this extract from Ewan MacKenna’s new book.

Image: Gene Blevins

Updated Jan 3rd 2020, 3:00 PM

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from Chaos is a Friend of Mine: The Life and Crimes of Conor McGregor by Ewan MacKenna. 

Paulie Malignaggi can talk. And talk. And talk. He might even talk better than he boxed, which is saying something. In fact, as he begins to work himself up in anger, he starts to come across like a Sopranos character flying into a rage in the mirror.

For that reason, he says, he doesn’t tell the story about his encounter with McGregor often, because in order to be fair and accurate he needs to get into every little detail. I tell him to work away, that I have all day. So make of this what you will.

Some years back, he came across and made friends with Irish welterweight Dean Byrne in the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles. He hadn’t heard from him for a while but got a call in April 2017 asking if Dean’s brother Gerry, a part of McGregor’s team, might get in touch and if he might pass on his number. He said to go for it.

It was no problem whatsoever. Then came silence. A former world welterweight champion that had retired to a TV analysis job in the United States, he didn’t give it any more thought but, come June, Gerry Byrne did finally get in touch. With McGregor beginning his preparations for the Floyd Mayweather bout, he asked about the chance of Malignaggi coming to camp as a sparring partner.

Then came yet more silence. In the end, Malignaggi was hired to do the North American leg of the press tour for Showtime and still there was nothing. When it finished, it was late July.

Gerry Byrne did get back in touch and firmed up some dates that were only days away. Out of shape, Malignaggi thought about it and, having been in many camps, recalled how those brought in only tended to do three or four rounds anyway.

Fascinated by being part of it all, and getting a rare insight into what was to be a pay-per-view record breaker, he agreed. While McGregor was busy talking about his cardio, while his team talked about him bringing something new to a near-ancient sport, while the UFC and any around them were busy exploiting fans who ought to have seen truth, this was that actual reality.

‘I got there on the Wednesday and we did eight rounds on Thursday,’ Malignaggi remembers. ‘It was uneventful. He wasn’t that good; I was out of shape. I wasn’t trying to win rounds but I could still control the pace. I guess the start of the experience was all pretty much fine except for the house. It was dingy. It had one TV, no channels; you had to use Wi-fi. It was in a ghetto in Vegas, but that wasn’t where his main team was staying. He was in his own house with Kavanagh and the coaches and Gerry. The rest of the sparring team were in this shithole. I wasn’t asking to be treated anyway special, though. I could have easily asked them to put me in the MGM Grand, but whatever. They’d offered, I took it, and I never complained. I just got on with it, I was there to spar and help Conor. 

‘He seemed normal at first. In the ring, he talked a lot of trash, but so be it. Although, for the sparring sessions he hired Joe Cortez, the retired referee. He wanted to get used to the boxing rules and the psychology of a full fight atmosphere. So he wanted centre ring, a touch of gloves, instructions. It was kind of corny the first time and I thought it was a joke. I was trying not to laugh at this, wondering “Is this guy for real?” But we did the rounds anyway and after sparring he said he was pleased with it, and he’d like me to stay and help out if possible. I said, “Okay, that’s a plan. We’ll work it out.”

ultimate-boxxer-brand-launch-me-hotel Former boxer Paulie Malignaggi (file pic). Source: PA Archive/PA Images

‘That was it on Thursday. We were supposed to spar again on Saturday as I was leaving on Monday for Adrien Broner-Mikey Garcia. I figured they’d get two sessions out of me before I went away. Saturday came and he didn’t want to spar me, he wanted to spar this journeyman Dashon Johnson and this amateur kid Tiernan Bradley. Which, well, whatever, I’m not training for a fight. I didn’t think I’d gone hard two days prior, though. But the fact he didn’t use me as much as he could before I left, that confirmed what I suspected about his character. I watched him lose to Nate Diaz and the choices he made — he lacked character. It was less work for me with a base salary so I didn’t question him, but he is going to fight Floyd Mayweather. Why not try and get the best out of himself?’

The saying in boxing goes that you suffer in camp so you don’t have to on fight night. Based on that, this story didn’t add up. What also didn’t add up was a photo McGregor made public of himself with his hands behind his back during their rounds.

It meant that everything Malignaggi was asked back on press duty came back to this and how good McGregor was. For the most part, he toed the line but on occasion, he let the truth, as he saw it, slip. ‘I took it as, “Ah whatever. People get the gist.”

But the following weekend in New York, the media wanted details. They weren’t even talking about the fight I was actually there to work on, a big fight. I had to dodge missiles.

I had to not make myself look bad, but they were asking stupid questions. “Is he beating you up?” I had to defend my image and defend his. I’m getting bombarded, I’m working, I have no choice. It was constantly, “How hard does this guy hit?”

‘I’ve been hit so many times, in my fights, gyms, sparring. I gave an honest answer. I said, “He’s like a grown man and that has to be respected.” That he doesn’t hit hard or soft.

Now he wanted me to say he hits like Golovkin. If it’s closer to Golovkin or my sister, it’s closer to my sister. When Miguel Cotto hit me, I was wondering if it was real. I’d sparred Amir Imam, a prospect, a good puncher. We had sixteenounce gloves, and still he hits light years above what McGregor did or could. I’d have to check if I was still standing at times when I was in with him. But I didn’t say anything offensive. I tried to dodge it, but sometimes an answer came out. I said you had to respect it. That was the total context.’

Back he went to Vegas, to what he describes as ‘the crack house’. He was unpacking in his room that night when one of the other sparring partners came in and told him he was going to be set up the next day.

What did it mean? Well, in McGregor’s camps, nothing is ever scheduled. You are booked for the day, and you may or may not be used. Either way, you won’t know until it’s upon you, but it had been decided in the background.

us-news-august-26-2017 McGregor pictured boxing against Floyd Mayweather. Source: Armando Arorizo

The next day, he would be told ringside to go the full 12 rounds. To Malignaggi, it seemed a waste of time. Why would McGregor prepare for a fight by sparring one out of shape boxer for 12 rounds when he could have a number of them alternating? That way he would always be facing a fresh opponent.

But nonetheless he showed up to the UFC training centre, and where the upstairs room was usually deserted, there was a relatively large crowd of about 20. They were high profile too, although more had been expected, with the likes of Gordon Ramsey not taking up an invite.

‘At that point, I realised it was malice,’ Malignaggi says. ‘I got there, and the crowd is bigger but the rest is the usual. Everything is so controlled. You have to put your phone in a bag in case anyone tries to sneak footage. [McGregor] was about 20 minutes late as normal. I was warming up hard. I wanted to kick his ass. He arrives. He’s cool. Friendly. He gets to the gym, shakes my hand. But he’s such a two-faced guy. We start, and I tried to get off to a fast start and he held his own. After four or five rounds, I was thinking, “I’m not going to make this full 12.”

‘Then something funny happened. He started to tire in front of me. The middle rounds, he started getting his ass kicked. On the basis of that confidence, I bit down and stayed. He doesn’t like getting hit, and he was in better shape but can’t handle getting beat up. I was yelling at him, at his corner, at Dana White. I was telling them what a fraud he was and a lot more. I’d tell you what I was saying, but I’d probably lose my media job if I repeated it. He landed a few good shots but the only reason that day he didn’t get stopped was because I couldn’t follow up my attacks. I’d land but wasn’t in the shape to go in for a bit more. But I was getting time between the exchanges and I could recover. He’d be stopped if I was in better shape — as no matter who, he folds when getting hit.’

They made it to the end, to applause from the room. If there was any tension before, Malignaggi was sure they’d beaten it out of each other and beaten respect into one another. He was pleased with himself, too: one thing in fighting is that if you have to be in good shape to give a whooping over 12 rounds, you have to be in better shape to take one.

He knew he wasn’t at his best physically, therefore he couldn’t have taken a beating. At worst, he claims, he held his own, to the point where White came up and said he appreciated him being there and helping out, though Malignaggi brushed past him, wanting to give no time to a man who, in his opinion, treated his own fighters so poorly.

Instead he headed for the dressing rooms, telling McGregor he needed to stop with the public pictures. ‘I’m only saying this: I know you are trying to promote the fight, but I have to constantly field questions if you put out these pictures,’ he said. ‘Last week was tough.’ ‘You liked it,’ retorted McGregor.

If Malignaggi had expected a normal answer, this wasn’t it. Instead, McGregor, in a towel and without turning, headed for the showers and roared, ‘I don’t know, Paulie, we got some good footage of the last couple of rounds.’

‘I’m waiting for him to say he’s kidding, but he turns the corner and that’s it,’ adds Malignaggi. ‘I was like, “Is this guy serious?” I just said, “Alright Conor, you do that [and] I’ll be telling the truth about all of this, if that’s the path you want to go down.”

He didn’t answer. I didn’t shower, I was so angry. I dried off, went downstairs, back to the house.’ The next morning, he checked his phone and got a direct message from McGregor, a shot of him on the canvas after what he says was a slip. Thinking no more about it, he went about his day in Vegas, visiting Frank Mir and meandering around the city.

‘What more am I supposed to think?’ he says of the image. ‘It was a slip. Cortez was referee and is motioning no knockdown. Also, knockdowns in gyms are super rare considering the thousands of rounds. Gloves are too big, there’s headgear, guys are alternating in and out. In my lifetime, I’ve been knocked down four or five times in twenty years. Slips, falls, that happens all the time. But when there’s a legit knockdown, there’s a huge reaction. So that was it.’

chaos

Until the next day. Another sparring session, he was again on standby. A text came through telling those in his house to be at the training centre for three. So Malignaggi goes, warms up hard, as he’s sore from the twelve rounds and wants to work off the pain. McGregor again shows 25 minutes after he said he would, with his trainers, and they say he’s not sparring anyone.

‘This is a guy fighting Floyd Mayweather,’ thought Malignaggi, not for the first time. With his hands wrapped, he decided he’d do some bag work himself and asked the striking coach Owen Roddy to glove him up. Instead, he and the others were told they were to go downstairs, where there was no real equipment available to them.

Roddy said they had to get out of there, as they wanted to work on some shots McGregor would be using against them in later sparring, and he wanted them to come as a surprise. ‘Odd,’ thought Malignaggi, ‘but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

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‘I’m going downstairs complaining to the other sparring partners. “Who does this shit? What the fuck is this?” I’m shadow-boxing downstairs and there’s a treadmill. There’s nothing else there. I was pissed. So I go to the locker room, get my stuff out, and my phone is always on vibrate. I can hear it through the bag, I can feel the buzzing like mad. It’s really going crazy. I had a million messages. My social media was going through the roof. My text messages too. Then I saw it. Conor released photos of me on the canvas. It finally dawned what a piece of shit that guy is. I can’t win. He has all the cameras.

‘There was the video too, all edited to make him look good. He gives you the punches landed in 12 and then he goes back to 11 so you get the furthest camera view. Nothing lands, but you can’t tell that because the straight left is covered by his back. When I re-appear, his hand is behind my neck, that’s only because of one thing: he missed. If my head gets hit, it’ll whiplash. So he misses, is holding my head down, and from there throws a little smack. I’m pulling away to get my head away and it’s a casual slip. If anyone thinks that smack knocked me down … well, he doesn’t hit hard. I pulled back and the momentum is like tug of war: let go of the rope and the other person goes flying.’

In the minivan on the way back to the apartment, Malignaggi fumed. He raged about the place they were put up in, about how they were told they could eat in a healthy restaurant but that many items on the menu weren’t allowed due to cost. He told the others he’d been part of relatively small-money training camps but he treated people with respect and it was returned out of decency.

And also out of the fact that any time he was preparing, he wanted his sparring partners to be at their very best as that helped him get to his very best. That, after all, was the point of camp.

One fighter he asks not to name but who was part of McGregor’s team leaned forward and fist bumped him in agreement. ‘The more he makes, the worse he treats everyone and the cheaper he gets,’ they said. ‘You are right about everything, I understand.’ Malignaggi got out of there. He says he still never took the money owed as he doesn’t want it, but in the build up to the fight he saw Attar and wanted a word.

‘I was there working for Sky. There was a scrum around Conor, and I tried to get Audie aside and say this isn’t cool. Just in private, to talk, as he’d been at that training session. He resisted me, pulling away, he wanted to be among media, as he wants to be famous. Then he says, “No, Paulie.” There was tension around the reporters. Conor can’t not be the centre of attention, and he gets in my face and then I said, “You’ve no balls,” as I’d told him in camp.

‘But there’s a saying Conor lives by and must repeat it daily as he’s made a living. It’s called “Perception is reality.” He must know it well. He understands. His entire life is the perception of one thing, when his reality is something else. As long as he can give that great, big lie to the masses, he thinks it’s real. When you react to an ass-kicking like he does, always looking for a way to soften the blow and softly quit, then you know. His whole story is a lie. You know he didn’t have it as hard as he tries to sell in his story. If you had it that bad, an ass-kicking is not even close to the worst thing. It comes and ends, but the things you went through, you thought you’d never get out of it, they scare you.’

floyd-mayweather-jr-vs-conor-mcgregor Floyd Mayweather Jr defeats Conor McGregor during their fight at the T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas. Source: Hahn Lionel/ABACA

Malignaggi continues on, telling me he’s like a wrestling character in his mind, only in a real sport. He tells me others in the MMA community shouldn’t look up to him so much either, based on how he hangs around so closely with Dana White.

For instance, one contact he has in UFC said that McGregor made €80m from that Mayweather fight, but the UFC made €40m. That may initially not seem like an outrageous split, but remember that this was McGregor’s effort and not theirs, indeed it wasn’t even their sport.

‘If that happened me, I would never speak to you again,’ stresses Malignaggi. ‘I may be down to a contract, I may have to work with you because of that, but I certainly won’t be friends. He hangs out as if White’s his buddy. He can’t have balls to do that. But he’s indulged by those around him. Without a doubt, it’s all yes men. All yes men. He does and says whatever he wants. He actually orders them what to say sometimes. I came away from that camp and said everyone there is kissing his ass. I never kissed his ass but never disrespected him. I treated him normal. But when they shake his hand, they are in awe. I spoke and shook hands, man to man. Everyone else speaks, almost asking, “Hey, is that okay?” Tip-toeing. I’ve been around bigger stars than him, better people than him. I don’t give respect based on money you make or fame you have. If I’m guessing right, he didn’t like that I didn’t put him on a pedestal. I think if you don’t do that, he looks at you like a possible enemy. Anyone who doesn’t, he hates. It’s why he hates Floyd. He kicked his ass, is more famous, is worth more money, and [McGregor] hates that.

‘And even Floyd, for all the very real issues, you catch him on his own and he’s a normal person. Conor has no sense of reality. He wants to be looked at like a god. But he has to go to bed knowing people fucked him over. If you’re God, you aren’t bending over. Rich as he is, he’ll never be happy, but he’ll give you that perception because he lives by that. It rarely ends well. I always tried my best to not let money and fame change me. At times, I’d to tell myself stop treating people this way: you have certain moments caught up in the rush and you say something or do something you shouldn’t. But you catch yourself.’

That same week as this was all going on, Mayweather’s preparation took place almost exclusively in his strip club. Yet despite that, by the middle rounds, McGregor was the one in trouble out of tiredness more so than an opponent barely trying. By the final bell, all that faked bad blood dissipated. They’d made their money. In defeat, McGregor said that was a victory. The madness had started to lie to him.

Chaos is a Friend of Mine: The Life and Crimes of Conor McGregor by Ewan MacKenna is published by deCoubertin Books. More info here.

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