The biggest rivalry within the build toward the Aug. 26 boxing pay-per-view match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor continues to be the UFC champion versus Paulie Malignaggi, the broadcaster and former champion turned his now-separated sparring partner.
That rivalry was escalated to a whole new level early Saturday as UFC president Dana White released a pair of videos from their now infamous sparring sessions showing McGregor clearly getting the upper hand for at least short periods of time.
The debate of push versus knockdown continues to take on a life of its own and the real winner will be the PPV buysfor Mayweather-McGregor just two weeks from now at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m. ET).
While the leaked videos certainly did wonders to add more spice to the fight's promotion, more importantly they provided evidence that McGregor (21-3 in MMA) might not be a lamb being led to a well-paid slaughter after all. Whether or not we can accurately discern that from a combined 24 seconds of tightly edited video doesn't actually matter -- these two videos were the best commercial to purchase the fight anyone involved with the promotion could've dreamed.
White's release of a 10-second video showing Malignaggi hit the canvas following a flurry of punches appeared to contradict the former two-division champion's account that he had been pushed. It also created an instant viral reaction from those involved in the fight game who agreed.
Malignaggi instantly took to social media to defend himself, pointing out that McGregor, 29, had his off hand on the back of Malignaggi's neck while landing the last punch, pushing him off balance. A slow-motion version of the video released by a fan seemed to confirm as much.
It was also pointed out by Malignaggi that Hall of Fame referee Joe Cortez, who was brought in by McGregor to officiate the sparring matches as if they were real fights, can be heard saying "no" at the time of the fall, appearing to make a hand gesture to indicate that it wasn't a knockdown.
Malignaggi, 36, who retired in March following a knockout loss to unheralded Sam Eggington in England, admitted he entered the two sparring sessions (20 rounds in total) not anywhere close to fighting shape. But he accepted McGregor's offer to join his camp out of curiosity, believing it would help inform his analysis as a member of Showtime's broadcast team for the fight.
The marriage quickly fell apart, however,after pictures leaked from their 12-round sparring session showing him on his back and getting the worst of the action.
Malignaggi reiterated Saturday on Twitter that the videos released by White came in the final two rounds of that 12-round session, in which he had previously admitted were dominated by McGregor. Malignaggi maintains he controlled and easily won the first 10 rounds before he ran out of gas.
Upset at White for releasing the one-sided videos, including footage of McGregor landing a stiff left hand that clearly rattled his opponent, Malignaggi instantly attacked the UFC president early Saturday on Twitter.
"You bitchass you were actually there and saw all 12 rounds," Malignaggi wrote. "Really you f---ing cue ball ass fraud? Kissing my ass after the 12rds."
McGregor calmly addressed Malignaggi's exit from his camp during Friday's media day at the UFC Performance Center in Las Vegas.
"He was looking for an exit," McGregor said. "The spars were not good for him. He took a lot of head trauma. Straight after it, we were worried. The sparring partners were actually telling us when he was dropped back to the home that he was stumbling out of the car after the 12-rounder.
"He was knocked down; he flattened against the ropes. Multiple times the ropes kept him on his feet. We were worried about him. We thought the worst was about to happen. He was certainly badly concussed. And then he just got out of there and went running.
"He got his ass whupped, he got his pride dented, and he wanted a way out. What better way to exit under a load of questions and mysteriousness."
Malignaggi spent much of Saturday pleading publicly for UFC to release the full video of the 20 rounds he sparred with McGregor.
"Watch right hand drag me behind my back," Malignaggi wrote on Twitter. "He's also a southpaw, so it's dragging me toward his lead foot that I trip over. [Half] push, half trip.
"I mean, even tonight's highlights showed what I [had] already said. As a whole he got his ass beat that session but never will they release [all 36 minutes]."