By Thomas Gerbasi
If Chris Algieri seems unnaturally calm and confident before the biggest fight of his professional boxing career against WBO junior welterweight champion Ruslan Provodnikov on June 14th, it’s no act and it’s no surprise.
Why? Because it’s only the biggest fight of his professional boxing career. In his previous combat sports life as a pro kickboxer, the New Yorker made it to the top of the mountain twice, winning ISKA and WKA championships, and while they’re two different sports, preparing for and winning a world title fight cuts across all rule sets.
“Those were dream fights for me, there was a lot of personal pressure and outside pressure related to those fights and I was a much younger man then,” said the 30-year-old from Huntington, who won his kickboxing belts at 21 and 23. “So just dealing with that and going through a training camp a hundred percent focused, I’ve been there before. Training camp is going great this time, and this fight - and really any kind of fight of this magnitude - is all about mental focus and preparation, and I feel like everything is right on track.”
It’s what you hear from 99% of the challengers out there, but from the mouth of Algieri, it sounds convincing and you believe him. But at the same time, he’s not one of those who talks about a world title fight as being just another fight. He knows that it’s far from that.
“I think some guys maybe downplay it in their own minds just to stay positive and take a little bit of pressure off themselves,” he said. “I don’t. I welcome the pressure. I’m a fighter and I believe that I live like a champion, so this kind of pressure is what separates the champions from the regular guys, and the fight is a different kind of fight. This is the big time.”
It is, an HBO gig against a champion who has gotten more and more notoriety with each fight. In fact, given the near mythical status Provodnikov is achieving after his 2013 Fight of the Year against Tim Bradley and his beatdown of Mike Alvarado, it’s almost hard to believe that before the Bradley fight he was being described by critics as a pleasing fighter to watch, but also as an ESPN-level fighter. Such a journey from B-side to headliner hasn’t been lost on Algieri.
“He’s the guy that not too long ago was right in the same place that I’m at, and now he’s one of the most avoided guys in the game,” he said. “He was getting downplayed, now I’m getting downplayed for this fight, so it’s kind of a role reversal now. He’s King Kong and I’m the up and coming guy.”
I thought Algieri would have said Provodnikov is King Kong but he’s Godzilla.
“In my mind, sure,” he laughs. “But the rest of the world doesn’t know that yet.”
In 17 days he plans on showing the world that he belongs with the elite. Unbeaten in 19 fights, Algieri has done all that has been asked of him in the ring, and after an impressive outing against Emmanuel Taylor in February, he got the call to face Provodnikov, and in his home state of New York no less. And while the original location of Nassau Coliseum in Long Island would have been nice, Barclays Center in Brooklyn suits Algieri just fine. In fact, you get the impression that if the fight would have been placed in Provdnikov’s backyard in Beryozovo, Russia, he would have eagerly packed his bags and made the trip. But for now, it’s Brooklyn for the Long Islander.
“New York is New York, and this is where I’m from,” he said. “Nassau would have been great because of the history, but the Barclays is such a beautiful arena, I’m definitely not mad about that.”
He’s not mad about being the underdog and the unknown in this fight. Really, it doesn’t bother him.
“I don’t blame them, they don’t know who I am yet,” said Algieri. “The guys who know who I am know that this is a real fight, but the rest of the people and the boxing people that haven’t seen me before, how are they going to say any different? This fight is my coming out party. Everyone is going to see what I’ve been working on for years and see what I bring to the table, and it’s going to be a great night.”
And let’s face it, as fun as Provdnikov is to watch, Bradley made his job a lot easier by brawling with him, and Alvarado is Alvarado; in other words, a perfect style matchup for him. Meanwhile, at 5-foot-10 and with a six-inch reach advantage over the 5-foot-6 Provodnikov, Algieri is a physical puzzle for the Russian to figure out, and stylistically, someone who can box and is also willing to bang in spurts can give him trouble. Just look at the loss suffered by Provodnikov against Mauricio Herrera in 2011. It’s a fight Algieri is aware of, but one he isn’t about to declare as the blueprint for him to win on June 14.
“I’ve only seen a couple rounds of that fight,” he said, “but my coaches have studied it quite extensively. I’m not big on watching tape and trying to analyze fights prior to my bouts. I’m going to go out there and do what I do. Mauricio Herrera is a great fighter and me and him have some similarities, but I think this is totally different. If I go out there and do what I do and what we’ve been working on, it’s my fight.”
On paper it may be, but that doesn’t count for intangibles, and that’s where Provodnikov wins a lot of his fights, both in terms of steely intimidation and his willingness to go into those dark places few fighters want to spend too much time in.
“(I’ve gone through that) in kickboxing especially,” he said. “I fought a little bit of a different style back then, and kickboxing’s a tough sport, but even in some of my boxing fights, I’ve been in a situation where I had a broken hand and had to figure out a way to win, I’ve been in fights where I got hit with a big shot or got cut before. These kinds of things all happen and develop throughout a pro career and you may not notice them as they’re coming, but that’s what all those early fights are for. You figure those things out and figure out if you got it or not, and then when you get to the championship level, that’s when you’re really tested.”
So if need be, he’ll take a trip into Hell with “The Siberian Rocky.”
“Myself and my team are extremely confident when it comes to this fight and that particular situation,” said Algieri. “I’m working to make sure that this is not one of those kinds of fights, but if it happens, we’re ready for that too. I’m feeling supremely confident about everything and the way camp’s been going, and I’m ready for anything on fight night.”
In the meantime, he’s clearing some space for another championship belt.
“There’s always room for some new belts,” he laughs.