by Tyson Bruce
This weekend on HBO PPV an ageing legend, Manny Pacquiao, 56-5-2 (38 KO’s), will take on boxing’s latest version of Rocky Balboa in Chris Algieri, 20-0-0 (8 KO’s).
The bout is a true crossroads battle between the great champion who is determined to fight another day—specifically against a certain famous foe—and Chris Algieri, who came from virtual obscurity to secure the opportunity of a lifetime. HBO has attempted to manufacture parallels between the two men but in truth they couldn’t be more different from one another.
Since Manny Pacquiao made his arrival on American soil in the mid 2000s by destroying the respected South African champion Lehlohonolo Ledwaba the Filipino has become the face of a more globalized boxing market. Pacquiao broke the mold by becoming a star in America despite possessing a thick foreign accent and boxing in the lower weights—two traditional impediments to stardom. In doing so, he had opened up the door for foreign fighters like Gennady Golovkin to one day become household names in the American sporting consciousness.
This coming Saturday the power of his international stardom will crest when the Pac-Man takes on an unheralded American Chris Algieri in the new gambling Mecca of Macau, China.
The popular story line is that of the ageing champion and the hungry young upstart looking to take his spot. The HBO 24/7 portrayed the two men as doppelgangers, with Pacquiao’s debut against Ledwaba in 2005 and Algieri ‘s shocking (and controversial) upset of the terrifying Ruslan Provodnikov in 2014.
To say the comparison was stretching the truth a little would be an understatement. Never mind that stylistically they couldn’t be farther apart, but what really makes these men different is where they come from and what they represent.
Pacquaio came out of the bowels of excruciating poverty and struggle by forging his destiny the only way possible—by fighting. This is a common trope throughout the history of boxing. The rigors of boxing almost demand that an individual have little to no other alternatives towards reaching fortune and fame. The chances of someone from Pacquiao’s background ever becoming a champion let alone gracing the cover of Time Magazine and becoming an elected congressman are so minute it literally boggles the mind. It’s the reason why an entire nation of people watches his fights like they’re on a national holiday.
Pacquiao, no matter how far fetched, represents hope and a measure of respect that eludes the millions of his countrymen who toil in poverty. At 35, his once youthful face shows the pain and suffering that has made such breathtaking upward mobility possible.
Chris Algieri, on the other hand, comes straight out of central casting with his chiseled good looks and all-American charm.
At the same age when Pacquiao was probably still hocking donuts and stolen cigarettes on the streets of the Philippines, Algieri was starting his bachelor’s degree at Stony Brook University. While Pacquiao had to leave home as a child to survive, Algieri, 30, still lives with his parents in the suburban splendor of upstate New York. Chris Algieri boxes not to survive, but instead out of a passion for all things competitive and an addiction to a sport that, once inside your blood, is virtually impossible to cure yourself of.
In many ways, Pacquiao represents the old school of boxing and Algieri represents the modernity of what the younger generation of fans are calling “combat sports”.
You need only watch the 24/7 to see that this is true. While Pacquaio shadowboxes a ring is visible in the background and while Algieri gets his hands wrapped a mixed martial arts fighting cage is visible. Pacquiao’s coach is an ex-boxer who was trained by the great Eddie Futch in the subtle nuances of pugilism and Algieri’s trainer is a former kick boxer that sports a bandana and Muy Thai shorts while training his pupil.
Pacquaio does roadwork and sit-ups, while Algieri uses an elliptical machine and does a host of other highly scientific strength and conditioning exercises. Algieri also knows a great deal more than most will ever know about things like avocados and ice baths.
When you watch the two of these men train and speak, it shows just how much the boxing game has changed in the last ten years.
Pacquaio was considered a baby at 24 when he got his big break against Ledwaba, but people forget that he was already a former lineal champion with nearly forty professional fights at that point. Algieri is already in his 30s, and has just twenty professional fights—with only a few of those coming at the world-class level. A big upset like the controversial one Algieri scored against Ruslan Provodnikov can go along way with the power of YouTube and Google at your disposal.
While Algieri has backed up every finely articulated claim thus far, make no mistake about it, fighting Pacquiao is like going from the climbing gym to Mount Everest compared to what he’s faced in the ring thus far.
Freddie Roach had responded to questions about Algieri’s master’s degree in Nutrition by stating that Pacquaio has “a doctorate in boxing”. This is not to say that Algieri doesn’t deserve the shot at Pacquaio, because he certainly does. Provodnikov was next in line to fight Pacquaio when Algieri upset him and Bob Arum knew that, with a shrinking pool of challengers, the well-spoken and handsome Algieri would be the best man out there to sell the fight. I’m sure he came at a bargain price compared to some of Pacquaio’s other more recent opponents.
Every time Pacquaio enters a boxing ring the future of the sport could change.
If he wins, the possibility of a mega-fight with Mayweather continues to torment us as a vague possibility and if he loses, it symbolizes the end of an era that has lasted ten brilliant years and covered eight different weight divisions.
With Algieri’s prowess as a pure boxer, this doesn’t appear on paper to be a great fight, but intriguing none-the-less. The fact that Algieri with his good looks and undeniable charisma could legitimately become a star with a win on Saturday night provides an intrigue and mystery that hasn’t been present in a Pacquaio fight for sometime.