Monday 20 January 2020

Revealed: The full history behind Conor McGregor and Paulie Malignaggi's increasingly bitter war of words

Conor McGregor during the World Press Tour
Conor McGregor during the World Press Tour

Luke Brown

Conor McGregor’s professional boxing debut against Floyd Mayweather is now less than three weeks away – and yet the vast majority of the pre-fight build-up has centred around the Irishman’s antipathy for a completely different boxer.

McGregor’s feud with the former world champion and sparring partner Paulie Malignaggi has now rumbled on for over six months, with both men taking repeated snipes at each other in the press and arguing on social media.

But how did their long-running dispute start? Who is in the wrong? And why on earth did McGregor invite his foe to join his training camp as his new sparring partner?

Here, we run through the full history of their explosive conflict.

A row is started

The row started back in December last year, almost immediately after McGregor was granted a boxing license in California – one of the first steps on the path to arranging a $1bn fight with the undefeated Mayweather.

A number of boxers reacted negatively to the news that McGregor was dipping his toe into the world of boxing, including Malignaggi, who immediately set about trying to angle his own fight with the Irishman.

“I have been hearing a lot about this McGregor situation and I got to thinking – you know what? – I am kind of interested,” Malignaggi said in a video posted on his Twitter account.

“At first I was telling Conor to stay in his lane and I was thinking you are going to embarrass yourself, but if you are really going to disrespect the sport of boxing like that then I would like to be the one to teach you that lesson.

“I would never disrespect your sport and tell everybody 'you know what, I could beat the best fighter in the cage'. You shouldn't come to our sport and tell everybody you could beat the best fighter in our sport in a ring.

“I know you apologised about absolutely nothing last fight, but after I am done with you - I am going to knock the beard off you homie - you are going to be apologising for everything you have been trying to do to get into boxing."

McGregor’s response was entirely predictable – and absolutely brutal.

“Who the f--- is that guy?” he said at a Q&A event in Ireland when asked for his reaction to Malignaggi’s comments, recalling his famous put down of Jeremy Stephens at the UFC 205 press conference. “I don't know who the f--- that is but I'll slap the nose off him if he ever mentions my name again.”

An unlikely alliance

After the public announcement that McGregor would be fighting Mayweather on August 26, a strange rumour began to do the rounds: Malignaggi had been invited into McGregor’s training camp to spar with him ahead of the big fight.

Malignaggi kept hinting that he would be sparring with the Irishman, but there was some confusion over whether that would still be the case when McGregor criticised him during one of the legs of the world tour to promote his fight with Mayweather.

Malignaggi covered the first three legs of the world tour for the American broadcaster Showtime, with McGregor taking a swipe at him for some of the comments he had made in the media.

“Yeah, look, Paulie talked a lot of s***,” McGregor said during the tour. “Look he’s been brought in to spar and then he’ll answer to what he’s been saying and then we’ll go from there after that. But we’re gonna have a knock in the gym.

“I mean, look, we’re gonna have a knock and he’s gonna have to answer to what he’s been saying. Then, maybe, we’ll see after that.”

Despite McGregor’s less than complimentary comments, Malignaggi later confirmed on The MMA Hour podcast that he would still be flying to Las Vegas to join the UFC champion’s training camp.

“I guess it’s down to how long they need me to work,” Malignaggi said.

“This is the first time that ever happened to me, so in my professional experience when I used to run my own training camps, I’d make all the decisions. I’d meet with my team and we’d make all the decisions as far as how long sparring partners should stay, when a sparring partner should go, and all this other stuff.

“So, if I’m going by the way that I look at things, all those decisions are going to be up to them — how long they want to keep me around for, how long they don’t want to keep me around for, and so on and so forth. I’m just there to accommodate as best as I can.”

Sparring gets off to a bad start…

It didn’t take long for things to go south, with Malignaggi admitting McGregor “was not very likeable” just days after first sparring him.

The American appeared on The Dan Patrick Show not long after sparring McGregor, to claim the intense sparring sessions were not especially enjoyable, with one session in particular becoming ‘rough’, ‘intense’ and ‘very dirty’.

“I'll be honest, it got a little rough, it got a little tense, it got very dirty in spots in sparring,” Malignaggi said on The Dan Patrick Show.

“He brings his game face into sparring. He's not very likeable, but I've got to admit I'm not very likeable either a lot of times in there.

“Also there had been words in the media about what we had said about each other before we even came to camp.

“I'm sure it all came to a head in sparring and I'm sure it will come to a head again during sparring. I'm not here to be friends with anybody and I've certainly seen the way he is with his sparring partners, he's definitely not here to be friends with any of his sparring partners.”

The American also revealed that the two men took part in a 12-round bout, which again quickly descended into a full-blooded affair.

“There was a lot of violence,” Malignaggi told ESPN. “I went in there to prove a point. I didn’t like the fact I had to fly across the country on Monday, and they have me scheduled for 12 [rounds] on Tuesday. I thought it was a little bit of a setup.

“Usually all sparring is private. I show up at the UFC headquarters and [former owner, Lorenzo] Fertitta is there. [UFC president] Dana White is there. So, I’m thinking these guys are thinking they’ll catch me right off the flight, set me up for him to look good in front of his audience. I didn’t like that. I kind of went in with a chip on my shoulder.”

McGregor hits back

McGregor bit back at Malignaggi by posting two photos to Instagram, which appeared to show the American on the canvas with McGregor standing over him. McGregor quickly deleted the photograph, but Malignaggi wasn’t happy.

“It's about ego, and I'm not an ass-kisser like the guys around him,” he later explained in an interview on The MMA Hour.

“It's all about status, he's a scumbag. It's all about who kisses his ass better.”

He also elaborated on his 12-round sparring session with McGregor, claiming that the two-weight UFC world champion had pushed him to the canvas and became visibly tired from round six onwards.

“I get to the gym the next day and he has all sorts of dignitaries there. I couldn't even bring my trainer in and normally it was so private you had to leave your phone in a box.

“I thought, 'this guy is banking on stopping me tonight'. I was angry but I knew I'd come prepared.

“He got better from the first time to the second time but it's still new to him so the increments he's growing at are quite small. My reactions and timing started to come back so I got way better from the first one.

“He did well for five rounds but from six on he became more hit-able. I'm trash talking all the time, telling him he can't hang with me, he's not used to these body shots. He stopped talking because he wanted to save his energy.

“He pushed me down during one of his worst rounds because he needed a break. I said 'there's no breaks here', and started hitting him to the body and he began to whimper. After 10 rounds I was spent but I did 11 and 12 because I said I would, and he came on stronger.

“I remember thinking he did show some character to come back the way he did, but if I had been as consistent as I had been, would he still have shown the same character? That's what I wanted to find out the next time.”

A begrudging respect?

In Malignaggi’s most recent interview, however, he conceded that he had learnt to respect McGregor, and claimed that he was impressed with the Irishman’s drive to upset the odds against Mayweather.

“It makes me respect McGregor to see his work ethic that he's put into the training camp. Seeing him work hard every day and see that he's really determined to upset the odds,” Malignaggi told Sky Sports.

“When you talk to Conor, at first I started thinking this guy doesn't really think he's going to win this, it's just a 100 million dollar fight for him.

“Then when you really start to talk to him, you start to realise that this guy really believes it down deep inside his heart and he's got every reason to, because every time he's been doubted in his life he has been able to overcome those odds and win, no matter what it is.

“Come out of poverty, become a UFC champion, become a two-time two-weight UFC champion. Whatever it's been, he's done it. He has no reason to ever doubt himself, because he is yet to be proven wrong.

“From the outside, we're going to doubt him again, but Conor McGregor doesn't have any doubts in his mind.”

(© Independent News Service)

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