By Jake Donovan
A ridiculous 20-year ban in place for mixed martial arts left New York State as the only location in the U.S. to have disallowed sanctioning in the sport. A long overdue reversal of such policy took place on Tuesday, with the historic ruling met with plans from combat sports giant Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to bring its game to town on the first available date.
The move has been met with overwhelming embrace by many, but also raises the question of how it will affect the next generation of athletes in the New York area in determining which combat sports field to pursue. It was a fair inquiry that was posed to Chris Algieri, the former 140 lb. titlist from the Huntington section of Long Island, New York with a background in wresting and on a championship level in kickboxing.
His brief title reign was preceded by his becoming a sizeable draw in his hometown. The charismatic Long Islander generated interest to the point of his promoter Star Boxing continuing to stage events in front of sold-out crowds at Paramount Theatre in Huntington despite his long ago outgrowing the circuit.
Algieri’s next ring appearance will come on April 16, where he serves – on paper – as the stiffest test to date for unbeaten welterweight contender Errol Spence. The bout will air live on NBC from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where Algieri will fight for the fourth time in his past five starts. It’s where he claimed his 140-pound title in an upset win over Ruslan Provodnikov in 2014 and where he will continue to carry on his goal of becoming a two-division champ.
Should he not reemerge among the title fray, there are plenty of other options for Algieri, given his combat sports background and his college Master’s degree in clinical nutrition. One such option he emphatically removes from the table is ever doubling as an MMA fighter.
“That is a resounding no,” Algieri (21-2, 8KOs) firmly stated during a media conference call that briefly deviated from his upcoming bout with Spence (19-0, 16KOs). “I am living my dream now. I told myself as a child I wanted to be a championship boxer. Boxing for me is a passion. If the passion is not there, then there is no need for me to be doing this. UFC is not a passion.”
Of course, boxing became a passion due to it functionally serving as the only game in town, at least on the pro level and from the perspective of making a lucrative living. Algieri was all of 13 years old when MMA was banned in New York State in 1997, at which point he was in the process of making the transformation from karate to kickboxing, before adding kickboxing and – of course – boxing to his résumé.
But what if he grew up with MMA – and specifically UFC – as part of his every day life?
“That could be possible,” Algieri, 32, admits of having possibly crossed over at some point. “I can’t say definitely not. If I grew up a different way, growing up to different heroes, who’s to say I don’t see things a different way.”
What he will be seeing on April 16 is an unbeaten rising young star deemed by many as the standout member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team. While Algieri represents the toughest test to date for the 26-year old Spence, the crossroads bout comes at a point when the former champ is in career flux.
The aforementioned win over Provodnikov was parlayed into a lucrative showdown with then-welterweight titlist Manny Pacquiao. Algieri came up miles short in their Nov. ’14 clash, but has yet to truly reclaim title-worthy status since that showing overseas in Macau. He offered a competitive performance in a points loss to fellow former 140-pound titlist Amir Khan last May, followed by a closer-than-expected 10-round decision win over Erick Bone last December.
Both fights showed his fighting heart, but he remains a heavy underdog heading into April 16. Still, he enjoys the benefit of fighting at home (or at least an hour or so away, much closer than Spence’s trek from Desoto, Texas) in a venue that has provided great moments – and hopefully one more in the only sport he truly loves.
“I’ve had some of my best performances at Barclays. I believe April 16 will be another,” Algieri insists. “Training camp has been terrific. Our conditioning is optimal and I’m looking forward to a great night of boxing on April 16.”
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox