By Mitch Abramson
Chris Algieri is a positive person.
He rarely delves into the negative, forever channeling a confident and optimistic demeanor. Those are the same vibes he releases in the videos he posts of himself on YouTube touting his “Champion Lifestyle.”
Yet when the location of his June 14 title fight was switched from his hometown of Long Island to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Algieri briefly departed from his upbeat ways.
He imagined fighting more than just WBO junior welterweight champion Ruslan Provodnikov, who’s earned the reputation as one of the sport’s most avoided fighters because of his pounding style.
Algieri (19-0, eight knockouts) thought he might also be facing an antagonistic crowd and even biased judging. Why? Because Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov used his considerable influence to move the fight from the Nassau Coliseum to a place where his team plays its home games. All in a bid to work with Provodnikov.
Provodnikov’s manager, Vadim Kornilov said earlier this month that people close to Prokhorov- a Russian billionaire- played a role in bringing the Russian-born Provodnikov to the Barclays Center, giving the impression that Provodnikov might have a home court advantage, starting with the crowd and perhaps even extending to the judging.
“Yeah it crossed my mind,” Algieri said of facing a stacked-deck at the Barclays. But after going to various pre-fight activities, Algieri felt comfortable with the situation and his mood brightened again. The bout will headline an HBO “Boxing After Dark” telecast, his first time on the network.
“I didn’t get a negative feeling from the Russian fans or the Russian press or anyone at all,” said Algieri, who has a Master’s degree in clinical nutrition from New York Institute of Technology and often posts revealing videos of himself on YouTube giving fitness and nutritional advice under a brand he calls “Champion Lifestyle.” “Ruslan is a respectable and gracious champion and a humble guy,” he went on.
Algieri acknowledged the elephant in the room- the perception the judging might be biased in favor of Provodnikov because of his connections to Prokhorov. Yet receiving a bad decision on June 14 couldn’t be furthest from his mind, he said.
“You could worry about getting robbed and decisions and things like that," he admitted. "But if I go out there and do my job there’s no way for that to happen and I can’t worry about that. I can’t worry about a bad decision.”
What a way to precede the biggest fight of his career. It's not hyperbole to call Algieri a huge underdog against the relentless Provodnikov. Few outside of his own camp are giving him a chance. “I don’t really expect people to give me a shot,” Algieri conceded.
Yet when the bout was initially announced at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, LI, at least Algieri, who hails from Huntington, LI, had the benefit of fighting in front of his home fans. However, that was taken away when Prokhorov got involved. Algieri admitted he was a little stunned when he first got the news the fight venue had been switched earlier this month but claims to quickly put it behind him.
“It was surprising but you have to have thick skin in this sport,” Algieri said. “I just kind of kept it moving. That’s just boxing. That’s the way it is. If you think too much and let these things bog you down- it’s just going to have a negative effect. I’m a positive guy and I feel very positive about everything that’s going on. It is what it is.”
Algieri said he’s now come to terms with the move in venues and was happy to fight at the Barclays, declaring it his home turf.
“The Barclays is a beautiful, beautiful place,” he said. “I’m definitely not mad that I’m fighting there. Originally I was looking forward to the historical significance of fighting in Nassau because I don’t think they’ve had a fight there in almost 20 years. But other than that- it’s still my backyard because New York is where I’m from. He’s basically coming to where live. So it’s still my town, my state, my [city].”
Provodnikov has emerged as one of the most dangerous boxers in the sport in his last two fights, lifting the title from Mike Alvarado in October and battering Timothy Bradley in a close decision loss in March of last year. Provodnikov (23-2, 16 knockouts) has openly complained about facing the little-known Algieri and not a better-known opponent, such as Juan Manuel Marquez or Brandon Rios.
“I am very, very disappointed about that,” Provodnikov told reporters the night before Bradley faced Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas earlier this month. “For me, the best option for my next fight, considering that Bradley is fighting Pacquiao again, it would have been Marquez. Also, Brandon Rios I really wanted that fight [with Rios] if it wasn’t going to be Marquez. Obviously, I was looking for a different type of opponent and I am a bit disappointed that I am not fighting some of the opponents I wanted, but I am looking forward to June 14 and getting back in the ring.”
As a result, Algieri believes the pressure is on Provodnikov to perform at a high level.
“He can make a lot more money fighting one of those guys, a lot more of a bigger show,” Algieri said. “And I understand that. It’s a business and that’s from the business side. There’s a lot more to lose here. This is a dangerous fight for him.”
And Algieri believes he has the right stuff to pull the upset, even if few are giving him a chance to topple a human buzz saw.
“I look at everything that I’ve done, all the big fights that I’ve had in my career have prepared me for this challenge,” he said. “And I think the style that he possesses and my physicality are going to play a big part of this fight and help me feel that much more confident. He’s definitely an avoided guy, a dangerous guy,” Algieri added. “But those are the kinds of guys I want to fight.”
He pointed to his last opponent, Emmanuel Taylor as a similarly feared fighter and Algieri dealt him his second defeat, winning a unanimous decision.
“I’m okay with fighting dangerous guys,” Algieri said. “Those are the guys that I want.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.