In a fight that few people saw, and I’m sure even fewer will report on, Paulie Malignaggi defeated the WBA’s welterweight beltholder, undefeated Vyacheslav Senchenko, on Sunday to claim his second world title. Actually, saying Malignaggi “defeated” Senchenko is an understatement. The Magic Man whipped Senchenko, using superior mobility to work the angles and mount a quick-fisted, combination-punching offense. Malignaggi is often (and justifiably) labeled a feather fist, but last night saw him claim his first ever world title fight stoppage, absolutely shredding Senchenko’s face en route to a TKO9.
I expected Malignaggi to score an upset victory, although his domination of Senchenko came as something of a shock. Although Senchenko has fought almost his entire career on his home turf of the Ukraine, and his opposition rose above the journeyman level for the first time in Malignaggi, he always struck me as a well-schooled, rugged fighter.
My private prediction was that Malignaggi would befuddle the more rigid Senchenko with his greatly superior speed and fleeter feet, and put on such a boxing clinic that the judges would be hard-pressed to give the Ukrainian the win, even before a hometown crowd. The redoubtable, tough luck Brooklynite didn’t give the judges even the chance to screw him out of another well-deserved victory, as they did with Juan Diaz in Houston.
This win hands Malignaggi a veritable bowl of cherries, and frankly I can’t think of a fighter more deserving of such a huge break right now. In addition to winning a second world title belt, the Magic Man has now crashed the welterweight top ten (we ranked Senchenko at #7), Malignaggi sits in what is arguably the richest place in boxing for a fighter of his class: at the career intersection of Amir Khan, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
Amir Khan has already indicated his desire to move up to welterweight, and win or lose in his rematch with Lamont Peterson, the quickest route for him to claim a 147-pound title is by challenging for the WBA strap. Now Malignaggi sits astride that path, itching for a rematch against the man who whomped him two years ago.
Yet an even bigger payday might await with Mayweather and Pacquiao. If the superfight everyone wants fails to come off (yet again), both rivals will be looking for a fight later this year (albeit after Mayweather gets out of jail). Malignaggi, a second-tier “name” fighter with a world title belt around his waist, makes a very attractive dance partner. I don’t give Malignaggi a snowball’s chance of beating Khan, Mayweather or Pacquiao, but I expect he will be courted by two or more of those parties, and he ought to be able to demand top dollar for his services. A career-high payday is waiting for the Magic Man, and it’s about time.