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Did Conor McGregor knock Paulie Malignaggi down in sparring? A boxing referee weighs in

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Those on Conor McGregor’s team are certain that McGregor dropped Malignaggi in sparring two weeks ago. Malignaggi says it was a push and not a legitimate knockdown.

Now that the footage has been released, by UFC president Dana White on social media last Friday, it should be clear. Except it isn’t.

Both sides are sticking to their stories. On Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, Malignaggi said McGregor pushed his head down and when he tried to pull it back up, McGregor let go and Malignaggi became off balance and fell to the mat. McGregor did seem to land cleanly, though, during the sequence.

Boxing referee Joe Cortez was officiating the sparring session, but the video — only a total of 10 seconds long from two angles — cuts off before his ruling. Cortez has not done any interviews about the potential drop, because he reportedly signed a non-disclosure agreement.

MMA Fighting asked Tom Taylor, a licensed California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) boxing referee and judge, to view the sparring footage and give his assessment of what happened.

in an interview Monday, Taylor said he watched the video multiple times, including in slow motion. After all those viewings, Taylor essentially said he didn’t envy the position of Cortez.

“I can’t tell you how I would have scored it live,” Taylor said. “I may have called it a knockdown, because the last thing to land was a short right hand to the side of Paulie’s head. That could still constitute a knockdown.

“It’s a judgment call and I think it could go either way. I wouldn’t argue it either way if a referee said it was a knockdown or no knockdown.”

Taylor said the first few times he watched it he thought it was pretty clearly a knockdown. And he could understand a referee ruling it that way in real time. But after watching in slow motion, Taylor said there seems to be a lot of truth to Malignaggi's explanation.

“Live, it looked like a knockdown,” Taylor said. “The first time I looked at the video — that quick six, seven seconds — it looked like a knockdown. But when you slow it down, you can see how he has him held down behind his neck, behind his head. Paulie pulls up and [McGregor] lets go, [Malignaggi’s] momentum is taking him. And then there’s that short little right hand that lands.

“So it would definitely be a judgment call right then and there. But looking at this video, I would say no knockdown.”

It’s unclear what Cortez is about to rule, but Taylor said hearing what he said could be a tell as to what he would do. Malignaggi said Cortez ruled it not a knockdown and Taylor said that’s what the video seems to indicate.

“If you listen to his voice, he goes, ‘Whoa, whoa!’” Taylor said of Cortez. “To me, that means he was gonna call it a no knockdown, in my opinion. ‘Whoa, whoa’ as a referee means, ‘Oh, whoa, whoa, I see something that wasn’t right.’ Holding a guy’s head down: ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop.’ Something like that and Paulie is already down. To me, it looked like Joe was going to call that a no knockdown.”

Taylor said he knows Cortez personally, but has not spoken to him about this situation.

A referee doesn’t have the luxury of a slow-motion replay, so Taylor said he'd understand if the ref ruled that a knockdown. But with the evidence he has now, Taylor believes it should have been a no knockdown.

“When [McGregor] does let go and Paulie pulls his head up, he does land a short, little right hand, which could constitute a knockdown,” Taylor said. “It’s all going to be on the judgment of the referee and the angle he has. It could be called either way. But now looking at it, I would have called that probably a no knockdown. He’s pulling down his head. Paulie is pulling up, his momentum is what put him down.”

Regardless of whether or not Malignaggi got dropped, Taylor said he liked what he saw from McGregor, the UFC lightweight champion who is making his pro boxing debut against Floyd Mayweather on Aug. 26 in Las Vegas.

“I'll tell you, I was very impressed,” Taylor said. “He surprised me. He surprised me with some skills, he surprised me with how he put his punches together, his combinations. Absolutely. It was much better than I anticipated what I thought I might see, if that makes sense.”