It sounds as though retired International Boxing Hall of Fame referee Joe Cortez had his work cut out a couple of weeks ago when he was the third man in the ring during UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor’s first sparring session with former two-weight boxing titlist Paulie Malignaggi.
McGregor makes his professional boxing debut on August 26th when he takes on all-time great Floyd Mayweather Jr. at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. In order to help him prepare for the seemingly impossible task at hand, McGregor has drafted in several boxers to act as sparring partners. Malignaggi being by far the most notable of the bunch.
Speaking to Brendan Schaub last week, Malignaggi admitted that things had been pretty intense and gritty during the pair’s initial meeting between the ropes.
“It was good work. It was a little bit awkward work at times, a little bit rough at times, a little bit dirty at times. But it was work and it was good work,” said the fast-talking Brooklynite.
Cortez, who was brought into McGregor’s camp to help ease the Irishman’s transition from the MMA rule set to those that govern the more limited sport of boxing by overseeing sparring sessions as he would real bouts, went into a little more detail than Malignaggi had, revealing that he was forced to admonish the fighters for their conduct at one point.
“He was in there mixing it up a little bit with Paulie and it was the real thing,” Cortez told SiriusXM Boxing hosts Randy Gordon and former world heavyweight title challenger Gerry Cooney
“I had to stop the action and I had to say, ‘Alright guys, you guys are getting a little out of control here, you gotta stop this.’ It got a little rough.
“They were both roughing each other up and I had to stop the action like as in a regular fight. They were holding too much, they were trying to punch each other. I mean, it got a little bit out of control where I had to call ‘Time!’
“[I said] ‘Alright guys, you gotta stop this right now, I want a good clean round, give me sportsman-like conduct. Understand? I don’t want to take any points from either one of you. Understand?’ I looked at them and they said, ‘Okay, alright.’ And I said, ‘Time in.'”
Asked about Malignaggi’s claim that there had been a lot of trash talk during the session, Cortez indicated that the jawing between the fighters had likely contributed to intense nature of the session.
“I had to put a stop to that as well,” said Cortez. “That’s probably why I had to stop the action.”
— SiriusXM Boxing (@SiriusXMBoxing) August 1, 2017
It doesn’t come as a major surprise to hear that this sparring session turned rough. Prior to the signing of McGregor vs. Mayweather, Malignaggi had frequently made derogatory comments about the MMA star and claimed that he would stop the SBG Ireland representative in a boxing match. When McGregor was asked during the now infamous MayMac world tour why he had decided to bring Malignaggi into camp, the 29-year-old Dubliner said that he wanted to make the boxer turned Showtime boxing analyst “answer” for the things he had said.
“We are going to have a knock in the gym,” said McGregor.
Malignaggi was unperturbed by the hostility, however.
“Yeah, we are going to have a knock in the gym,” said ‘The Magic Man’ during an appearance on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani a few days later. “But listen, Ariel, from a fighter’s perspective, you have a knock in the gym anyway. Even if you’re best friends with the guy you’re sparring, you’re going to have a knock in the gym. That’s just the way sparring goes, especially at a world-class championship level.”
By the sounds of things, a knock is exactly what transpired. Oh, to have seen it all unfold.
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