MACAU (AP) — No one questions Chris Algieri’s toughness, not after he got up from two first round knockdowns and fought half-blinded the rest of the way to somehow pull out a decision win in his June title fight with the feared Ruslan Provodnikov.
Hard to say anything negative about his boxing ability, either, behind a left jab that has carried him to 20 wins in as many professional fights.
But when it came time to put him in the spotlight against Manny Pacquiao, promoter Bob Arum struggled to find a hook that might convince boxing fans to part with their hard-earned money for a pay-per-view fight that to many looks like a mere blip in Pacquiao’s path for the bout they really want — a long awaited matchup with Floyd Mayweather Jr. for the bragging rights of the entire boxing world.
A fighter with a master’s degree in clinical nutrition who likes to prepare his meals and tweet pictures of them? Nice, but big punches are what sells in boxing, not big degrees.
A 30-year-old from a working class neighborhood on Long Island who became a world champion while still living in his parent’s basement? Good story, but boxing is full of stories that don’t really sell.
How about, then, the fact he was still working his real job as a personal trainer to middle-aged Long Island housewives for $45 a half-hour in the week of the Provodnikov fight? And that he used the $115,000 purse — which happened to be $100,000 more than his previous biggest payday — to pay off his college loans.
“He’s a real life Rocky,” Arum said. “We don’t get a kid like Algieri in boxing very often and that’s what is selling the show.”
Up until this week, it was almost the only thing selling the showdown Sunday morning between the future Hall of Famer from the Philippines and the kid from Huntington who began as a kick boxer before deciding to take up boxing. Algieri might be the most media savvy fighter you’ll ever see, and he was more than eager to do his part to help sell a fight that will earn him some $2 million.
A year ago he was ready to quit boxing after watching Russia’s Magomed Abdusalamov get beaten into a coma in a fight at Madison Square Garden. Now he’s fighting arguably one of the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world halfway around the world in this Chinese gambling enclave.
“My whole world has changed,” Algieri told The Associated Press this week. “I can’t even go out to the deli without being recognized. But that’s a cross I’m more than willing to bear.”
Oddsmakers don’t like Algieri’s chances against Pacquiao in a fight that will be for a portion of the welterweight title but contested at a catch-weight of 144 pounds. With good reason, because while Pacquiao hasn’t always been impressive lately he still seems to have the speed and quickness that has carried him to 56 wins in 63 fights in his remarkable career.
But Algieri stands a half-head taller than the Filipino, and showed against Provodnikov that he can withstand pressure and big punches. His jab is the big equalizer, and he used it often to pile up enough points to convince two judges to give him a split decision against the Russian.
But while Sylvester Stallone will be on hand to promote the Rocky theme at the Cotai Arena, life doesn’t always imitate art. Pacquiao seems to have regained his focus in training, with emphasis on working the heavy bag to try for his first knockout since he stopped Miguel Cotto in the 12th round almost five years ago to the day.
“This is no Rocky movie,” said Paquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach. “This is for real and Manny is going to knock him out.”
There’s plenty at stake for Pacquiao in a fight that will earn him more than $20 million. He’ll be in front of many of his countrymen from the nearby Philippines, where he is a national hero, but more importantly he must look good if the recent preliminary talk about a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight next year is ever to come to fruition.
“The speed is still there, the power is still there, the hunger is still there,” Pacquiao said. “But it still depends on the opponent.”
Come Sunday morning — the fight will begin about noon to sell on pay-per-view in the U.S. — more will be known about who that opponent really is.
Should Algieri find a way to win, though, don’t be surprised if Stallone is one of the happiest people in the building.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg