Getting your ass kicked isn’t the worst thing in the world. Trust me. A year ago, I was hurt pretty bad in a fight against Shawn Porter. He went off like a grenade, and I took a lot of punches. I went from the ropes to the canvas to the hospital. I’ve never been hurt like that before. But compared to what I’ve been through, it’s a small risk to take when the reward is greatness. For someone like me who was written off, thrown on the street and didn’t have a future before he found boxing, it’s a risk I was — and still am — willing to take. Anything to achieve greatness.
People ask me how I could ever get in the ring again after the damage I took that night. How could I subject myself to another beating? How could I put my body at risk? And the answer is pretty simple.
I don’t think about it.
Let me tell you something: People are always talking about guys who stayed in the game too long or guys who left the game too early. You know why you never hear people talk about the guy who left the game at exactly the right time? Because only the fighter himself knows when it’s the right time.
I can already hear you asking, But Paulie, when does a fighter know when it’s time?
I’ll tell you when: A boxer knows when it’s time to hang ‘em up when he fears getting hurt in the ring more than he fears failure — more than he fears losing. If you’re afraid of getting hurt, you have no place in between those ropes. If you’re afraid to fail and you’re afraid to lose, and you’ll lay your body on the line and do everything humanly possible to beat the man in front of you, you still got it.
For some guys, it’s kids and family that make the fear getting hurt too much. For others, it’s the money. They’ve built a good life and they want to enjoy it. Whatever the reason — it’s like Mickey put it in Rocky III — they get “civilized.” They lose that animal instinct.
Me? I’m too busy fearing failure and defeat to fear getting hurt. I want to win, no matter the consequences. I’m still an animal.
When I made the announcement that I was coming back for another fight, my friends and family were pissed. Nobody wanted me to fight again. They called me selfish. I remember my best friend and I were at a house we own in Brooklyn, and I told him I was gonna start training for another fight. He went off. He called me selfish — something I’d already heard from everybody else — and I lost it. It turned into a huge shouting match. Later, I was up in my room when my brother showed up. My best friend told him I was gonna fight again, and my brother burst into my room for another shouting match. The same topic: selfish.
I couldn’t hear that word one more time — selfish. I snapped. I tried to explain to them that boxing is what I love, and it was killing me to know that I can still do this but everyone around me was telling me to just walk away. That I believed in myself so much but nobody else believed in me — not even my family and my friends. I know they were just looking out for me but at the end of the day, it’s my life. You’re either with me or you’re not.
They just didn’t understand. They couldn’t understand. The only people who could understand are the guys who’ve been in that ring … that feeling when you’re in your corner and you’re looking across the ring at the other fighter. Everybody’s been told to leave the ring, and the referee is about to sound the timekeeper for the bell to sound. The arena is packed — 20,000 people going crazy, and you’re staring into the eyes of a world-class fighter, and you know you’re a world-class fighter, too, but your world-class is better. The rush of so many emotions racing through your body at that moment — it’s something else.
And then, when you get declared the winner at the end of it? It’s God-like. It’s hard to describe, man. It hooks you. It’s addicting.
It’s that level of boxing, too. That elite level. Knowing that only a small percentage of people in this world will ever get to feel that kind of adrenaline, and you’re one of them. You get to feel it. You crave it — it’s like a drug. That’s what draws you. That’s why I accepted the Danny Garcia fight. He’s 30-0 with 17 KOs. If I wanted to fight puffs I could fight until I’m 80. I only want to fight the elite — the best of the best. Danny Garcia is that.
People tell me I have a cushy job commentating. I’m not only having success and paying the bills, I’m winning awards. I’m not trying to be cocky — I’m good at it. But it doesn’t compare to fighting. Not in any way. People tell me to let boxing go. It’s not always going to be there, so I might as well get used to it and move on.
The way I see it, they’re right. Boxing ins’t always going to be here. That’s why I can’t let it go. I have such a small window in which to step into that ring at the highest level and be competitive, and I’m gonna keep that window open for as long as I can. When it’s closed, it’s closed forever.
My window hasn’t closed. Not yet.
Every boxer wants a happy ending. Unfortunately, it’s hard to retire as a winner. Look at some of the greatest ever. Mike Tyson, Arturo Gatti — some of my favorites. Their careers ended on the canvas. I would love for my career to not end on the canvas. If I walked away now, after that Shawn Porter fight, my career would end just that way: on the canvas. I want to at least try to walk away on a positive note. We’ll see. The story is yet to be written.
I’m the underdog Saturday night, but I’m used to that. Before boxing, I had nothing. I had no direction. I got kicked out of school. I got kicked out of my mom’s house. I don’t have a high school diploma. I don’t have a GED. And I’ve still been successful. I’ve had to travel to other fighters’ countries and hometowns to win world championships. And I’ve won them.
Now, I’ve got to go up against the odds again. That’s the story of my life. The only question left to answer is: Who’s right? Are the doubters right, or is Paulie Malignaggi right?
We’ll find out.