The Square Jungle: On Manny Pacquiao-Chris Algieri, Wladimir Klitschko and history
Well, Max Frisch once wrote a novel, Montauk, set there on the South Shore and Thomas McGonigle did his literary part with Going to Patchogue, published in 1992, but no one compares to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who turned the Gold Coast of the 1920s into the stuff of myth in The Great Gatsby. For a time, some famous abstract expressionists made an art colony out of the Hamptons. In her prime, Carol Alt almost made up for all the jokes about Levittown and bland, suburban homogeneity. The Islanders – led by Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier – won four consecutive Stanley Cups in the early 1980s. Billy Joel emerged from Hicksville in Oyster Bay, via the Bronx, to make maudlin pit stops out of barber shops all over New York City with “The Piano Man” in the 1970s: between “The Cat’s in the Cradle” and “The Piano Man,” FM radio made getting a haircut one hell of an ordeal. It also made you appreciate Pat Benatar – is that even possible? Then, of course, there is “The Amityville Horror,” hardly distinguishable, in terms of terror, from the Baldwin clan, perhaps.
As far as boxing goes, you can count only a handful of notable pros to emerge from Long Island over the last 35 years: Gerry Cooney, Howard Davis, Jr., Buddy McGirt, Jake Rodriguez, Eddie Davis and – if you want to be cute – Derric Rossi and Eric “Stone Cold” Kirkland. Of course, Joe Frazier lost his rematch to George Foreman at the Nassau Mausoleum in 1976; hardly anybody showed up. In the 1920s and ‘30s there were weekly cards in Mineola but remember: boxing is so much better these days, according to those who discovered it in the late aughts.
If the amount of media coverage Chris Algieri has received during the build-up for his longshot opportunity against Manny Pacquiao tonight in Macau, China proves anything, it may be that Long Island still feels like a provincial second cousin to the Big Apple. Not only has the hokey, well-past-its-sale-date “Rocky” trope been resurrected yet again but photo-ops with Sylvester Stallone and TV appearances of MSG have served their purpose: this fight has more buzz going for it than the last Floyd Mayweather Jr. bout and none of the noise is about terrorizing women. Imagine that!
A few weeks ago, The Square Jungle noted how choosing Algieri as a B-side had a pragmatic side (in boxing, “pragmatic” is always spelled with a $):
“This is one reason Chris Algieri was chosen to face Manny Pacquiao in November: a New York fighter stands a good chance of not just having Sunday Late Afternoon Boxing Blog and BoxingBozo.com butcher his accomplishments in purple prose but of being written up in the New York Times, Newsday, the New York Daily News and the New York Post.”
There are only two reasons Chris Algieri was selected to fight Pacquiao: one, he already had a “Black Friday” price tag on him and, two, he hails from the media capital of the United States. Add the fact that he is loquacious, white (yes, demographics matter and, no, not everybody can identify with the curbside gibberish perpetually spouted/Tweeted by Adrien Broner and Danny Garcia) and often dresses like he is headed to Danceteria circa 1986 and you have a fairly promotable commodity. Boxing observers may not think so – and Algieri has gotten plenty of heat for his suburban cockiness – but the fact remains that Algieri has been a hot-button topic for weeks in mainstream outlets like Newsday, the New York Post and the New York Daily News.
In a way, the inexperienced Algieri has no business headlining a pay-per-view event. But – and this is where things get interesting – he is not really expected to since Top Rank has made the U.S. an ancillary market for this promotion. All the money bags for this fight will be stuffed in the Far East. Whatever Pacquiao-Algieri produces in America is secondary to pay-per-view sales in China and the deal Bob Arum cut with the Venetian. With no amateur background in boxing and only 20 pro fights, Algieri is taking an enormous leap of faith by challenging Pacquiao, who, in his mid-30s, is no longer the slashing southpaw dynamo of years ago. But a fairly unaccomplished fighter with a kickboxing pedigree is unlikely to upset the dope on Saturday night.
The real question here is this: Has Bob Arum decided to shift Pacquiao into the celebrity phase of his career? With a red-hot market in China willing to underwrite Top Rank cards, Arum may think twice about sacrificing a fighter who has found a second life as a moneymaking machine outside of the United States. If so, who will be the next Chris Algieri? And really…should we care?
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Wladimir Klitschko, who atomized Kubrat Pulev in five rounds last weekend, is back in the good graces of HBO after recently signing a three-fight deal with the premium cable network. Before demolishing poor Pulev and scoring four knockdowns in the process, Klitschko had last been seen on HBO over a year ago, when he easily outpointed Alexander Povetkin in one of the most monotonous fights of 2013.
Say whatever you want about the merits of being undefeated, being an Olympian and being a braggadocious Bulgarian, the fact remains that Pulev revealed a fighting style similar to what you might see by cranking a kinetoscope in the early 1900s. Unable to move his head, his waist or his feet, Pulev concentrated on waving his hands around like a man attacking a blackboard with an eraser in each fist. Still, by the usual Klitschko standards, this was a donnybrook.
With a few heavyweights popping up on HBO recently – most notably Mike Perez and Bryant Jennings – it makes sense to have Klitschko in the fold: the groundwork for future opponents has been partly laid out for him and “Dr. Steelhammer” represents an endgame to the heavyweights they broadcast – in more ways than one, perhaps. That way, Alex Leapai, Jean Marc Mormeck and Mariusz Wach will not just plop out of thin air like the downpour of frogs at the end of “Magnolia.”
By signing with HBO, however, Klitschko has effectively removed himself from some of the bigger names out there such as Deontay Wilder and, possibly, Bermane Stiverne. If recent trends are any indicator, then the various power brokers in boxing will look to split the heavyweight scene into parallel universes. It also remains to be seen whether someone like Bryant Jennings will remain on the Klitschko radar (as ESPN reports) or whether he bolts to the Stiverne-Wilder galaxy.
Because Klitschko fulfills one of the basic prerequisites for a prizefighter – drawing crowds and thereby, generating his own recompense – he is largely critique-proof. There is no telling why Europeans love Klitschko (not even Bernard-Henri Lévy can explain why the French adore Jerry Lewis) but, for the most part, he has garnered little respect in the United States. One reason for this is that nearly all of his fights resemble slapstick at some point. Watching his torture session against Sultan Ibragimov in 2008 was worse than being trapped in an upended Port-O-San and his farce with Alex Povetkin made temporary sensory deprivation seem pleasurable by comparison.
And at least until the KO punch lands, Klitschko can be excruciatingly dull in the ring. What are the differences between a dull fighter like Klitschko and his often equally dull American counterparts, say, Andre Ward? For one thing, Ward is boring against solid competition. While Ward is mauling and nullifying top-notch pros such as Chad Dawson, Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch, the recognized heavyweight champion of the world was playing Big Hugs Elmo against fringe Australians and Europeans whose names defy spell check with impunity. They have, collectively, little to recommend them other than having achieved an Alphabet Soup ranking. Other than David Haye, Povetkin and Tony Thompson, most of these fighters are beyond the boxing fringes and have few accomplishments in the mainstream.
Nor does Klitschko have the personality some expect of “The Baddest Man on the Planet.” Here is how Norman Mailer once described heavyweights:
“If they become champions, they begin to have inner lives like Hemingway or Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy or Faulkner, Joyce or Melville or Conrad or Lawrence or Proust. Hemingway is the example above all. Because he wished to be the greatest writer in the history of literature and still be a hero with all the body arts age would yet grant him, he was alone and he knew it. So are heavyweight champions alone. Dempsey was alone and Tunney could never explain himself and Sharkey could never believe himself nor Schmeling nor Braddock and Carnera was sad and Baer an indecipherable clown; great heavyweights like Louis had the loneliness of the ages in their silence and men like Marciano were mystified by a power which seems to have been granted them.”
Obviously, Klitschko does not meet the existential criteria outlined by Mailer. Despite his engaging personality, his superhero physique and his TNT power, Klitschko has never caught on with the American public. He gets another chance to gain some Yankee support in his second act.
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By scoring an extraordinary KO of an ordinary opponent, Klitschko also finds himself back in the dopey “All-Time” conversation, as led by folks who have shown little – if any – affinity for history. Just as comparing Bernard Hopkins to Archie Moore is silly (Moore had close to 200 documented fights by the time he was 40 and probably dozens more that are not on the record), so too is comparing Klitschko to Joe Louis an exercise in jackassery. Not every fighter from yesteryear is sacrosanct but the lack of perspective from those who want to make Klitschko some sort of legend is notable.
Since both Louis and Klitschko faced weak competition throughout their title reigns, there is a kneejerk tendency to equate their records. This is a mistake. No matter what the merits or weaknesses of fighters like, say, Nathan Mann or Bob Pastor, the fact is they all had to run a gauntlet of contenders in an era when the safety net offered by promotional contracts and network meddling did not exist. Bob Pastor too could have been 30-0 and proud possessor of the FECARBOX title if only he had been allowed to fight TBA more often instead of one hard case after another on a monthly basis (this is not to say every Louis opponent was a live body. Along with a few hapless types, Louis also faced dubious characters such as Harry Thomas and Tony Galento. And, yes, Mann himself, with ties to Dutch Schultz, can be considered one as well).
Despite the fact that Klitschko was not the clear Number One until his brother disappeared into the fog of Ukrainian politics in 2013, he is still considered “dominant.” It is hard to see how a fighter can dominate a division when he split the contenders down the middle for years with a co-champion. Louis was definitely “dominant” since he did not share the title with another champion and with the exception of a few black contenders that his promoter, Mike Jacobs, refused to greenlight for business reasons, Louis faced just about every heavyweight worth fighting.
Klitschko being lauded for creeping up on the record for most heavyweight title defenses (still held by Joe Louis) by those who claim that sanctioning body titles are worthless is silly enough but knowing that the most obvious reason certain authorities are fabricating history is to put themselves in the center of “Big Events” is outright depressing.
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Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing Digest Magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World Magazine and Esquina Boxeo. He is also a contributor to Remezcla and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization.