Algieri Against all Odds
Chris Algieri began the year by facing Emmanuel Taylor – as an underdog, no less – on ESPN2 at the Paramount Theater in Huntington, New York. And after upsetting Ruslan Provodnikov in mid-June, he ends 2014 by facing Manny Pacquiao for the WBO welterweight title on a major pay-per-view event. From Huntington to Macau, China, it’s quite a leap.
Can he believe he’s made such a leap in less than a year?
“In my dreams, yes. At the start of the year? No,” admitted Algieri to UCNLive.com at a press conference in the Conga Room at L.A. Live, a couple of weeks before he left for Asia. “I figured I would be here at this point; at this point in my life, I just didn’t realize it was going to happen so fast.”
In fact, it wasn’t all that long ago when Algieri was on NBC Sports Network in a preliminary bout versus Jose Peralta Alejo (in February of 2013). When asked if there was any disbelief that he was facing Pacquiao, Algieri states, “No, I’m in it, man. I feel I’m where I belong and myself and my team, we all feel that way. We have a singular focus and this is it and there’s no time to think about, ‘Oh, my gosh; you’re here.’ We’re here.”
And Algieri hasn’t shied away from this spotlight; in fact, he’s embraced it. In many ways, with Pacquiao in the Philippines, Algieri has carried this promotion. For the well-educated WBO junior welterweight titlist, it’s been an eye-opening experience being involved in major promotions and being an equally major player.
“Absolutely, absolutely. Right at the Provodnikov fight and even prior to that, I’ve gone to school. Speaking to different people in the boxing world, advisers, financial advisers, attorneys, accountants – I’ve literally gone to school since then and just learning as much as I can to figure out the best way to handle all this,” said the 30-year-old Algieri, who even opened up his camp inside the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas (on Saturdays) to help drum up interest in this event.
They’ve taken to comparing Algieri to Rocky Balboa for this promotion (and Sly Stallone actually made a quick cameo and posed for a photo with Algieri at this media gathering. Incidentally, by opening up his training camp to the public, Algieri took a page from the “Italian Stallion” handbook in “Rocky III.”) But no, there were no bubble machines or Richard Slone painting a portrait of him while he gets his work in.
“It was something that was brought up by the Venetian. They’ve been super-accommodating for us and it’s something they wanted us to do,” Algieri explained. “Like my trainer [Tim Lane] said, it’s great energy and I enjoy it. People came and like every Saturday is fight night. I got a whole new crew of people to watch me and I step up to the plate. That’s what I do. So for me, I think I got better training sessions out of it.”
Algieri has had a very productive 2014, defeating Taylor (who went on to test Adrien Broner in September) and then the dangerous Provodnikov but he now faces the whirlwind from the Philippines, who proved there is still some gas left in the tank after defeating Tim Bradley last April.
Defeating heavy-handed Provodnikov is one thing but overcoming the frenetic two-fisted attack of Pacquiao is entirely something else. Algieri couldn’t be facing two more divergent styles. “Totally different styles, totally different approaches on my part and for what we’ve been working on in camp and completely different kinds of sparring partners,” he says. “It’s two different worlds, so I know a lot of people are trying to compare the two because they both are Freddie Roach-trained fighters but it’s not; it’s different fighters.”
More than just their stances (Provodnikov is an orthodox boxer; Pacquiao is a southpaw), what really separates the two is Pacquiao not only has much faster hands but equally quick feet. With those come an ability to close the distance and accelerate into his offensive attack.
Algieri has a clear understanding of this dynamic, “It’s going to be [Pacquiao]’s foot speed and his rhythm. Ruslan does some tricky things and actually when he fought me, that’s the best Ruslan we’ve ever seen. He looked sharp; he was very sharp that night. But still, he doesn’t have the kind of footwork that Manny does. He’s more of a traditional fighter; Manny has kind of an awkward style and he’s stop-and-go and herky-jerky but at the end of the day, boxing is about control and rhythm.
“So it’s going to be who can control the rhythm of the fight.”
Algieri is anything but a puncher – he only has eight stoppages to his credit in 20 victories – the caveat though is he has a high ring I.Q. and at 5’10”, is significantly taller than Pacquiao, the erstwhile basketball player who would probably lose every jump ball to Algieri. Stylistically, he does pose problems for Pacquiao with his movement and stature. And at age 35, you just never know when “Pac-Man” might fall of the cliff.
The odds on this fight have dropped from around 14-to-1 to 8-to-1 late last week, a significant plunge. Perhaps gamblers are playing the odds and looking for a long shot (and let’s face it; not much money is to be made betting on heavy favorites) or perhaps it’s some smart money being laid down. More than one matchmaker will tell you Algieri will provide some difficulty for Pacquiao.
As you ask Algieri to contrast the Pacquiao of now to the one who rampaged through everyone in his way several years ago, he simply states, “I’m not going to compare Manny to what he was and what he is. I’m preparing for that Manny Pacquiao who shot out of a cannon, the guy who destroyed Lehlo Ledwaba and Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales in the second and third fights. I’m thinking of the best. I’m not thinking about anything less.”
When it’s all said and done, Algieri has to be who he’s always been in that ring – himself.
“Yeah, that’s really it,” he says. One thing he won’t suffer from is an identity crisis in that ring on Saturday night. “People ask me what I’ve got to do to win and I say I gotta go out there and be myself. So we’ve been working really hard in camp and things have really been coming together. The game plan that my coaches have put together has materialized in front of us in camp and it’s amazing to see now.”