By Jake Donovan
For every fight deemed by the viewing public as a potential mismatch, those involved will come up with any number of past upsets in pointing out that fights are fought in the ring and not on paper.
In promoting the upcoming November welterweight bout between Manny Pacquiao and unbeaten Chris Algieri, Hall of Fame promoter reached all the way back to the 1920s to draw a proper parallel.
“Way back just a little bit before my time – which people claim is when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth – there was a heavyweight championship fight between the great Jack Dempsey and challenger Gene Tunney,” Arum pointed out to the assembled media during the Macau leg of the 27,000-mile press tour. “Dempsey was a brawler, Tunney was a boxer.
“Tunney was also highly educated, as Chris is. Graduated college, had his Master’s degree. Nobody gave Tunney a chance, but he defeated Dempsey. In the rematch, he beat him again.”
Their rivalry is best remembered for “The Long Count,” which took place in 1927, nearly one year following Tunney’s upset to win the heavyweight championship. Dempsey floored Tunney but failed to respond to what at the time was a new rule in place in which the fighter scoring a knockdown was required to go to a neutral corner. Tunney was down for what was estimated to be a true count of 14 seconds, but due to the delay was up at the referee’s count of “nine,” and recovering well enough to defend the championship before calling it a career.
What many seem to forget is that the first fight brought to an end a seven-year reign enjoyed by Dempsey, at the time one of the most feared punchers in heavyweight history.
The aforementioned heavyweight championship bout took place in Sept. 1926, boasting at the time the largest ever crowd for a prizefight, with more than 120,000 fans in attendance to witness what would become a historic upset. Tunney was unfazed by the event – and if he was, he certainly kept his cool about it.
Algieri is already prepared to send similar shockwaves through the boxing world, appreciative of the opportunity to share the stage from Pacquiao but not to where he plans to hide from the spotlight.
“I earned the opportunity to be here,” insists Algieri (20-0, 8KOs), who holds a Master’s degree in healthcare science. The articulate New Yorker rose to prominence earlier this year in a massive upset of Ruslan Provodnikov, who was being groomed for a fight with Pacquiao at the time.
The split decision in favor of Algieri was disputed by fans and media alike, but the unbeaten boxer’s heart was on full display, overcoming two official knockdowns in the opening round and a grotesquely swollen eye to claim the upset win and an alphabet super lightweight title to go along with it. The feat made him a frontrunner for this fight, which he accepted earlier this summer.
“I bled for this, I worked hard for this. I can promise you this – I will work very hard to become welterweight champion on November 23.”
The threat of this claim coming to fruition is hardly on his more famous opponent.
“I know Algieri is undefeated, He's the champion of the junior welterweight division. He's undefeated, he's a good boxer,” acknowledges Pacquiao (56-5-2, 38KOs), who reclaimed a welterweight belt with a unanimous decision over Tim Bradley in their rematch this past April. “I saw his last fight with Ruslan. He's a tough fighter, he took a lot of punches. He's a good boxer. This is going to be a good fight.”
The title fight marks the one-year anniversary of Pacquiao’s first fight in Macau, a 12-round whitewash of Brandon Rios. That bout represented the first step towards a return to prominence for the legendary fighting pride of Philippines, who hadn’t fought since a shocking 6th round knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in their epic fourth fight in Dec. ’12.
The win over Rios enabled Pacquiao to return to the title stage with the aforementioned win over Bradley. However, it was a completely different look than what he – and the fans – will see in November.
“The last fight we had here with Brandon Rios, we did a good job. But Chris Algieri is different than Brandon Rios,” Pacquiao recognizes. “He's faster than Rios and taller than Rios. We have to work hard behind closed doors in training camp to win this fight.”
The odds makers will be thrilled to heart. Lofty expectations have already been placed on the well-defined shoulders of Pacquiao, who opened as a 14-1 favorite. He was also a big betting favorite heading into his first fight with Bradley, which resulted in a shocking – and highly controversial – split decision in favor of the Californian to end Pacquiao’s near three-year stay as a welterweight titlist.
Algieri was a big underdog heading into the fight with Provodnikov, again in a bout featuring a disputed yet shocking outcome resulting in a title changing hands.
As history has always told, anything can happen in the ring. Promoters are obligated to remind the viewing audience of that to help sell any given fight - but for some, just not to the degree in which the unthinkable actually pans out.
“In a lot of ways, this fight is reminiscent of the great (Dempsey-Tunney) fight of the 1920's.” Arum insists. “Manny Pacquiao is going to do everything he can to make sure history isn't going to repeat.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox