by David P. Greisman
Chris Algieri’s background came to the forefront from the moment he entered the spotlight. He was a novelty in a sport that draws the poor and otherwise troubled, taking them off the streets and instilling discipline, showing them the value of sacrifice even if it comes at a physical price.
Algieri was a private-school student from the well-to-do region of Long Island, New York, who has a college diploma and a master’s degree and has designs on attending medical school. Contrast that with the best boxer in the world, Floyd Mayweather Jr., who while opulent now didn’t come from an affluent background, and who defended accusations earlier this year that he was functionally illiterate.
The first person Algieri defeated in 2014, Emanuel Taylor, was brought to the gym at the age of 3, as his father preemptively wanted something that would keep him out of trouble later in life. That approach didn’t stick for Taylor’s brother, also a boxer, who wound up serving time in prison. The second person Algieri defeated this year, Ruslan Provodnikov, believes he would have been behind bars himself if not for boxing. And the person Algieri fought this past weekend, Manny Pacquiao, had dropped out, moved out and was a homeless teenager long before he became a national icon and then a global superstar.
Algieri didn’t need to fight but he loved to compete. He wrestled. He became a pro kickboxer. He chose boxing. But it wasn’t a mere hobby. This was a pursuit.
That’s what it had to be for him to succeed against opponents who needed it more. That’s what it had to be for him to put his studies on the backburner as his boxing career advanced to higher-level opponents and higher-profile fights. And that’s what it had to be for him to come off the canvas against Provodnikov twice in the first round and then battle and box despite his right eye being swollen shut for the remaining 11 rounds, winning a split decision and a world title.
He was a student of the sport who could break down styles and skills and then elaborate on what he needed to do to win. But no matter how well-educated and well-spoken he is, it would make no difference against Pacquiao.
Algieri may have a master’s degree, but Pacquiao is far and away in a higher class. This was a lesson that Algieri learned the hard way, losing a lopsided decision to Pacquiao this past Saturday.
Beforehand, there were a few who gave him a chance. After a few rounds it became clear that he didn’t have one.
The chance given to Algieri was based on how his height and style could combine to give Pacquiao trouble. Many of Pacquiao’s greatest successes had come against fighters who liked to come forward, whose emphasis on seeking offense allowed Pacquiao to use his quick movement and combinations to pick them apart. He looked less stellar against opponents who moved and rolled and blocked shots, as Timothy Bradley did in his highly controversial win in June 2012 in the first Pacquiao-Bradley fight. Pacquiao had also been knocked cold by Juan Manuel Marquez in late 2012 in the fourth installment of their rivalry.
The fight was taking place at a catch-weight of 144 pounds. Though Algieri had just won a title at 140 and Pacquiao had long been competing at 147, Algieri has to diet and exercise to take weight off while Pacquiao has to eat several meals a day to pack it on and keep it on. Even though Algieri was the naturally heavier man, he hadn’t demonstrated significant power, with just eight knockouts in his 20 wins.
Instead, Algieri figured to box and use that and his four-inch size advantage to keep Pacquiao at a distance, make Pacquiao miss and force Pacquiao to reset.
“Chris won’t be there and it’s going to be confusing for him,” trainer Tim Lane had said a couple of days before the bout. “He is going to be a master boxer.”
It was Algieri’s movement and output that had brought him the victory over Provodnikov. This time he would presumably have two good eyes for Pacquiao.
“Totally different fight. Totally different fighter,” Algieri said in early August. There was still more than three and a half months to go before the bout, but he was already beginning to analyze and prepare himself for the challenge.
“Manny has great footwork. He’ll be moving in and out. He’s got that herky-jerky style,” Algieri said. “Speed is obviously a difference. He’s not going to be as physically strong as Ruslan. His pressure will be completely different. But in terms of what I need to do, I just need to box. When I box, I beat everybody in the world. That’s really the game plan. I just need to stick to that game plan and be a master boxer. With Manny you know what you’re getting.”
Still, there would be a remarkable difference in level of ability he’d faced in Provodnikov and what he’d see with Pacquiao. Against Provodnikov, the main question had been about how Algieri would deal with the power. Against Pacquiao, the question would also be one of quickness.
“I think they’re going to be surprised how fast I am. I’ve fought some fast fighters in the past,” Algieri replied. “Length dictates the pace and the distance and the range in which a fight is fought at. You got a guy like me who’s longer and who’s also fast, and you got a guy like him who’s shorter and is quick. He’s got to cover more distance to get to me than I need to cover. I think range is important.”
Pacquiao and Provodnikov share the same trainer, Hall of Fame coach Freddie Roach, who was familiar with Algieri and sought to denigrate him while rejecting Algieri’s breakdown.
“He runs very well,” Roach said days beforehand. “He will run from Manny and he will have to cut the ring off and set traps. He will have to chase him down, but we will catch him. … Algieri thinks he is going to be the faster guy in there. He is going to be overwhelmed by Manny’s speed. You can’t judge Manny’s speed by watching him on TV. Once he gets in the ring, he’ll be shocked.”
Roach predicted a knockout for Pacquiao within the first three rounds. That, too, was also possible. Provodnikov had downed Algieri early. Pacquiao would conceivably be better at finishing him.
This was a huge step up from facing a titleholder, Provodnikov, who didn’t know how to adjust to a boxer, to going in with an all-time great. There were good reasons that the pre-fight marketing focused not on the competitive aspects but on Algieri’s personality. Algieri was put on national television shows where this likable and good-looking and, yes, white American could draw interest from possible purchasers who would not be knowledgeable of the tremendous disparity in experience and accomplishment.
The marketing push was the level of external outreach that should be done more often. It potentially would drive the buy rate for the pay-per-view and could keep that audience around if Algieri pulled off the upset. This wasn’t the first time an underdog had gone in against an overwhelming favorite. And as strained a comparison as promoter Bob Arum had made beforehand in describing Algieri as a “real life Rocky,” there have been real-life cases of upstarts upsetting superstars.
Algieri came out as expected, moving to his left and Pacquiao’s right, away from Pacquiao’s powerful southpaw left cross and attempting to keep Pacquiao turning to make the right hook more difficult to throw. When Algieri would stop moving, Pacquiao would jump forward with a left hand. When Pacquiao would come forward, Algieri sought to jump away or block the blows.
About a minute into the second round, Algieri deflected three shots and then backed up toward Pacquiao’s red corner, where a surplus of water had apparently accumulated on the mat. Both of Algieri’s feet slipped out backward underneath him. The referee wrongly ruled it a knockdown. That wouldn’t be the only time it happened.
In these opening rounds, Algieri’s emphasis on defense wasn’t giving him the edge on the judges’ scorecards. He was barely throwing and barely landing. Through the first four rounds, CompuBox had Algieri landing just 20 punches out of 131 thrown, an average of just 5 of 33 per round, a 15 percent connect rate. Only one of those 20 landed shots was a jab, an important shot for keeping the distance and a punch that Algieri had hit Provodnikov with an average of nine times per round.
While good right hands were landing cleanly for Algieri as leads or counters, they weren’t anywhere near enough to deter Pacquiao, who kept seeking to close the distance and stay active. Pacquiao was 65 of 210, an average of 16 of 53 per round, tripling the number of times Algieri hit him and at double the accuracy.
Yet Algieri’s trainer didn’t have a problem with what he was seeing.
“Two more like that,” he said after two.
“You see what’s happening,” he said after three. “You’re doing beautiful. Everything stays the same. You see what’s unfolding?”
But Pacquiao has the ability to kick into a higher gear, with footwork and flurries that become even more difficult to handle.
Pacquiao began to dig more left hands to the body in the fourth. At one point, when Algieri switched up and began to come forward, he was the walking equivalent of a grooved fastball and Pacquiao swung away, landing a right uppercut and a left hand.
Algieri responded in the fifth, making Pacquiao miss and also landing some good shots of his own. It seemed as if Algieri might have been conditioning Pacquiao with the movement in the first four rounds, convincing Pacquiao to jump forward and attack. Instead of Pacquiao tracking an elusive target, he’d be running into counters.
That didn’t stick, however. Algieri tried to press the action early in the sixth, moving away on occasion for a respite. Pacquiao proved too quick at closing the gap. He came in with a left hand at one point, leapt forward with a combination at another. Then, a bit past the halfway point of the round, Algieri attempted a left hook lead and ended up eating a hard left cross counter from Pacquiao. When Pacquiao followed up, Algieri stumbled, fell to the canvas and somersaulted backward and back onto his feet. Soon Pacquiao pushed Algieri back into the wet red corner. Again, Algieri lost traction. Again, the referee bungled the call.
That made three knockdowns, only one of which was legitimate, but it was likely that Pacquiao was ahead by a minimum of five rounds to one, with the extra point deductions for the knockdowns leading to a tally of 59-52, if not a shutout at 60-51. With six rounds to go, the lead was already insurmountable unless Algieri could find a way to floor or stop Pacquiao.
That’s not what we saw Algieri trying to do in the seventh or the eighth or halfway through the ninth. He was still moving, still attempting occasional shots, but he wasn’t doing more damage than before, and he was neither more active nor more accurate than Pacquiao.
HBO analyst Max Kellerman went to trainer Tim Lane a minute into the ninth to seek an explanation. What Lane gave was bluster that quickly and comically proved to be ill-timed.
The game plan, Lane said, was to keep the distance, jab and let Pacquiao get tired. Kellerman asked Lane what he expected to change after those first four rounds.
“I’ll tell you after,” Lane said. “He’s [Algieri’s] going to put him to sleep here in a few minutes. I’ma let him go. I’ma let him go in one more round. I still, I got him in the cage right now. I’m about to let him out of the cage. I still got him in a cage. He listens to me very well. I’ma let him loose in another round or so.”
While Kellerman asked if this would happen in the 10th round, and as Lane responded that it would be the 10th or 11th, Algieri turned his body and circled to the left. Pacquiao merely shifted his feet and kept Algieri in front of him, and when Algieri came to a stop Pacquiao burst forward with a left cross that crashed into the left side of Algieri’s face. He hit the canvas hard, getting up as the referee reached the count of nine.
Pacquiao came forward with 10 unanswered punches. Algieri was on the ropes and appeared as if he was attempting to take a knee. The referee ruled it a knockdown, the fifth of the fight, the third legitimate one. The onslaught continued and Algieri somehow sustained it, a round in which Pacquiao was credited with landing 45 of 72, a 62 percent connect rate, with nearly all of the scoring blows coming from power shots, Pacquiao going 43 of 60, a remarkable 70 percent.
The delusion continued from Lane.
“We are exactly where we need to be,” the trainer said after the ninth. “I know you trust me.”
Pacquiao was ahead 90-76, or perhaps 89-77 if Algieri had been given one round earlier.
The result was guaranteed barring the combination of Algieri showing the kind of power he never had before and Pacquiao making the kind of mistake he wasn’t going to make in this bout. Pacquiao seemed to show some mercy and took his foot off the gas in the 10th, though he did score another knockdown — the sixth of the fight, the fourth legitimate — when Algieri ducked down but got caught with a left cross and a right uppercut. Algieri covered up and tried to moved away as another left cross split his guard, sending him again stumbling backward and somersaulting onto his knees.
“You ready for round two?” Lane said to Algieri after the 10th, playing off a theme that they were approaching the earlier part of the fight as if they were boxing the opening round again and again. “I’m letting you out of the cage.”
If this was Algieri out of the cage, then he was a mouse being toyed with by a cat. Pacquiao tagged Algieri when he so desired in the 11th.
The entirety of Lane’s conversations with Algieri weren’t shown between each round, so it’s uncertain how much strategic information was being provided as things went further downhill. Now, with three minutes to go, it was pointless to give him pep talks or assistance with finding a way to win. Now it was about survival or mercy, one of those lessening the beating and the other halting it.
That’s not the direction they went. Algieri received a handful of tactical tips from his other corner man and a few from Lane, who told him about a sequence of punches the trainer wanted and a shot that was open for him — as if an opening that hadn’t been exploited in the preceding 11 rounds could now be taken advantage of.
“We got one more round. You’re in shape. Champion lifestyle. Chris Algieri Show. Stay on him this round,” Lane concluded.
Pacquiao won the 12th as well.
He won nearly all of them, taking it on the scorecards with one judge seeing it 120-102 and the other two judges with it at 119-103, giving Algieri a single round.
Algieri thought he could compete with the likes of Pacquiao. He learned the hard way just how hard that would be.
This was no “Rocky” story. There was no moral victory of Sylvester Stallone’s hard-luck slugger giving the champion a difficult battle. This was Algieri finding out just how big a difference there is between him and one of the best fighters in the world.
Manny Pacquiao is nearly 36, has been a pro boxer for nearly 20 years, has been through hard battles and training camps and has declined a little since the years in which he knocked out Ricky Hatton, dissected Miguel Cotto and brutalized Antonio Margarito. He had those losses in 2012, but he’s bounced back since with the confidence-builder against Brandon Rios last year, a rematch decision over Bradley in April, and now this victory over Algieri. He’s still great.
Algieri isn’t, but that shouldn’t be held against him. Few reach that level, and it’s unfair for Algieri to compare himself against the Pacquiaos of this sport. What the 30-year-old can do instead is return to 140, seek fights against the best of that division and see how he fares.
Unlike so many others, Algieri didn’t need the sport of boxing. His past achievements came because this was what he wanted. His future success will be determined by that same desire.
The 10 Count
1. The reasons why we’re still talking about Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao all these years later is because it is still one of the biggest fights that can be made, if not the biggest, because they are still two of the best welterweights in the world, and because we’re apparently not yet ready to give up on the idea that it could be possible.
I have no insight into what negotiating may or may not be going on behind the scenes and cannot say whether the claims (from folks like Bob Arum of Top Rank) that discussions are underway are serious or promising.
We’re now approaching five years since fight negotiations between Mayweather-Pacquiao went to a mediator but still produced nothing due to a disagreement over drug testing.
We’re now approaching four and a half years since Top Rank’s PR stunt of an overnight conference call in which Bob Arum announced that Mayweather hadn’t signed a contract and that he’d be seeking other opponents for Pacquiao.
People have started and graduated from high school or college in this time. An entire diploma or degree’s worth of knowledge has been gained in the period from when Mayweather and Pacquiao could’ve fought until now.
And yet some are still hopeful. Both fighters are approaching the ends of their careers. Both are running short on opponents who can truly carry the B-side of pay-per-views. Both know the value in facing the other.
I stopped getting hopeful a long time ago.
I believe it can still happen.
But I’ll believe it when I see it.
2. As much as we’d love to see Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, I’d hate to see the undercard.
Given that boxing promoters rarely care about quality and competitive matchups on pay-per-view undercards already, that’d be even more the case with a main event of Mayweather-Pacquiao selling the show.
This past Saturday’s undercard was far from the most enticing.
The show’s opener was the one that fans were most looking forward to, with World Boxing Association “regular” titleholder Jessie Vargas — not ranked as one of the top five 140-pounders going in — against former lightweight titleholder Antonio DeMarco. It turned out decent and was competitive at times, with Vargas winning what some will consider his first truly clear decision of 2014.
Then came featherweight titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko against the World Boxing Organization’s top-rated contender Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo. Despite Piriyapinyo’s ranking, his 52-1 record and the fact that his sole defeat came against longtime beltholder Chris John, this was the mismatch it was expected to be.
The records and résumés of most of Piriyapinyo’s opponents showed his record to be inflated, whereas Lomachenko appears to be incredibly skilled and talented. Even after Lomachenko injured his left hand, he was still able to use speed, movement and ring presence to toy with Piriyapinyo en route to a shutout.
Finally came Zou Shiming, the two-time Olympic gold medalist who has improved but who still is far from belonging in the mix at flyweight. It’s understandable why he’s getting the spotlight he does — in Macau and China as a whole, he is ratings and box office gold for Top Rank. But he’s largely there as a showcased attraction. His opponent was Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym, a Thai fighter who drew attention because of his resemblance to Pacquiao. He gave Shiming a bit of a battle but also lost wide on the cards.
3. Then came a main event in which Pacquiao won by 18 points on one judge’s scorecard and 16 points on the other two. That’s even wider than the unanimous 119-104 cards we saw in last year’s fight between Wladimir Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin, which at least was between two of the top heavyweights in the world.
Pacquiao-Algieri was potentially intriguing giving the style matchup and the possibility that Pacquiao could be slipping from his pound-for-pound perch and Algieri could rise to the occasion. Pacquiao is still one of the best fighters in the world. Algieri isn’t, no matter how likable he is and despite his wins from earlier in the year.
4. One reason I imagine that Zou Shiming has been featured on HBO2 a handful of times now is because the network gets him relatively cheap, and that airing him is part of the working relationship between HBO and Top Rank.
It’s just a shame that whatever audience has caught Shiming probably largely isn’t acquainted yet with 112-pound champion Roman Gonzalez.
Gonzalez fought earlier in the weekend, breaking down Rocky Fuentes, who was coming off a decision loss in a bout for a vacant title against Amnat Ruenroeng. As has been noted in this space before, Gonzalez is a little guy with big power who won titles at 105 and 108 before moving up to flyweight. He had a good win over Juan Francisco Estrada at 108, and Estrada then moved up to 112 to beat Brian Viloria for two belts.
There’s been buzz about the possibility that HBO could air Gonzalez-Estrada 2. I’d love for that to happen. I just wish there were also a way that a good swath of HBO’s boxing audience could be shown some of their past bouts as a way of building up the fight. When fans lack familiarity, that could lead to low ratings, which could preclude the prospect of the top guys from these lightest divisions and other countries from being featured on the network again.
5. Speaking of buzz, the Pacquiao-Algieri pay-per-view included a commercial for “Tapia,” the documentary on late three-division titleholder Johnny Tapia, whose struggles with addiction and troubles with the law were well-documented prior to his untimely death from heart problems in 2012 at the age of 45.
The documentary looks like it could be both incredible and incredibly sad.
It premieres Dec. 18.
6. Boxers and Boxing Promoters Behaving Goodly: This being Thanksgiving week, we tend to see promoters and boxers help out the needy with the holiday.
That was the case in East Los Angeles, where Oscar De La Hoya was joined for his foundation’s annual turkey giveaway by 118-pound titleholder Randy Caballero; middleweight prospect Hugo Centeno; 122/126-pound prospects Diego De La Hoya, Joseph Diaz Jr. and Julian Ramirez; and two-time middleweight title challenger Gabriel Rosado.
Also last week, De La Hoya’s foundation joined with the California Municipal Finance Authority in donating new equipment to a boxing gym in Santa Ana, California.
Junior welterweight Zachary Ochoa went alongside members of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team and others to Fort Hamilton in New York City, where they served an early Thanksgiving dinner to more than 130 people in-need.
Former titleholder Robert Guerrero has donated $5,000 to a local Salvation Army chapter toward a Thanksgiving meal and other initiatives, and he is scheduled to join volunteers this Wednesday to help prepare and serve the meal.
And promoter Jake Smith of Baltimore Boxing was planning on donating turkeys to some of that area’s homeless shelters.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly, part one: Former super-middleweight titleholder Dave Hilton Jr. is back in trouble once again, and this time he allegedly told a woman he was arguing with that he would kill her, according to the Montreal Gazette.
The incident occurred in July. The 50-year-old appeared in court last week, with another hearing scheduled for this January.
“Hilton was involved in a lengthy trial in 2001 for his sexual assault of two minors [his daughters] and found guilty. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and released in 2006,” the report said. “Since his release from prison, he has faced charges of domestic abuse, assault, public drunkenness and breach of bail conditions.”
His last bout before his release had come in 2000, the title-winning split-decision over Dingaan Thobela. But Hilton, who had turned pro in 1981, returned to the ring in 2007 and went 10 rounds in a victory over a foe named Adam Green. That raised his record to 41-2-2 (26 knockouts).
8. Boxers Behaving Badly update: When last we checked in on former junior featherweight and featherweight Antonio Escalante, it was mid-July and he’d been arrested for allegedly driving drunk for the third time in about five months. Escalante has since pleaded guilty in two of those cases, entering his plea late last month, according to television station KVIA, which covers El Paso, Texas. His third case is scheduled to go to trial this coming May.
He was sentenced to one year in jail, but that sentence was suspended while he serves 18 months of probation, the report said. He also must complete community service, according to online court records. In the remaining case, Escalante is accused of “driving while intoxicated with a child under 15 years of age,” according to online court records. He also was cited in May for allegedly having a child not secured by a safety seat.
Online court records list similar accusations over the years: an unrestrained child in 2004, driving under the influence in 2006, driving without a valid license on multiple occasions in 2009 and 2010. Some of these cases wound up dismissed. He’s also had alleged license/license plate violations this year as well.
Escalante, who is 29 years old, turned pro in 2003. Among his notable wins are victories over Cornelius Lock, Mike Oliver, Miguel Roman and Gary Stark Jr. His losses came to Jairo Sanchez early in his career, to Mauricio Pastrana in 2007, in back-to-back knockout losses to Daniel Ponce De Leon in 2010 and Alejandro Perez, in back-to-back stoppage losses to Rocky Juarez in 2012 and Robert Marroquin in 2013 — and, most recently, a third-round technical knockout loss to Miguel Berchelt on Oct. 11. That dropped him to 29-7 with 20 KOs.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly update: The alleged shooting case involving middleweight titleholder Jermain Taylor is being moved from district court to circuit court, which led to the filing of formal charges last week. Taylor is facing a pair of felonies: first-degree battery and first-degree terroristic threatening, according to Arkansas Online. The case stems from an August incident in which Taylor allegedly shot his cousin more than once, injuring him. He’s also accused of threatening another man.
Per the article: “Deputies reported that the boxer told them that he and [his cousin] ‘had problems … in the past’ and that when [the cousin] came onto Taylor’s property without an invitation, they argued. An arrest report said Taylor told investigators he went inside his home, grabbed his gun and then went back out and started firing.”
If convicted, the battery charge carries a sentence of five to 20 years, while the terroristic threatening charge comes with a sentence of no more than six years, according to Arkansas legal guidelines. In this reporter’s experience, sentences tend to run concurrently — at the same time — rather than consecutively (when the time is added together to create one larger sum).
Defense attorneys claim Taylor was illegally interrogated and was improperly taken into police custody after the shooting. Hearing and trial dates had not yet been scheduled, the article said.
10. Boxing Writers Plugging Themselves Shamelessly: Wake up from your post-turkey sleepiness, take a break from the day of football and watch your friendly neighborhood “Fighting Words” columnist this week on the Thanksgiving episode of Jeopardy.
See whether I’ll be the guy who nailed his prediction of Manny Pacquiao stopping Oscar De La Hoya…
Or if I’ll be the fool who failed with his prediction of Bernard Hopkins out-boxing Sergey Kovalev…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]