Jonny Rashman uncovers the facts behind the hyperbole from that Conor McGregor vs Paulie Malignaggi spar, thanks to eyewitness Tiernan Bradley
A court of law was created to settle disputes and administer justice. Court decisions are based on what the law says and what the evidence proves, there is no place for suspicion, bias or favouritism. The battle-lines are drawn, the prosecution and defence submit cases and cross examine each other’s respected accounts. While a witness statement can be classed as ‘he says, she says’, video footage of the incident in question is surely irrefutable, or is it?
The infamous 2017 sparring encounter between UFC superstar Conor McGregor and former two-time world champion Paulie Malignaggi gained more publicity than most world title fights. Both men have conflicting stories on how the duel unravelled. Long after they threw their last bit of leather, whispers still echoed around as to what happened that hot summer day in the Nevada desert. Incredibly, segments of video footage left more questions than answers.
With a mooted, three-part Netflix documentary on the blockbuster Mayweather vs McGregor contest set to be released with the full, unedited footage of the Malignaggi spar included, the myth can finally be debunked. Luckily, you don’t have to wait for the documentary to find out what truly happened that day.
In a story never before told in such detail, seven-time Irish National Amateur Champion, the man selected as Conor McGregror’s main sparring partner for the blockbuster fight and hailing from O’Rourke’s Gym, Tiernan Bradley describes the truth of the much-publicised sparring encounter.
In Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world, there were only a select few in attendance at the UFC Performance Institute who cast aspersions on the “Magic Man’s” interpretation of events. Whales of the fight game such as, UFC president Dana White and former UFC owners Lorenzo & Frank Fertitta as well as a handful of unnamed celebrities, the two combatants and a few training partners were privy to the truth that day. While it can be argued that bias and favouritism has plagued these spectators’ versions of events, with many of them still retaining a vested interest in the Irish superstar, Bradley’s interest faded soon after the Mayweather fight concluded. Therefore, there is little reason for him to falsify the truth.
The origins of the feud can be traced back to December 2016, after McGregor took out a boxing licence in California, setting the wheels in motion for the Mayweather extravaganza. Malignaggi felt aggrieved at the Irish star’s so-called “lack of respect” for the sport of boxing, with him threatening to “Knock the beard off” ‘The Notorious One’. A war of words played out on social media which bizarrely concluded with Malignaggi being invited into the McGregor camp as a sparring partner.
“I got on with Paulie very well,” Tiernan explains. “I grew up watching Paulie, I was asking him questions and questions about everything to do with boxing, he was a good man, with a good heart. I think he was there for all the right reasons but, at the same time he was talking a lot, even before he came into camp, he was talking all over world tours. I don’t think it got to , but he wanted to prove a point of taking the scalp of Paulie Malignaggi.”
The first bone of contention for the New Yorker was the supposedly appalling living conditions he was subjected to, a “crack house” he has since described it as, which he shared with McGregor’s other training partners.
“It was me, Frans Mlambo, Dashon Johnson, Tommy McCormack [Cutman] and Conor’s massage therapist who we called ‘Dr Pain’ living there,” Bradley says. “Malignaggi grew up in Brooklyn and he’s complaining about bad conditions. I’ve been to Brooklyn and this was a six-bedroom house in Vegas. It was a desert house; you weren’t going to get a swimming pool in the back, with this, that and everything. We were in a small estate, we weren’t far from the strip and the UFC Performance institute, so, I think Paulie was walking in there thinking there was going to be a swimming pool, and a place to chill out with beers.”
Malignaggi claims that he was a pawn in the McGregor PR machine, pictures and video footage were apparently edited to portray the MMA star beating down on the former world champion.
“Before the photos were leaked, Conor and Paulie had a pretty good relationship,” Bradley reflects. “When they first sparred it really put me back. Paulie was out of shape, but that was his fault. When you look at a spar and you think was it dominating? Yes, it was, Conor dominated him. Did Paulie catch Conor? Yes, he did. Did Conor nearly drop Paulie? Yes, he f***ing did.
“Regarding the infamous knockdown, I have to say, Paulie was on his last legs, it was a helping hand, like, ‘go down’. If that was a proper fight it would have been a ‘One, two, three…’ to allow him to get back up. His feet were heavy, he was tired and breathing heavy, his face was red like a plum tomato. Paulie was out of shape and Conor took advantage of that.
“In the second spar I was in Paulie’s corner. It was a terrible spar Paulie had, Conor beat the s*** out of him! After the seventh round I said to him, ‘You don’t need to do this; you’re retired.’ I said, ‘Frans [Mlambo] can hop in at any moment,’ he [Paulie] turned around to Artem Lobov and said, ‘No, it’s alright.’ I could see in his eyes he was concussed. He didn’t need the punishment - I was looking out for him. He was taking some heavy punches; those straight backhands were catching him absolutely lovely. Paulie was out of shape, there’s no doubt about it! Conor got the absolute better of him. I know why he was pushing for the fight, maybe he thought if he was in shape he could beat him; I can’t see it though.”
Tiernan continues, “When we went back to the house, I was driving Paulie home, and when I got out the car, he went to close the door and he stumbled into me. It wasn’t like he was concussed and he collapsed, but it was a stumble, by the time I got up the following morning he was gone, bags were packed, he never even said bye, I went back to the lads and said, ‘Paulie’s gone.’”
With the American still imploring Team McGregor to show the whole, unedited footage, somewhere along the road the evidence will be there for all to see. In the mythical boxing court, given the testimony we have heard, it would seem that a retired and out of shape Paulie Malignaggi couldn’t keep up with the pace of a fully, fighting fit Conor McCregor, and it’s likely the video footage will throw conflicting claims to the canvas.
As always in boxing though, the real verdict is delivered in the ring on fight night. So, we have to ask ourselves does this sparring debacle really matter in the grand scheme of things?