Play your Cards right
On Saturday Paulie Malignaggi will face off against Sam Eggington in a crossroads fight that will tell us a lot about both fighters. Accompanying him once again will be Peter Sferrazza, aka Peter Cards. Luke Byron spoke to the Magic Man's ever reliable friend and cornerman...
Peter Sferrazza and Paulie Maligannagi go "way back" and Peter will be cornering for his great friend for Saturday's welterweight clash against Sam Eggington - as he has for the Brooklyn boxer's entire professional career.
"I used to box myself," Sferrazza told me. "I went to the Gleason's Gym from seven years old and I took a break - I’d always be in and out, but never committed myself fully. Then I went back at 18 and I met Paulie, and we just hit it off - two Italian guys - and I was just amazed by what he was doing.
"He was already ranked number one in the country as an amateur, and I sparred with him a few times, which put a lot of things in perspective for me because you think you’re good at something, and then you see someone who really is good at it and you realise you’ve got a lot of work to do! Or you help him with what he’s doing, and that’s the approach I took."
Sferrazza's admirable decision has helped the duo form a bond which exists not only in boxing but also extends to a deep friendship outside of the ring.
As the career of the ‘Magic Man’ reaches its final chapter, I posed the question as to whether there was a standout highlight for Sferrazza.
He took a moment and then reminisced: "I don’t want to come across as arrogant, but the first world title [the IBF super lightweight title, won against Lovemore Ndou in 2007] was a life goal, but at the same time it was expected - so we had a great time and I partied like hell afterwards, but in my mind I knew he’d be a champion...
"So for me, it was when we thought maybe it was all over and then we were given the chance to go over to Ukraine and face [Vyacheslav] Senchenko [for the WBA welterweight title], to pull off that one, especially with a stoppage as [Paulie's] not known for that. It’s easy to say now ‘oh that guy wasn’t all that good’, but he was good enough that nobody wanted to go challenge him!"
The bout took place on 29 April 2012 and was the culmination of a series of comeback contests Malignaggi won to bounce back from a stoppage defeat to Amir Khan two years earlier.
"He didn’t trust the system in Ukraine," Sferrazza revealed. "Rightfully so, as after the ninth round when he stopped him, one of the judges had Senchenko winning. I remember going into the eighth round, I told Paulie: 'he [Senchenko] doesn’t want it any more' and [I knew] he could stop him.
"Winning that title, holding it in my hands and coming all the way from New York - that was really something for me, and was a big highlight."
That evening was a rare stoppage victory for light-punching Paulie, just the seventh and most recent of a now 43-fight career.
"He’s a small welterweight, so to win in another weight class was great," is Sferrazza's assessment. "Some of these guys have it easier, they train just as hard but they’ve got that punch where if they land it on the chin then it's game over, Paulie is more of the marathon version, going 12 rounds every time. It’s been a long journey, but it’s been a lot of fun too."
With Paulie and Peter being such good friends, I wondered if it makes it harder to be a cornerman, as he’s forced to differentiate the relationship between 'fighter' and 'friend'.
"Definitely," he replied, "I didn’t work for anyone before Paulie, and the only fighter I work with outside him now [is light heavyweight Junior Younan, who] I’ve known my whole life through his father. For me it’s not about money, it’s about the passion. I want to make sure I can do the best I can to make them feel comfortable, and just focus on the fight."
Looking ahead to the Eggington fight on 4 March, Peter can’t wait to be back in England. "The UK is just one of my favourite places to go," he explained. "I love the passion, I love the enthusiasm, they come to a show for the event. You go to a Mayweather fight and everyone has their suits on and times it so they get there for the Mayweather fight, or maybe the one before. In the UK it’s like a day out, it’s a party and an awesome environment!"
Following Malignaggi's 2015 defeat to Danny Garcia, Peter said on his and Paulie’s podcast ‘From Brooklyn to the World’ that he wanted his friend to hang the gloves up for good - three fights later and he is still firmly in the corner though. I therefore asked him if anything has changed, or if he is now just supporting the decision of his friend.
"The choice is his to make," he countered. "I can only give my opinion. I was very honest with him, he knows he’s not his best and he’s seen better days, but if he feels he’s still got something left in him then I’ll support that.
"He trusts my judgement, but he’s been doing this nearly 20 years. Financially he’s comfortable, so he’ll see how he feels after this win and go from there."
I wondered just how much Peter and the team know about Eggington as they prepare for Saturday. "I look at Sam as a very tough kid," is Sferrazza's assessment. "He’s tough and young and I remember when Paulie was that young and excited.
"I’ve seen the [Bradley] Skeete and [Frankie] Gavin fights, and he’s shown a lot of heart and character. I expect all that and more against Paulie, because you see Paulie Malignaggi across the ring and you know he’s still crafty, so I think Sam will have an extra push for this one.
"Skills pay the bills [though] and I think this is a tough fight for Sam and he’ll see that after a few rounds. I wouldn’t advise my fighter to be hit the way he does, but it’s like going to work and getting your hands dirty!"
Hear more from Peter Sferrazza on his weekly podcast with Malignaggi, entitled ‘From Brooklyn to the World’ - available each week on iTunes!
Sam Eggington vs Paulie Malignaggi takes place on the undercard of David Haye vs Tony Bellew on 4 March, Live from the O2 Arena and on Sky Sports Box Office.