Why you should care
Because this master’s-degree-holding fighter might be this year’s best underdog story.
Boxing is always looking for its next Rocky narrative. Chris Algieri wants the title for himself. The 30-year-old Long Island boy is working up to it as he prepares for the biggest fight of his life on November 22, when he’ll step into the ring with Manny Pacquiao — one of the two best fighters around today.
“I don’t think anybody could expect how this played out,” the 5′11″ former kickboxer with all-American boy looks says after wrapping up another training session in Las Vegas. He calls the year “astronomical.” And so it has been: Around this time last year, Algieri was sleeping in the basement apartment of his parents’ house — along with his brother, sister-in-law and nephews. He was just beginning to make it, after six years climbing the boxing ranks, by defeating little known Wilfredo Acuna down the highway in Huntington, New York. He drove home in his Honda Accord with no new big fights on the horizon. He was considering ending his semi-respectable career, retiring from the sport and heading to medical school. This week, he is facing down one of the top two fighters today, and though he’s certainly the underdog — some might even say a mere doormat — he’s hungrier than he’s ever been before.
… I do think he’s tough enough to stick it out …
Douglass Fischer, RingTV.com editor
Early this year, Algieri suddenly sped into high gear. A victory over number-four-ranked Emmanuel Taylor in February set him up for a June showdown with the hard-hitting Russian Ruslan Provodnikov — the Ivan Drago to Algieri’s Rocky. Conventional wisdom in the fighting world was that Algieri would be mere cannon fodder for Provodnikov. It began that way in the first round, when the Russian dropped him with a left hook that left his eye a grotesque mess. But Algieri surprisingly boxed his way to a stunning split-decision victory. That upset set Algieri up for tomorrow’s $1.4 million payday against one of the greatest boxers of all time.
Boxing for Dummies:
- Paydays: Boxers can earn as little as $100 per fight to as much as $34 million — the amount superstar Floyd Mayweatherearned in his last match. And the money comes regardless of whether fighters win or lose.
- Rankings: Boxing has four primary bodies, each with its own championships (WBO, WBA, WBC and IBF). One fighter may be ranked No. 1 by one group but No. 4 in another. (Chris Algieri is the WBO Light Welterweight Champion but is unranked by the other three.)
- The two major players: Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
- The season: all year long.
- Scoring: Three judges score each round individually on a 10-point system. The winner gets 10; the loser receives 9 or lower. If no one knocks the other out, it gets subjective.
As the song by Aubrey “Drake” Graham goes: He went from 0–100 mph real quick.
Algieri still lives in his parents’ basement and drives the same Honda Accord, despite raking in 10 times more in the Provodnikov fight ($100,000) than he had his entire career. Not that purchasing a house and car aren’t in his plans — it’s just that he preferred to pay off his student loans and start a 401(k) first. And that’s what most separates Chris Algieri’s Rocky story from the one that Sylvester Stallone made famous on the silver screen. He’s an underdog, sure, but he’s far from the long-shot guy who clawed his way out of poverty and into boxing glory.
My opponents don’t try to win; they just try to get to the end.
– Chris Algieri
He comes instead from a middle-class family where Dominic and Adriana Algieri emphasized education over the sweet science of boxing. They wanted Chris to become a doctor, but the nights he spent as a teenager watching USA Tuesday Night Fights with his grandfather set him on a different path. Still, Long Island isn’t much of a boxing town, so Algieri took up martial arts, earning a black belt at age 15. He wasn’t much of a “street fighter,” though, he says. All the rage stayed in the competition — no spare beatings with friends. Young Chris became a competitive kickboxer, then an All-State wrestler in high school.
Unlike Floyd Mayweather and others who espouse the “boxing saved my life” narrative, Algieri has always had options. He holds a bachelor’s in health-care science from Stony Brook University and a master’s degree in clinical nutrition from the New York Institute of Technology. But to his parents’ chagrin, Algieri turned pro in 2008 and had to prove himself to both the spectators and his parents that his career choice was the right one. After “every single fight,” his parents asked when he would quit, he says with a chuckle. (Still, he insists med school is the destination — once the boxing career is over.) Today? They “support my decision,” he says.
We’ll bet tomorrow’s $1.4 million purse doesn’t hurt, either.
“We have a Rocky here that is highly educated and very articulate,” says Bob Arum, boxing insider and CEO of Top Rank Promotions (a boxing promo company that boasted Muhammad Ali and other bigwigs). “But this is truly a Rocky story nevertheless.” He adds, “If I had sent this script to HBO, it would have been rejected because of being unrealistic.”
But the fairy tale could meet its demise tomorrow. Pacquiao, after all, is jockeying for the title of this generation’s Muhammad Ali. “I’m not picking Algieri to win,” says RingTV.com editor Douglass Fischer. “But I do think he’s tough enough to stick it out if Pacquiao hurts him or busts up his face.” Las Vegas oddsmakers have him pegged as a 6-to-1 underdog. Boxing pundits have learned that every fighter has what they call “a puncher’s chance,” thanks to James “Buster” Douglas’ shocking knockout of Mike Tyson nearly a quarter century ago, despite being as much as a 42-to-1 underdog. Algieri is not necessarily this generation’s James “Buster” Douglas, but he certainly is being viewed as a mere speed bump for Pacquiao on the road to a possible showdown with Floyd Mayweather.
Going for him? His 20-0 record and deft ability — and a rare combination of height (especially for the 140-pound weight class) and ring intelligence. Cons: Algieri lacks power, with only eight knockouts under his belt, and he’s never faced the quality of opposition that Pacquiao has. So, what makes him believe that he’ll upend Pacquiao and take his place as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world? “It’s my will,” he says flatly. “I break their will because I get stronger as the fight goes on … My opponents don’t try to win; they just try to get to the end.”
An unlikely victory would certainly put the final nail in the coffin for the long-awaited Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao dream match that the fighting world has been waiting for. Perhaps that seat at the Mayweather table will be reserved for Algieri? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First comes Pacquiao. And in-between fights, there is something even more pressing. When Algieri raked in the $100k from the Provodnikov fight, he nerded out, taking classes on financial advising, accounting and law to figure out “what the hell I was going to do with the $100,000 I earned,” he says. After this fight, win or lose, ”I’ll have to do something similar and figure out what I’m going to do with all this money.”
Photography by Rich Villa