Chris Algieri will complete a rags-to-riches ‘real-life Rocky' story when he fights Manny Pacquiao this weekend.
A year ago, on November 2, he nearly quit boxing. The would-be doctor from Long Island, New York, had just watched heavyweight Magomed Abdusalamov almost die in the Madison Square Garden ring against Mike Perez.
Abdusalamov, a Russian, went ten gruelling rounds with Perez, suffering fractures to his cheekbones and hands. The next day he was in a coma after emergency surgery to remove a blood clot on the brain.
He left hospital only two months ago, in a wheelchair and unable to speak.
"A year ago, I was ready to quit," Algieri said this week, ready to fighty Manny Pacquiao in Macau.
The American admitted that what he saw in New York City that night shook him to the core. And he also felt his career was giouing nowhere. His small-town fights were not even televised.
"The Russian kid who almost died ... we had the same record. He was 17-0. The guy was undefeated. One fight ... and he was in a coma," said Algieri, who at the time was heavily in post-student debt after completing a degree in health science and a master's in clinical nutrition.
"I went to my promoter Joe DeGuardia and said, 'Listen, that guy (almost) died. I'm done'."
DeGuardia convinced him to take another fight and suddenly Algieri, whose biggest purse to that point had been less than $10 000, made a breakthrough.
In February he outpointed Emmanuel Taylor, then ranked No 4 light-welterweight by the IBF. A world ranking and a title shot followed.
Few gave the little-known Algieri any hope in June against the fearsome Russian WBO champion Ruslan Provodnikov. The feeling intensified when Algieri was knocked down twice in the first round.
But Algieri hadn't read the script. Just like Rocky in the movie, he bravely got up and, despite his right eye being swollen shut for the rest of the fight, he boxed clever and won a split decision.
Against Taylor he had picked up the biggest purse of his career to date: $15000. That increased to $115 000 for beating Provodnikov, which Algieri wisely used to clear his student loans.
Now, nine months on from the Taylor fight, his reward, win or lose come Sunday, will be in seven figures, albeit dwarfed by Pacquiao's reported $20 million pay day.
Algieri’s remarkable, rapid rise from complete unknown to an undefeated (20-0) world title challenger taking on one of the best fighters of his generation, prompted promoter Bob Arum to dub Algieri the "real-life Rocky".
The 82-year-old Arum is impressed by the clean-cut Algieri, who is a promoter's dream: intelligent, good-looking, smartly dressed and eloquent.
"This kid is wonderful," Arum said thie week. "His story is incredible. He really is like a real-life Rocky."
Algieri's first million-dollar payday will comfortably fund him when he chooses to go back to his medical studies, but the 30-year-old, who is of Italian/Argentine descent, says becoming a doctor can wait.
"We'll see how long this career lasts, or for how long I want to do it," Algieri said. “I want to do it now as much as I can, and as much as I want to. It's all about passion for me. If I ever lose my passion, I'm out."
Unlike a year ago, he doesn't intend that to be any time soon. If the result against Pacquiao is a heavy defeat, it may just change his mind.