Judging by the attention that Artem Lobov and Paulie Malignaggi received over the past few days, you’d think they were fighting in a bare knuckle boxing match on Saturday night.
In reality, Lobov is competing in the main event at Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships (BKFC) 5 against fellow UFC veteran Jason Knight while Malignaggi is preparing to return from retirement for an opportunity to compete in the fledgling fight promotion.
A few days ago, Lobov and Malignaggi nearly started a brawl at a BKFC media event after jawing back and forth to each other in a heated exchange of trash talk.
The origins of this rivalry stretch back nearly two years after Malignaggi was brought in as a sparring partner for Lobov’s teammate and close friend Conor McGregor as he prepared to face Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match.
In the aftermath of that sparring session, McGregor and Malignaggi have blasted each other publicly over what really happened behind closed doors when they trained together for 12 rounds. McGregor contends that he battered the veteran boxer while Malignaggi explains that even out of shape and unprepared, he dished out a ton of punishment to the former two-division champion.
As much as Malignaggi wanted to settle his beef with McGregor in the ring, it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever get the chance. McGregor is under exclusive contract to the UFC and Malignaggi won’t likely try his hand at mixed martial arts any time soon.
So the alternative is facing one of McGregor’s closest allies and that’s why Malignaggi has targeted Lobov instead.
“Conor McGregor is going to be responsible for the blood of Artem Lobov,” Malignaggi told MMAWeekly this week. “Cause he’s the only one I’m going to get my hands on. I’m going to hurt this guy. I’m going to use his head as a pinball. I’m going use Lobov’s head as my own pinball machine. I’m going to hurt this guy. If I don’t come out of this fight permanently hurting this guy, it’s a disappointment for me.
“It’s not about winning or losing this fight. I should easily beat a guy like this. He’s a chump. He’s a punching bag even in the world of MMA, which is where he comes from. I’m going to devastatingly hurt him.”
For Lobov, he believes that Malignaggi was chasing the McGregor fight the same reason why he’s been asking to face him after signing with BKFC.
“He’s out of money,” Lobov claimed when asked about the former boxing champion. “He never really made crazy money in boxing because when the big, big fights came, he lost. So he never made that much money. He didn’t live a good lifestyle. That’s why he’s coming back at 38 years of age. That’s why he’s commentating every weekend because he needs the money.
“He used to be in L.A., now he moved back in with his parents in New York. I just hope he has enough money to order the pay-per-view this weekend so he can see what’s about to happen to him.”
Obviously, Lobov stands to make more money building on a rivalry fight against Malignaggi as well and that’s why he knows he has to get the job done on Saturday night before he can even contemplate a showdown with the 38-year old veteran.
“It’s very important. I have to win but for me, the situation I’m in here, I need to win but I need to win impressively,” Lobov stated. “I want to impress my new employer. I want to impress the fans. This is the first time the fans are going to see me box and I want to put on a good show and show why I want to mix in with the best boxers out there.
“ This is the next step towards the Paulie Malignaggi fight and the Paulie Malignaggi fight is my step into my professional boxing. Because I really do want to move into professional boxing eventually.”
Malignaggi makes no bones about his desire to cave in Lobov’s face based partly on his disdain for McGregor but also because of the perceived disrespect towards his sport that he’s heard from the former UFC featherweight in recent months.
“He had the balls to say we fight with pillows on our hands and we don’t take real damage,” Malignaggi said. “How many mixed martial artists have been permanently damaged? I’ve known personally in my 20 years in boxing, boxers that have died, been permanently damaged, their families changed, hurt, for that disrespect, I’m going to make sure I do some real, real damage to him.”
First things first, Lobov has to win against Knight this weekend or the entire altercation with Malignaggi could end up being nothing more than a commercial that fades away in a matter of days.
Lobov is confident that he’ll get the job done and then he’ll get the opportunity to settle the score with Malignaggi once and for all.
“He’s been talking about Conor for how many years because he wanted that payday. He knew that he was going to get smacked. He got smacked twice by Conor already but he’s pushing for it cause he needs the money,” Lobov said
“Now he knows he can’t get that fight so this is his next best thing so he can finally get a payday and pay off some of his f—king debt that he has.”