Boxing
Can "Magic Man" make Ngoudjo disappear?
Lyle Fitzsimmons

By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - He's already the master of raucous ring entrances and gaudy outfits.

But come Saturday night in Atlantic City, Paulie Malignaggi is fully expecting to leave wind-chilled boardwalk observers with another lasting impression of his weekend seashore appearance.

A 12-round (or preferably less) domination of Herman Ngoudjo.

"I want to be explosive and dominant. It's important that I beat him in a way he's never been beaten before," said the IBF junior welterweight champion, in a Thursday afternoon interview. "If I go out there and win in a one-sided fashion, maybe even by a late-round stoppage, then I will have done my job."

Not only would such a victory mark a successful defense of the crown Malignaggi seized with a near-shutout of Lovemore N'dou in June, it'll also add some legitimacy to the Brooklyn native's pursuit of a date with the 140- pound division's hottest ticket - Ricky Hatton.

Malignaggi said a bout with Hatton has been "seriously" discussed within his camp, possibly for sometime later this year as the two-time belt-holder again returns to his natural weight following last month's PPV loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. at 147.

Paulie Malignaggi
Paulie Malignaggi is the IBF junior welterweight champion.
But he's tried very hard, he claims, to ignore the hoopla and focus on immediate business.

"The talk is out there, but I really try and keep my curiosity about it to a minimum," Malignaggi said. "He's the guy everybody guns for and he's the one who would draw the big money, but I've got to make sure I'm prepared for what's in front of me, or none of that will matter."

That preparation has meant a three-month training camp this time around, spent largely in the remote reaches of the Pocono Mountains with an intent to hand the Cameroon-born Ngoudjo just his second loss in 18 professional outings.

The 5-foot-8 right-hander debuted in 2003 and won his first 15 bouts before dropping a split 12-round verdict to Jose Luis Castillo in a WBC title eliminator one year ago.

Castillo, of course, went on to a pummeling at the hands of Hatton, while Ngoudjo rebounded with a narrow points win over Miami-based veteran Randall Bailey in an IBF eliminator in June.

"He's a top contender and he's got some good wins, and he's never been dominated in a fight," Malignaggi said. "The Castillo loss was close, so he's never really been beaten in the fashion I'm planning to beat him in. This is an important night for me.

"I've seen him on film and I know what he does, but after a while I stop looking at those things. You give yourself too much to think about and worry about and you get all wrapped in your own head. I'm going in there with the idea that he's going to have a lot to worry about with what I'm doing."

And, Hatton notwithstanding, Malignaggi admits the desire to score a clear-cut win is also in response to critics who've branded him negatively based on a low knockout percentage - five stoppages in 23 career wins - and his sometimes engaging, sometimes irritating flair.

"I used to see things and read things about me and it used to get me really upset. I'd get mad about it," he said. "But now that I've gotten a little older it doesn't bother me so much. I think I'll be one of those guys that people will start to appreciate more after I'm gone, like the Prince (Naseem Hamed) was.

"I've won 23 out of 24 fights and the only guy I didn't beat was Cotto, and no one else has beaten him either. At the end of the day, a punch is a punch. And even if I'm not knocking guys out, I must be hitting them sharply enough to keep them from walking right through me. I've earned their respect."

Elsewhere on the card, to be picked up live by Showtime at 9 p.m. ET, former title claimant Glen Johnson takes what should be the final step before his next chance at light heavyweight supremacy.

The affable Jamaican, who turned 39 on Wednesday, faces Colombian replacement Hugo Pineda - a failed world title challenger at 140 and 147 pounds - in a scheduled 10-rounder at 175.

Johnson has won two straight since a loss to IBF champion Clinton Woods in September 2006 and is tentatively set to meet incumbent WBC belt-holder Chad Dawson on April 12 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.

His own IBF reign was brief but memorable, beginning with a unanimous 12-round defeat of Woods in February 2004 and featuring an upset ninth-round demolition of Roy Jones Jr. that September.

He relinquished the hardware to meet Antonio Tarver for the IBO belt in December 2004 and won a 12-round split verdict in their first fight, before dropping a unanimous nod in the rematch six months later.

Wins over George Jones and Richard Hall followed the Tarver series and preceded the 2006 loss to Woods, which was then followed by an 11th-round TKO of Montell Griffin in May 2007 and a fifth-round stoppage of Fred Moore in July.

Pineda, meanwhile, has been inactive for 14 months and has just four fights - three wins and a loss - since a fourth-round KO loss to Felix Trinidad for the IBF welterweight crown in May 1999.

Previously, he was stopped in 11 rounds by then-IBF 140-pound champion Kostya Tszyu in January 1996.

Massachusetts-based Mike Culbert was originally scheduled to face Johnson, but pulled out due to injury.

Last but not least this week, the oft-promised FitzHitz Awards for 2007.

Prospect of the Year: Andre Berto (welterweight) - The Florida-born slugger with the Haitian roots and engaging back story arrived on the cusp of stardom in 2007, running his record to 20-0 with three victories, including a stoppage of fringe contender David Estrada. A date on the undercard of a Paul Williams title defense in February could precede a title shot later this year.

Upset of the Year: Pavlik TKO 7 Taylor (WBC/WBO middleweight title) - When the unbeaten Pavlik hit the deck in the second round, it seemed that Taylor, in his fifth title defense, was on the verge of the dominant and defining victory he'd been unable to register against Hopkins, Wright, Ouma and Spinks. Five rounds later, a vicious barrage both turned the tide and ushered in a new era at 160 pounds.

Fight of the Year: Bika TKO 8 Codrington ("The Contender" final) - Though it lacked the significance of the year's other action-laden bouts, the 2007 reality series finale more than made up for it in terms of violence, drama and competitiveness. Both fighters were down in the opening round, and both gave as good as they got until the former world title challenger became ESPN?s top banana in round 8.

Fighter of the Year: Floyd Mayweather Jr. (WBC welterweight champion) - The "Pretty Boy" began the year with history's biggest PPV score, toppling Oscar De La Hoya for the WBC belt at 154 pounds in front of a record 2.4 million viewers. He followed it up with a precise 10th-round stoppage of the aforementioned Hatton at welterweight, drawing another 850,000 buys and running his pristine career mark to
39-0.

And until next week...if you can't be good, be careful.

Lyle Fitzsimmons has been a professional sports journalist since 1988. He is a periodic contributor to the Dave Smith Show on Sporting News Radio (radio.sportingnews.com), provides 'In The Ring' boxing commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com) and is available for free-lance print, radio or TV assignments at fitzbitz@msn.com.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.