By Thomas Gerbasi
You might have assumed that Chris Algieri enjoyed the little break he got the last time he stepped into the ring against Erick Bone last December. It’s not that his 10-round decision victory was easy, but the break being referred to was the one he got when he was in a non-main event for the first time in a long time.
“Nope,” Algieri laughs. “You’ve got to understand – my career’s been very different than a lot of the other guys you see out there. In my 10th pro fight I was the main event. I was always the main event on local shows, so I’m used to carrying cards and being the top billing and doing interviews and getting a lot of attention. I’m a lot more used to this than the opposite.”
A former world champion at 140 pounds that has been in big fights with Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan and Ruslan Provodnikov, Algieri is one of the rare fighters who embraces everything that comes along with being a main eventer. That means plenty of interviews, plenty of pulls on your time, and plenty of distractions from the task at hand. Sure, the money’s nice, but everything else can be draining.
Yet when asked if he would prefer to have someone else do the heavy lifting, he says “Nah. I’ve got a strong back, let’s go.”
And if the 32-year-old New Yorker wanted a reminder of what life is on the other side of the bout sheet, he got it before the Bone fight.
“I walk into my room in the hotel in Brooklyn,” Algieri said. “The first thing I said when I opened the door was ‘damn, I’ve got to get back to the main event.’ (Laughs) It wasn’t bad, but it’s not what I was used to.”
This week, it’s back to business as usual for Algieri, who headlines Saturday’s event at Barclays Center in Brooklyn against unbeaten former Olympian Errol Spence Jr. Yeah, he’s happy about it.
“I’m a lot more comfortable here, honestly,” he said. “With my last fight, it was strange not being the top billing. So it’s good to be back.”
It’s also good for Algieri to be coming into this pivotal bout off a win. Sure, Ecuador’s Bone is not Pacquiao or Khan, but he’s a solid pro with potential, and Algieri needed to break a two-fight losing streak or risk falling out of main events for the foreseeable future. And when you factor in Bone’s intention of pulling off the upset against a big name, it wasn’t as simple a fight as it may have appeared on paper.
“That was a very risky fight for a number of reasons,” he said. “In general, those fights are risky. I’m never really a guy that has trouble getting motivated or training hard, which some fighters do and they can end up catching losses to guys they shouldn’t lose to. But at the same time, Erick Bone is a very solid guy, much more than he gets credit for. He came into the Shawn Porter fight on 30 hours notice and flew across the country and put on a helluva fight for five rounds. And Shawn gives him tons of props because the kid can fight. So he was a dangerous fight and, honestly, he was in the best shape he could possibly be in. The guy trained super hard, and I was actually training with him months before the fight and he was in great shape. So it was definitely a risky fight against a guy coming and bringing his all, but I just had to go out there and let my class show and get the victory.”
He expects to do the same thing again this weekend, but Spence – seen as one of the top talents in the sport today – isn’t Erick Bone. For the 26-year-old Texan, this is his big fight, the one that moves him from prospect to contender, and Algieri knows that’s the plan for his foe. His job? Make sure that he shows Spence the difference between a former world champion and the opponents the rising star has been facing.
“It’s a similar situation (to the Bone fight) if you think about someone who is gonna come hungry and super prepared,” Algieri said. “This is their moment. But honestly, I’ve been in those fights so many times before. I fought other prospects on my way up. Jose Peralta, Emmanuel Taylor. At that point, we were in the same position. We were both really hungry to take that next step, and getting a win would have helped one guy and dropped the other one, so it’s a situation that I’ve been in many times before. I’ve only had 23 fights, but I’ve seen a lot of different things in terms of my progression up until this point.”
Algieri has only lost two of those 23 fights – to Pacquiao and Khan – and in his first world title fight in 2014, he rose from two knockdowns to beat Provodnikov. He’s a veteran, he’s resilient, and he’s been places in the pro ring Spence hasn’t seen yet. And that’s the experience he’s counting on to get him another main event win.
“That (dealing with the pressure of a step-up fight) was one of my big concerns, even going into the Provodnikov fight,” Algieri said. “He had been in big fights before, he had been on big shows, and I hadn’t been. It’s something we spoke about as a team to try and get prepared for, something I had to mentally prepare myself for. And even more from the outside looking in, that’s a really difficult thing to do. Taking that leap from prospect to contender to champion is a huge, huge step, and a lot of times it can be bigger than you would even think it would be. So it’s hard to prepare for, you’ve got to be really knowledgeable about yourself and how big the stages really can be. And I’ve been there. I’ve been there several times. I know what the feelings are like.”
And there’s no place he’d rather be.