Amir Khan-Paulie Malignaggi Weigh-In Turns into Near-Brawl
NEW YORK-- The intensity boiled over between WBA junior middleweight (140 pounds) champion Amir Khan of England and challenger Paulie Malignaggi of Brooklyn, whose initial post-weigh-in shoving match nearly erupted into an all-out, on-stage brawl between the two camps at The Essex House Hotel in downtown Manhattan.
As several observers rushed the stage at the noon event, the fighters disappeared into a packed crowd of of swaying bodies, even as members of their respective entourages sped to their side to protect each of the combatants.
Both the 23-year-old Khan (22-1, 16 knockouts) and the 29-year-old Malignaggi (27-3, five KOs) escaped harm, but the action had Malignaggi's promoter, Lou DiBella, screaming that he would "pull my fighter if there is another breach in security."
Khan and Malignaggi will meet in Saturday night's HBO-televised main event at Madison Square Garden.
The testy fighters were at times nose-to-nose and forehead-to-forehead before the fracas, which lasted for about two minutes. The fighters were spirited away by their handlers and calm was restored by members of on-site security.
"A lot of people rushed the stage. I got Amir, I took him down to the back of the stage and protected my fighter. I have no idea what went on after that," said Khan's trainer, Freddie Roach, who was among some 200-or-so people crammed into a tight banquet room. "All I know is that a lot of people rushed the stage. But I got Amir off to the side, and that's all that I was concerned with was Amir."
The situation developed shortly after each of the fighters had stepped onto the scale, with Malignaggi weighing 139 and Khan 139.5.
What happened next depends on whom you ask.
"The two guys were going at it. Eric Gomez [of Golden Boy Promotions] grabbed Amir. I grabbed Amir, and I walked him to the right and walked him down to the back of the stage where he was safe. I guess that it's good for the fight, and, like I said, it happens all of the time," said Roach.
"But if the [New York State Athletic Commission] doesn't want that to happen, don't pose the fighters," said Roach. "Because if you're going to pose two fighters together this close to a fight with this kind of intensity, that's going to happen 95 percent of the time because these two guys are on the edge."
Khan and his father, Shah, were swiftly swept from the scene and were not immediately available for comment.
"Khan started talking sh**t, and then I started talking back, and then he shoved me. So I shoved him back. That's a sign of weakness on Khan's part. He's nervous. He's talking all of this sh*t about how I'm nervous, but that's a sign right there that he's nervous, man, you know?" said Malignaggi.
"We were talking sh*t. It was typical sh*t-talking, he shoved me, and then I shoved him back. Well, actually, I didn't have time to shove him back," said Malignaggi. "I tried to kick him in his leg, I threw some kicks, or whatever, but I was being pulled backward by somebody who grabbed me from behind. I don't know what happened after that, you probably know better than me. After that, it just turned into a melee."
Malignaggi blamed the champion's various supporters, between 20 or 30 of whom wore black T-shirts with the word, "Khan's Army," written in white letters.
"This problem happened because this was supposed to be a weigh-in that was closed to the public, but they went ahead and only let his public in. This wouldn't have happened if they had closed it to his people. They said that the were going to close the weigh in to the public, but then, they let his people in," said Malignaggi.
"Otherwise, I would have had my fans here," said Malignaggi. "But they closed it to the public and then let all of his fans in. This is the problem. Otherwise, the stage wouldn't have gotten invaded, and he wouldn't have had so much (gumption), otherwise."
Malignaggi's manager, Anthony Catancaro, said "we were bum-rushed" by Khan's supporters.
"Basically, what happens between the fighters happens should stay between the fighters. Let them square off. We didn't need to get bum-rushed on the stage. It was very chaotic out there. But to their defense, and to their credit, Mr. Shah Khan [Amir Khan's father], and another one of Amir's uncles tried to break it up on stage," said Catancaro.
"A group of people got up on stage and bum-rushed us. They had 'Khan's Army' on their shirts. At the end of the day, though, we're only going to be fighting Amir Khan. Look at Khan's record. He's been spoon-fed opponents and title defenses," said Catancaro. "But this time, they picked the wrong guy, the wrong city, and the wrong time. At the end of the day, Paulie's just a better fighter. That's what it comes down to. Paulie just needs to get his hands on Amir Khan and you'll see what will happen on Saturday night."
DiBella said Golden Boy Promotions has "laid out a red carpet" for Khan, while limiting his fighter, Malignaggi.
"The weigh-in was closed to the public, so we had 20 people here, otherwise, Paulie could have had the place full. Those guys [Khan supporters] come in, and they're in a circle, chanting, and they're wearing shirts that say, 'Khan's Army,' and they run onto the stage? What would have happened if the situation was reversed? There would be a f****** civil rights investigation," said DiBella.
"They laid a red carpet out for this kid, but do you ever think that he's going to be a star? Come on, seriously? I'll tell you what, though, and that is, if there is one more breach of security, or anything else like that again, I'm pulling my kid out of the fight. Take that to the bank," said DiBella.
"The fighters were promoting the fight until those guys came on stage," said DiBella. "By the way, I'm concerned about security for Saturday night, and you can put that on the record. I'm concerned about security for tomorrow night. If I feel for one second that my fighter is in danger, he's not fighting."
But Khan's manager, Asif Vali, and his promoter, Richard Schaefer, gave perspectives of the incident in favor of Khan.
Vali said Malignaggi "kicked Amir first." Also, when Malignaggi slipped his left hand beneath his own neck, and continuously ran it back and forth in a slashing motion from the left side of his throat to the right, Vali said that the entire Khan camp became incensed.
"You never give the throat-cutting gesture like you're going to cut someone's throat," said Vali. "That's just totally uncalled for and disrespectful."
Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, even blamed DiBella for igniting the fire.
"I was standing right there. And Lou DiBella, Paulie Malignaggi's promoter, was like, egging Malignaggi on, and then one thing led to another. And I saw that Malignaggi grabbed Amir Khan's neck, and then, people started pushing, and then, like I said, one thing led to another," said Schaefer.
"But thank God, nobody got injured, and everything is all right. I did walk Amir up to his room. You know, it's really personal now, between these two fighters," said Schaefer. "It's really emotional for Amir Khan. As they say in England, 'Put a number on it.' He's really going to go after a knockout against [Malignaggi.]"
Schaefer denied DiBella's assertion that Malignaggi's fans were turned away in favor of Khan's.
"I heard somebody say that the Paulie Malignaggi fans were not permitted to come in. Did you guys get checked [talking to reporters]? People could come in here. It was widely announced on the internet sites which posted that the weigh in was going to be today at the Essex House," said Schaefer.
"I guess that Khan's fans found their way here, and I guess that the Malignaggi fans just didn't. But there was not one Malignaggi fan turned down that 'You can not come in,' so that's a bunch of B.S.," said Schaefer. "It just seems like Amir Khan has more fans than Paulie Malignaggi. There's nothing that I can say to that."
As for the brawl, Schaefer admitted, "It's good for the promotion."
"You can't and you shouldn't plan for something like this to happen. But there has been a lot of talk going on between these two fighters throughout the promotion, and I think that, with one day to go for the fight, everything is sort of like at the boiling point, as it should be," said Schaefer.
"But tomorrow night, they're going to face each other in the ring. And all of that talk doesn't matter any more," said Schaefer. "I can see that they really don't like each other. So I believe that you will see all of that build up, I'm sure, is going to be carried into the ring. There are going to be some fireworks in this one. And you don't want to miss it."