Bare Knuckle FC 6: Analyzing Artem Lobov's path to victory against Paulie Malignaggi
On paper Artem Lobov would appear to have little chance in his much-hyped bareknuckle boxing clash with heated rival Paulie Malignaggi this weekend, but are The Russian Hammer's chances being underestimated?
Conventional wisdom suggests that when Malignaggi meets MMA fighter Lobov inside the Bare Knuckle FC ring this weekend that it will be easy pickings for the former two-weight world champion pugilist.
But boxing this very much ain't. Within its ruleset, bareknuckle boxing contains parameters which play very much into Lobov's game, while simultaneously detracting from Malignaggi's. It's these cracks in the boxer's armour which 'The Russian Hammer' can capitalize on to settle a score borne from the two ill-tempered sparring sessions Malignaggi had with Lobov's close friend and teammate Conor McGregor ahead of the latter's fight with Floyd Mayweather two summers ago.Also on rt.com 'Malignaggi was too easy for McGregor, he won't be a problem for me': Artem Lobov (VIDEO)
Perhaps the biggest difference between boxing and its bareknuckle cousin - besides the obvious, of course - is the fact that clinches aren't immediately broken up by a referee as they are in traditional boxing. Fighters are permitted to grab behind the neck and 'hockey punch' with their free hand, or to grab a wrist to disarm an opponent while striking.
Lobov has more than a decade's worth of grappling experience to call on in these exchanges, while Malignaggi has little more than a few weeks cramming with the Serra-Longo Fight Team in New York in his arsenal.
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Most analysts will agree that Malignaggi was never considered to be a power puncher. Instead, he relied on clever footwork and head movement to afford him opportunities to pop shots from the outside.
Keeping Lobov away from him will be key for Malignaggi but this will be made harder by the smaller ring, as well as a rule which states that either fighter can call the other inside a small circular area in the middle of the ring if they spend too much time retreating.
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Anyone who witnessed Lobov's Bare Knuckle FC debut against Jason Knight earlier this year will bear testament to his toughness, something that even Malignaggi conceded after watching the fight. Firas Zahabi, the world famous head coach at TriStar in Canada, even described Lobov's toughness as 'A+' - quite the compliment considering he counts fighters like Georges St-Pierre among his students.
While Malignaggi's own toughness cannot be queried, his body's ability to moderate the fight he is in can be. He has famously endured several problems with his hands over the years, particularly his right, leading to questions as to the efficacy of his skills in this particular arena.
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Malignaggi hasn't thrown a punch in anger since his last boxing match, a defeat to English journeyman Sam Eggington in March 2017. Since that time, Lobov has fought three times (against well-regarded UFC fighters Cub Swanson, Andre Fili and Michael Johnson) as well as his BKFC bout with Knight.
Getting into fighting shape will presumably be significantly easier for Lobov compared to Malignaggi, who has had to mix breaks for commentary duties into his schedule.
Cramming a first fight camp in two-and-a-half years into such a tight window is a tough ask of any retired fighter - but to do so for a sport so intrinsically different to the one he comes from? It might just be an insurmountable goal for the American.
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In terms of fight experience both have a lot under their belts. Malignaggi has 44 professional bouts, while Lobov clocks in at 30 professional MMA contests. But the 10 minutes Lobov has already spent in the BKFC ring could be a crucial factor in the fight.
Lobov will almost certainly start the fight with a whirlwind of aggression as he did in his last. If Malignaggi expects the type of slow, cautious opening to a fight that sometimes happens in boxing he could be overwhelmed early.