Is Artem Lobov vs. Paulie Malignaggi the biggest fight in June?
The Great Divide is a reoccurring feature here at MMA Fighting in which our own Shaun Al-Shatti and Chuck Mindenhall debate a topic in the world of MMA — whether it’s news, a fight, a crazy thing somebody did, a crazy thing somebody didn’t do, or some moral dilemma threatening the very foundation of the sport — and try to figure out a resolution. We’d love for you to join in the discussion in the comments below.
This week, our two scribes gaze ahead to next month and ponder the question: Even with everything going on, is it possible that Bare Knuckle FC’s main event, Artem Lobov vs. Paulie Malignaggi, is the biggest fight in June?
Mindenhall: See, Shaun, I realize that “big” can mean many different things in the fight game. It’s easy to look at Henry Cejudo’s bid for a second title as “big,” even if he himself stands 5-foot-4 on his toes. Valentina Shevchenko’s first flyweight title defense is “biggish,” and so is Tony Ferguson’s return, especially since he’s fighting the Original Gunslinger, Donald Cerrone. All of these have elements of bigness in this sunny month of June, no doubt about it.
As for Paulie Malignaggi’s bare-knuckle fight with Artem Lobov? That’s big in a way that’s closer to the essence of fighting. It has all the crude check-offs of an organic, hate-fueled parking lot rumble. Burnt feelings. Dander. Psychological entwinements. Inferiority complexes between boxing and MMA. Violent affiliations. Even the exposed knuckles seem to scream, “this is stupid!” Stupid doesn’t mean small, Shaun. In this case stupid means big.
And I’ll tell you why: Curiosity.
Nobody knows what’s going to happen. Will it be a gong show? All indications are that it will be. It’s in Florida, for God’s sake, where crazy lives. But is it deeply personal? Hell yes. Do the punches mean more if Malignaggi lands them, given that Lobov is a Conor McGregor proxy? Damn right. The specter of McGregor hovers over all of it. So does that scant footage of McGregor and Malignaggi sparring, the incident that kicked off this whole damn war. It works the other way too, for those who aren’t into a 1920s cartoon accent. If Lobov clocks Malignaggi with a shot that silences that loud mouth, will there be a squawk of glee from the curious public? You know there will be.
There are satisfactions to be found in Malignaggi-Lobov, vicarious elements that connect the audience and give it the air of a shared experience. It won’t be epic, I can (almost) guarantee that, but the odds that it’ll be gratifying aren’t bad. It promises to be a fight in which one — or both — of our principals get the other guy’s version of a comeuppance.
But it is stupid. So stupid. So rightfully, beautifully stupid — the farcical undertones keep drowning out the interventions of clarity and logic. In that way it’s so perfect for the BKFC. Look at it. An old retired boxer who hates the MMA community and its players, wants to prove that boxers are serious — gravely serious — mercilessly serious — serious to the point that beating a marooner into a coma becomes the only pure form of communication — against a former UFC fighter who is, in some way, doing the dirty work of his Famous Friend. Is that the set-up for a “big” fight?
You already know the answer to that: Of course!
When Malignaggi said at the press conference that he was going to knock Lobov’s teeth out and pee in his mouth, you could hear the gonging as far away as Nizhny Novgorod. That was so over the top that it just dumbed the whole operation down. But you could also hear Lobov growling as he said it, and that was good enough. At this point Malignaggi is making his features more and more punchable, and Lobov is in highest profile fight of his career. It’s a fight in every reckless sense of a fight, and it’s catering to the basest desires in the game. But will people be compelled to watch?
I think they will. It’s the biggest fight in June!
Al-Shatti: Chuck. Chuck. C’mon Chuck. I don’t want to say you’re better than this…but sir, you’re better than this. I know you’re better than this.
Look, I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m above something like Lobov vs. Malignaggi. I won’t stamp my feet and moralize like I’m some MMA purist who yearns for honor and respect and whatever other sanctimonious buzz words ONE Championship likes to throw around in its press releases. That would just be disingenuous…because I love this shit. I’m as much of a mark for a good ol’ circus fight anyone in this sport. Hell, I still stan for the legend that is 2002 Bob Sapp. First-rate car-crash spectacles can sometimes be the best parts of this beat, and Lobov vs. Malignaggi is most definitely a first-rate car-crash spectacle.
There are a lot of fights in June. Many of them are quite good.
I don’t want to be the guy who sits here and lists off 600 different examples, but even a cursory glance at the schedule mines plenty of gems. Between four UFC weekends (highlighted by Cejudo-Moraes, Ferguson-Cerrone, Shevchenko-Eye, Gustafsson-Smith, Ngannou-JDS, Moicano-Jung) and two very solid Bellator weekends (Machida-Sonnen, MacDonald-Gracie, Caldwell-Horiguchi 2, Mousasi-Lovato Jr.), you’re looking at some top-notch butchery. Even that list leaves off bangers like Munhoz-Sterling and Suarez-Ansaroff for the sake of brevity.
You’re telling me those pairings aren’t as big as a carnival show between a man with a 13-15-1 record and a 38-year-old boxer who retired four years ago? I repeat: Chuck. C’mon Chuck.
I get it. I really do. In many ways, Lobov vs. Malignaggi is the spiritual successor to McGregor vs. Mayweather we never knew we needed in our lives. Throw in a few extra loogies, some pee-pee talk, a microphone bonk for the ages, and the fact that these dudes are going to be exacting two years of the most bizarre sort of revenge against one another bare-knuckle style, and yes, I’m unreasonably excited for June 22nd. Again, I’m a mark for spectacle. I’m okay with this.
But even with all of the trimmings in the world, we’re still just putting lipstick on a very ugly pig.
This is a circus fight. An ugly, misguided, and likely extraordinarily violent circus fight that could shave years off either man’s life. (And yes, I know he’s the GOAT, but let’s be honest with ourselves and admit those years are probably coming off Artem.)
So put a gun to my head and tell me to only pick one, and there’s no way I could say with any sort of sincerity that Lobov vs. Malignaggi is bigger/better/more important/more intriguing/more worthwhile/more whatever-adjective-you-want-to-use than actual world-class matchups like Ferguson vs. Cerrone or Ngannou vs. dos Santos.
(But that doesn’t mean I won’t be watching.)