Paulie Malignaggi describes latest sparring session with Conor McGregor as 'violent'

The heated rivalry between former pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather and MMA superstar Conor McGregor continues to command the attention of the sporting world ahead of their Aug. 26 pay-per-view boxing match. 

But there's another rivalry brewing beneath the surface inside McGregor's training camp. 

Retired former two-division champion Paulie Malignaggi (36-8, 7 KOs), once a critic of McGregor when talks of a Mayweather fight first became serious, recently made his second trip to Las Vegas to spar with the brash Irishman. The latest session, which included a 12-round simulated fight, continued to gain intensity. 

"Lot of violence," Malignaggi told ESPN on Wednesday. "I went in there to prove a point. I didn't like the fact I had to fly across the country on Monday, and they have me scheduled for 12 [rounds] on Tuesday. I thought it was a little bit of a setup.

"Usually all sparring is private. I show up at the UFC headquarters and [former owner, Lorenzo] Fertitta is there. [UFC president] Dana White is there. So, I'm thinking these guys are thinking they'll catch me right off the flight, set me up for him to look good in front of his audience. I didn't like that. I kind of went in with a chip on my shoulder."

Malignaggi, 36, retired following his March knockout loss to Sam Eggington. But he accepted the offer from McGregor's camp to help prepare the UFC's lightweight champion to box and believes McGregor has shown improvement. 

"I think the intensity Conor's reaching is starting to show in the hard work he's put into camp," Malignaggi said. "I think he's getting better and better. I really felt improvements from two weeks ago to now ... I do see a guy who is implementing more and more of what they want to do in their game plan.

"Conor wants his presence to be felt. He's coming to win, right? He wants you to know you're in a fight. He doesn't want you to think it's a picnic. So, any time he's in the ring, he's trying to make it as rough as possible -- be it roughhouse tactics, be it trying to land hard shots."

Malignaggi shot down any rumors that he was knocked down, instead revealing McGregor had gotten rough on the inside and shoved him to the canvas. 

"Obviously, 12 rounds, you're gonna see there's a mark on my face," Malignaggi said. "Very, very hard work for both of us. I was starting to get in a groove in the middle rounds, starting to land some good shots. Conor really came on strong in the end. It was back and forth."

McGregor has also enlisted the services of retired Hall of Fame referee Joe Cortez to help him adjust to the realities of a boxing match. In a recent interview with Sirius XM Boxing, Cortez detailed just how heated the sparring sessions with Malignaggi have become.

Sparring today. It's another day for me.

A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on

"[McGregor] was in there mixing it up a little bit with Paulie, and it was the real thing," Cortez said. "I had to stop the action, say, 'You guys are a little out of control here, you've got to stop this.' You know, they got a little rough. 

"They were both roughing each other up, and I had to stop the action like it was a regular fight. They were holding too much; they were trying to punch each other. It got a little out of control to where I had to call, 'Time! All right, guys, you've got to stop this right now. I want a good, clean, strong -- give me a sportsman-like conduct. Understand?'"

Malignaggi pointed out that because of the intensity of their sparring, he and McGregor have remained somewhat distant in terms of a friendship. 

"We're like, I think the gist from Conor is we're like 'frenemies.' I think somewhere in the middle," Malignaggi said. "I don't think we're going to be best friends any time soon, but there was a lot more mutual respect after that kind of work last night. It was a lot more intense than the first one."

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Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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