Paulie Malignaggi opens up on 'hidden agenda' of Conor McGregor sparring tape, fallout

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

The first time Paulie Malignaggi hopped on a plane in New York to head to Las Vegas to spar with UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor, he looked forward to the trip.

McGregor reached out and asked Malignaggi to help him prepare for his Aug. 26 mega-bout against unbeaten Floyd Mayweather at T-Mobile Arena, a match that is expected to set all sorts of financial records.

They’d had words in the past – McGregor was angered when Malignaggi said in a Dec. 11 interview with FightHype that he could beat McGregor with ankle weights on and one hand tied behind his back – but Malignaggi believed McGregor’s invitation to spar was a genuine attempt to help him prepare for Mayweather.

That, though, didn’t last long and Malignaggi now finds himself overwhelmed by media requests and feuding with a guy he’s not fighting.

“I thought I was being brought to his camp so we could spar and get some work in, but I didn’t know there was some sort of hidden agenda,” Malignaggi told Yahoo Sports on Monday. “Who does that? If it’s that bad, the guys usually just wind up fighting. You don’t do this whole weird sparring thing. That was unexpected.”

Malignaggi has found himself in a war of words with McGregor and in a burgeoning feud with UFC president Dana White, who has insisted McGregor won all 12 rounds he sparred on Aug. 3 with Malignaggi.

White released two clips of that sparring session, and the video appears to show Malignaggi being dropped by a combination and taking a solid left hand to the face. Malignaggi insisted he was not dropped and instead was pushed down, and pointed to a YouTube video in which the action is slowed and the person analyzing the video says the punches didn’t land and that McGregor pushed Malignaggi down.

Conor McGregor gave a show to media in attendance on Friday at the UFC Performance Institute. (Getty)

McGregor said after a workout at the UFC Performance Institute last week that he was fearful that Malignaggi suffered a concussion during their sparring session.

He said the pushback coming from Malignaggi was an attempt by Malignaggi to save face.

“He showed up, did his best and it didn’t go his way,” McGregor said. “He got his ass whipped. He got his pride dented and he wanted a way out. What better way for a guy like him to exit than under a lot of questions and mystery?”

Malignaggi, though, tells a far different story. He said McGregor’s team was very manipulative throughout. They had him spar 12 rounds when he was just 24 hours off a plane and not in shape for that length of sparring. They called him to the gym in the middle of the afternoon, he alleged, and then told him he couldn’t work out.

He said the team members expertly used social media to create the impression McGregor was dominating Malignaggi when the opposite is true.

White said McGregor won all 12 rounds, which also irritated the outspoken former super lightweight and welterweight world champion.

“Listen, there’s something you have to understand about what Dana is saying common sense-wise,” Malignaggi said. “I wasn’t in the best shape so the fact that I went 12 rounds with him – he definitely got the best of the last two rounds, and I’ve already said that – but that’s part of where the editing stuff comes in. Those shots are from Round 12. I was 24 hours off a flight. I had flown cross-country and I had worked [Adrien] Broner-[Mikey] Garcia fight pretty much the whole week before.

“I wasn’t training for a fight and I wasn’t in great shape. But I was pretty satisfied with the way the first 10 rounds had gone. I was pretty satisfied with my performance and felt I’d done well. I feel I’d gotten the better of the first 10 rounds. But here’s what you have to understand: Someone in half-assed shape isn’t going to be able to survive a 12-round beating.”

Malignaggi said that if he had been hit hard and taken a severe beating, he would not have been able to finish the session.

He said McGregor complicated matters by going to social media and that when White released the videos, it set off McGregor’s passionate fan base.

“You just have to be in shape to take a 12-round beating,” Malignaggi said. “What they’re doing is so adorable and so cute. They’re trying all these sales tactics. His fan base is adorable and cute, because they’re jumping all over it. Everything they say, they’re jumping all over it. They’re so happy to hear this news that he’s supposedly doing great and the video shows this and that’s how it is.

“I’ve never seen such a cult-like following to the point where people are in denial and where the fighter himself doesn’t even believe in himself to that point he’s putting out this fake stuff. He’s afraid the real stuff won’t convince anybody. This entire thing, he’s like the little engine that could. He’s like this adorable guy trying so hard to look like Hercules. He knows nobody believes in him and he’s trying so hard to get people to believe and his minions are trying so hard that they believe anything he says. Dana is the little ringleader.”

Malignaggi had harsh words for White, whom he said attempted to congratulate him after he’d finished his sparring session with McGregor. Malignaggi said he shrugged White off.

“Dana being the fake guy that he is, he tried to come up to me and say, ‘Hey man, good work,’ ” Malignaggi said. “I just brushed him off because he’s not somebody I like. I don’t like the way he runs his business. I don’t like the way he screws the fighters. I don’t like the fact he’s trying to prevent the Muhammad Ali Act from being included in mixed martial arts. I don’t like him as a person. I don’t like what he stands for and I don’t like anything about him.

“So when he tried to talk to me after the sparring, I kind of brushed him off anyway. The fact he put out the video, I think he got a lot of pleasure out of that, the whole editing and putting it out, because he didn’t like how I brushed him off to begin with.”

When advised of Malignaggi’s comments, White did not back down on his position that McGregor dominated the sparring.

“He’s a tough guy,” White said via text message. “He took a [expletive] beating for 12 rounds and talked [expletive] the entire time. He has talked [expletive] for six or seven straight days saying, Conor can’t box, he doesn’t hit hard, etc., so I put out some footage of the 12-round ass-whoopin and the knockdown he said didn’t happen.

“He said the video was edited or something?? What am I, [expletive] Steven Spielberg? Paulie is a tough guy, but he absolutely did the right thing leaving Conor’s camp early. I truly believe Conor would have hurt him badly.”

So for several days on a bout that could hit five million pay-per-view sales for the first time, the main event fighter is talking not about his opponent but about a guy who will serve as an analyst on the television broadcast.

The television announcer is getting into a beef with the co-promoter and the other main event fighter, normally smack in the middle of any controversy himself, is sitting silently taking it all in.

This all begs just one thought: Aug. 26 can’t get here soon enough.

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