By Jake Donovan
If you asked the question around this time last year, few if any observers would have guessed that Chris Algieri is in the position he’s in today.
It was beyond anyone’s wildest predictions that he’d hold a major title in the 140 lb. division, or that he’d serve as New York’s only current full titlist. Nor did hardly anyone imagine that the unbeaten Long Islander would so quickly land a dream assignment versus Manny Pacquiao – and that he’d have to carry the bulk of the promotion, to boot.
Of course, Algieri has always believed in himself, and is relishing every bit of his newfound fame.
“It’s been fantastic. It’s the kind of stuff that you want as a fighter coming up,” Algieri (20-0, 8KOs) says of the additional exposure that has come with his welterweight title challenge versus Pacquiao, this Saturday at Cotai Arena in Macau, China. “I am now a champion and fighting at the elite level and you want this kind of exposure. A lot of guys say this, but when it comes they really don’t want it.
“I’m not that kind of guy. This stuff gets me up. My open workouts are like fight day. I’ve got a lot of pressure on me and I ride it to the top. I am enjoying my time here and my time under the microscope and I believe that has helped out whole team step up to perform that much better.”
Algieri became the unlikeliest of candidates following a major upset win over Ruslan Provodnikov in June. The outcome remains disputed – many have contended that the split decision verdict should have gone the other way – but that the fight itself took place when it did spoke volumes of Algieri’s eagerness to bring his career to the next level.
“On June 14, he agreed to fight the man nobody wanted to fight,” points out promoter Joe DeGuardia, president of Star Boxing who signed Algieri in 2011. “Ruslan Provodnikov was the most feared man in the division. He was dropped twice in the opening round. His eye was closed. He rose to outbox, out fight, outthink Rusan Provodnikov. He rose to become the junior welterweight champion of the world.
“On November 22, he’s fighting a legend. He’s fighting Manny Pacquiao a great champion. But Chris Algieri has the talent, he has the character. On November 22, he will once again prove he’s a winner.”
The most common praise heaped upon Algieri is his winning attitude outside the ring. The likeable boxer from Long Island boasts a story unique to most who’ve achieved fame in the sport. A college graduate whose introduction into combat sports came through kickboxing, Algieri wasn’t entirely sure where his career would head upon turning pro in 2008.
Through six years as a pro boxer, Algieri has never left his home state of New York for a fight prior to signing on for the life-altering payday that comes with facing Pacquiao. All but six of his fights have taken place on Long Island, including eight straight in his hometown of Huntington, where he has become a huge draw.
His emergence as a local attraction has helped pave the way for other Long Island fighters to enjoy what he didn’t have as a kid – the ability to cling to a neighborhood boxing program.
“When I was a kid, I did martial arts because boxing wasn’t really available on Long Island,” Algieri points out, having once served as a kickboxing champion before eventually crossing over to boxing. “I think now kids are able to begin boxing earlier. So it’s great and whatever can promote the sport on a whole is a good thing. And if we can do it on Long Island, where I am from, it’s a beautiful thing.”
For his upcoming adventure, Algieri will have to do it on the other side of the world. As was the case when he faced Provodnikov in June, the odds are once again stacked against him for what is far and away the biggest fight of his career. Provodnikov was heavily favored to win their fight at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, roughly an hour away from Algieri’s home.
On Saturday evening, Pacquiao is a healthy 8-1 favorite to make the first defense of his second tour as a welterweight titlist. The fight takes place at a catchweight of 144 lb., hardly an unreasonable leap for Algieri, who has hovered around that weight for much of his career while on the way up.
Regardless of what happens this weekend, plenty of options await Algieri in and out of the ring. With a bachelor’s degree in health science and a Master’s degree in clinical nutrition, the plans for life after boxing call for a return to medical school where he pursue his Ph.D.
The pursuit of higher education left him with a pile of bills, which he finished paying off thanks to the six-figure payday he received from the Provodnikov fight. In the span of three fights – all in 2014 – Algieri has leaped from $15,000 paydays on ESPN, to a six-figure payday on HBO and now to a healthy seven-figure check for a Pay-Per-View headliner against one of the very best fighters in the world today.
While there’s no mistaking that Pacquiao’s star power is the driving force behind the event, his time spent training at home in Philippines left Algieri as the center of attention and thus holding his own as the face of the promotion.
It’s a story nobody would have believed if we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes.
“This promotion and this event has been like a real-life Rocky story,” suggests Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum, representing Pacquiao in the promotion but well in Algieri’s corner from the moment the fight was signed over the summer. “Now we know that Rocky came from the streets of Philadelphia and was uneducated, and we have a Rocky here that is highly educated and very articulate, but this is truly a Rocky story nevertheless.
“If I had scripted this and sent the script in to HBO, it would have been rejected because of being unrealistic. But here we are; it’s real, it’s real life, and Chris Algieri is the modern day Rocky.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America . Twitter: @JakeNDaBox