Chris Algieri has an air of Rocky about him

A latecomer to boxing, the New Yorker has reached the big time

Actor Sylvester Stallone and Chris Algieri at a press conference to publicize the latter’s WBO world welterweight title with Manny Pacquiao in Macau. Photograph: Getty.

Actor Sylvester Stallone and Chris Algieri at a press conference to publicize the latter’s WBO world welterweight title with Manny Pacquiao in Macau. Photograph: Getty.

 

Halfway through the first round, Ruslan Provodnikov unleashed a concussive left hook that connected with Chris Algieri’s right eye and sent him staggering backwards to the canvas. By the time the ref had counted eight, the swelling was already darkening the socket and starting to impede his vision. Thirty seconds later, in the midst of another relentless Provodnikov barrage, Algieri went down again, dropping to one knee like a man just desperate to make the beating stop. With a full minute remaining until the bell, it seemed this contest could end only one way. And soon.

Boxing stories

Sylvester StalloneRocky

See, Algieri clung on for the rest of that tortuous first round and then, something remarkable happened. He began to fight back. By the time the bell tolled the end of the 12th that night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn last June, he had landed more punches, more power shots, and more jabs than Provodnikov, and somehow wrested away the Russian’s WBO world light-welterweight title. As referee Harvey Deck raised Algieri’s arm in victory, there was a mass of distorted black and purple flesh where his right eye used to be.

“I could see pretty well until about round eight,” said Algieri afterwards. “Round 12, I was f**kin’ blind.”

This year’s Rocky is a white, middle-class 30-year-old who still lives in the basement of his parents’ house in suburban Long Island. Blessed with the looks of a matinee idol, he has a master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York Institute of Technology and drives a Honda Accord that has more than 200,000 miles on the clock. He only took up boxing six years ago, has never fought outside New York but, in Macau on November 22nd, Algieri will earn just over $1 million when he takes on Manny Pacquiao for the WBO world welterweight title.

That the purse is 10 times larger than any cheque Algieri has ever received before signifies how far off Broadway he’s spent almost all of his career. In many ways a fighter who rose without a trace, his record of 20 victories and no defeats was largely pieced together in low-key promotions in and around his hometown of Huntington.

Lopsided aspect

Freddie Roach

If Roach has been more voluble than usual in his put-downs of such a long-shot challenger, this may be because he was working the opposing corner when the Long Islander earned his split-decision over Provodnikov. Feeling his man got a raw deal from two of the judges on that occasion, Roach dismisses Algieri as a runner who won’t be able to cope with the speed and guile of Pacquiao, even if the only champion across eight divisions is now 35-years-old and juggling boxing with the distractions of a burgeoning political career and ownership of a professional basketball team.

“So what if Algieri has a master’s degree?” asked Pacquiao. “I have a master’s degree in boxing. I’ve been fighting since 1995. I’ve done over 60 fights. My experience speaks for itself. I also have a doctorate, honoris causa, in human kinetics from Southwestern University (Cebu).”

At a time when the only showdown that casual boxing fans want to see is the almost mythical clash between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather jnr, Algieri’s unlikely back story has heightened interest in what would otherwise be seen as a routine title defence. Very few have taken such an unorthodox path to the highest level of the fight game. He never boxed as an amateur but at 17 he pitted his karate black belt against a kickboxer named Tim Lane (now his trainer) in a sparring session and, despite receiving a pummelling, he had found his true calling.

Within two years, Algieri was a professional kickboxer and a full-time student at Stony Brook University. After garnering world titles in two different divisions, he realised he wanted to try a less anonymous sport, preferably one that paid more than just $3,000 for winning its most prestigious belt. The kid, who grew up eavesdropping his Argentinian grandfather spin yarns in broken English about great fighters from the past, turned to boxing and made his pro debut weeks after his 24th birthday.

Extraordinary journey

Bob Arum

“Watching Chris rebound against Ruslan Provodnikov was more than an upset,” said the actor. “It was Rocky-esque. All I can say to you, Chris, is great movies deserve great sequels, and I won’t be the least bit surprised to see you give us one in Macau.”

What else would you expect Balboa to say?

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