Malignaggi and DiBella Impress at the Hoboken International Film Festival

Film Review

By: Christopher Roche

Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank

Back in the 1980’s, the State of New Jersey’s slogan was: “New Jersey and You, Perfect Together”. That slogan can also be applied to the marriage of boxing and film. There is no other sport that lends itself so gracefully to the silver screen, and that is one reason why I attended the premiere of Magic Man, a documentary starring Paulie “The Magic Man” Malignaggi, at the Hoboken International Film Festival.

Last night Hoboken, NJ, which is a favorite destination for, hosted renowned boxer Malignaggi and promoter/producer Lou DiBella for the initial screening of their collaborative documentary film. Malignaggi is an intriguing and charismatic subject, and the film captures highlights of his career leading up to and including his epic battle with Miguel Cotto. In between the boxing highlights, there are sprinklings of sidebars with Malignaggi sitting on his front stoop in Brooklyn, NY, as well as behind the scenes action from press conferences, nights on the town, doctor visits, training sessions and dressing room footage from after the Cotto fight.

There are two main themes that pervade the film. First, Malignaggi is a better fighter than casual fans give him credit for, and second, Malignaggi is very difficult to rattle. While those of us who follow the fight game realize that Malignaggi is a very gifted boxer, casual fans may look at his lack of knockouts, his tapered trunks or his multi-colored hair and his waxed eyebrows and not take him seriously. However, after viewing this film, it is impossible not to conclude that Malignaggi is a dedicated, devoted and elite athlete with a heart the size of Sicily. The film reveals the boot camp-like regime that Malignaggi endures during training camp, and it details the extent of his serious hand injuries. The film drives home the point that Malignaggi is a gym rat who comes from the bottom up, and he does not back down from anything. Ultimately, Malignaggi is able to quell adversity and overcome his hand injuries to attain high levels of success as a fighter.

The film also reveals that Malignaggi cannot be rattled by his opponents. For example, the film sets up an alter-ego sequence surrounding Malignaggi’s bout against Kevin “Cocky” Watts. Watts is portrayed as a no-nonsense brawler who is supposed to be a threat to Malignaggi. The film demonstrates how Watts unsuccessfully tries to beat Malignaggi at his own game, only to be beaten down himself. At one point, Watts sticks his tongue out at Malignaggi, and he shakes and jukes around the ring, as if to poke fun at Malignaggi. Shortly thereafter, Malignaggi knocks Watts down twice and registers an impressive KO.

The quintessential example of Malignaggi’s nerves of steel is revealed to the audience during the penultimate sequence involving the bout with Cotto. The film shows how Malignaggi overcomes training camp snafus and tension with his former trainer Billy Giles, all during the preparation for his biggest fight. Despite Cotto being a heavy favorite with the experts and the fans, the film reveals that Malignaggi cannot wait to square off with him. The film captures a lot of Malignaggi’s trash talk, and the juxtaposition with the quiet Cotto serves the audience well. The most effective parts of the film, however, are the ring interview and the dressing room sequence, both after the Cotto bout. Unlike the pre-fight build up, Malignaggi is gracious in the post-fight interview, and his hard-nosed persona stands out in direct contrast to his flashy style. That interview evokes the audience’s empathy, and when Malignaggi arrives in the dressing room, the camera reveals a vulnerable man who is suffering from enormous injuries. Chaos erupts in the locker room when it is clear that Malignaggi needs emergency medical attention, and it is at this point that the audience realizes “The Magic Man” is mortal.

While spectators are used to seeing him in the ring, it is the mortal, vulnerable side of Malignaggi that garners the most respect, and the aforementioned post-fight footage is the signature moment in a poignant film.