On Hating Chris Algieri

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Patrol the places where hardcore boxing fans live, and you’ll find a substantial strain of them whose commentary about this weekend’s HBO pay-per-view fight between Manny Pacquiao and Chris Algieri is significantly focused on hating Algieri. It’s not to hard to identify how this came to be, if you’ve studied Hardcorus Boxingfanius. And individual tastes on hatred will vary.

Even still, submitted: Algieri doesn’t really deserve it.

For starters, it’s worth considering: How did this strain become virulent?

That Algieri hasn’t truly earned this fight, that he’s here in part because of his value as a white dude who theoretically could’ve reeled in some white fans (boxing’s tribalism is such that a claim like that would sound odd in other sports, yet not in this one)… that’s a big part of it, certainly. Algieri is the arguably the least deserving opponent since Pacquiao rocketed to fame in 2008, depending on what one thinks of a rundown Shane Mosley, and he’s absolutely the least accomplished. Boxing fans understandably want to see top fighters matched with other top fighters. It’s the kind of thing fans hold against those who prematurely get to luxuriate in the money-filled jacuzzi that is a Pacquiao fight.

While he isn’t very accomplished, the main in-ring accomplishment that helped get him here is, alas, tainted. There are a great number of people who think Algieri didn’t deserve the win over Ruslan Provodnikov this year. There’s a subset within that group who really, really, really don’t think he deserved the win over Provodnikov — that it was, in fact, a blowout victory for Provodnikov. Throw in that Provodnikov was a wildly popular fighter coming into that bout, combine it with many boxing fans’ historical tendency to dislike fighters who get gift decisions, and you’re well on your way to a fellow who’s going to be hated, even before you get to some of his personal qualities.

And make no mistake, some of it is personal. Hardcore fans have never loved “pretty boys.” They prefer their boxers ugly — it shows what kind of wars they’ve been through when their nose is mangled and their eyes are thick with scar tissue. Algieri is a little on the pretty side. It’s a reminder that his boxing style doesn’t produce big pyrotechnics, another characteristic that counts as a knock on him. Nor will the promotional effort behind this fight let you forget he’s pretty, making sure he’s photographed with groups of babes. They also won’t let you forget that he’s “well-spoken,” or his background as a college-educated nutrition and aspiring doctor. Those harcores, man — they don’t like a marketing angle jammed down their throats. It’s gotten to the point that the running joke about Algieri (some of it affectionate, some of it feeding into the hatred) is that he talks about avocados too much. Avocados, of all things, have become a factor in hatred of a fighter.

So here’s the part where we switch to why he doesn’t deserve the hatred, in my view. And it starts with a personal bias. I interviewed him long ago, and I liked him. This kind of thing can happen with an interviewer and a subject. But back then, his angle as an aspiring doctor was new. His way of thinking and talking about the sport were refreshingly different. He was a good story. The rest of this probably isn’t colored by that bias, but it feels right to disclose it.

And the rest mostly goes like this: When you read all of the above reasons for the Algieri hate, almost none of it is his fault.

What fighter in Algieri’s position would turn down a Pacquiao fight? It doesn’t seem fair to hold it against him personally. Blame the matchmakers. Why blame Algieri for something the judges did in the Provodnikov fight? He didn’t give himself a gift decision. Likewise, aren’t the promoters to blame for relentlessly hyping the marketing angles? He’s not going to change his story just to not irritate anyone. Of course, talking boxing fans out of this mentality — hating the person for things that people surrounding them do — is probably a fruitless goal. It’s just worth the reminder every now and then.

Then you can challenge some of the presumptions. Fine, he’s pretty. But the one time he got real ugly, with his eye closed shut starting in the very 1st round, he came back under dire circumstances. Sure, he fought in a stick and move style that people didn’t like. Yet he also fought through adversity. That seems worthy of praise from the blood and guts types.

You don’t have to like this fight (I don’t). You don’t have to like Algieri; that’s up to you (I do). You don’t even have to like avocados (I’ve been working on reversing my lifelong dislike, with some halting progress). All I’m suggesting is — if you take issue with what Algieri has earned or hasn’t, pause to consider whether Algieri has earned your enmity.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.