Chris Algieri had a really, really bad night against Manny Pacquiao the last time he was in the ring. There’s no shame in that; Pacquiao has given plenty of great fighters plenty of bad nights. But Algieri has bounced back to a headlining spot on TV, and Friday night on Spike’s “Premier Boxing Champions” broadcast, he’ll once again be playing the underdog role against Amir Khan.
It’s been almost a year since he was thrust into the thick of the sport, going to hell and back with a bad man. Algieri was supposed to be fed to the wolves on June 14, 2014. Siberian psychopath Ruslan Provodnikov had been searching for another opponent to carve up after beating Mike Alvarado senseless. Unable to secure a big-name fighter to try and eviscerate, Provodnikov’s promoter, Top Rank, settled on Algieri. The Huntington, New York native was coming off a solid performance on Friday Night Fights, where he outboxed Emmanuel Taylor easily and cruised to a unanimous decision win.
The idea was for Provodnikov to violently dispatch the light-hitting Algieri and set up a big fight for the fall, most likely against Pacquiao. And when the fight started, it looked like damn fine planning. Provodnikov dropped Algieri with a nasty left hook, and then pounded on him until he took a knee to collect himself. The end seemed mere moments away. But not only did Algieri last the full 12 rounds with a disgusting, freakishly swollen eye, he outboxed his opponent for long stretches of the fight. But that is going to happen to Provodnikov for as long as he fights. He employs the “use face to block punches” method, and Algieri made full use of his height and reach advantages once he cleared the cobwebs.
Somehow, Algieri hung in there and snagged a disputed decision victory. He got even better news a short time later. Pacquiao was left without a fall opponent, and after Juan Manuel Marquez demanded eleventy billion dollars, a stable of ponies and an island to keep them on during negotiations for a fifth fight, Bob Arum decided to give the unheralded Algieri a shot at Pac Man. The buildup to the fight was dreadful, with the affable combatants acting like long lost pals for most of it. Critics of the bout claimed it was an utter mismatch between a superstar and a guy who still belonged on ESPN. Matters weren’t helped when Arum and Pacquiao tried drumming up interest by intimating that a possible showdown with Floyd Mayweather hung in the balance. Essentially, the message was that fans should buy this shitty fight because maybe, possibly, hopefully, someday, Manny would fight Floyd next.
It didn’t work. The PPV numbers were terrible, and the fight was worse. Pacquiao destroyed Algieri, just like the vast majority of fans and media figured he would. Worse yet, Algieri wasn’t just beaten up — he was humiliated. He’d already become something of a boxing Twitter phenomenon due to his odd posing and penchant for nutritious dining. But then his cornerman, the since-fired Tim Lane, gave his infamous speech to Max Kellerman about letting Algieri out of his cage, just a second before Pacquiao nearly decapitated him.
If you thought when the fight ended that it would certainly be the last time we’d see Algieri in a major fight, you weren’t alone. And he’s here now because Khan couldn’t get who he wanted. Khan has been desperately calling out Mayweather for a couple of years, even though he’s basically done nothing — especially at welterweight — to earn a fight with the best boxer in the world. Mayweather of course fought Pacquiao instead, so Khan chose Algieri as his next opponent.
Khan has always had the look of an elite fighter, but he still can’t shake that “chinny” label. Fighting and defeating guys like Algieri, and Luis Collazo before him, and Julio Diaz before him, and Carlos Molina before him, doesn’t do anything to dispel the notion that his jaw could use some titanium reinforcement. Khan was last seen fighting southpaw Devon Alexander, whom he easily outclassed in his best win since being corkscrewed into the mat by Danny Garcia. He then of course called out Floyd, and then Manny, and then Floyd again, to no avail. He’s ironically taking on Algieri while finding himself in a similar situation to that of Provodnikov last year: looking for a big name, settling for “The Fighting Collegian.”
While Algieri is clearly at ease in the underdog role, it’s easy to see why he’s there. He’s tall and rangy, but he’s got popgun power — apparently a prerequisite to fighting Khan these days. And while he’s a decent enough boxer, he’s not all that difficult to hit. Provodnikov found him, especially early on, and Pacquiao blitzkrieged him whenever he felt like it.
For all of his faults, Khan hits pretty hard and he’s got ridiculous hand and foot speed. It’s hard to envision Algieri scoring an upset and getting another meaningful fight in the near future. But he at least made the smart move in replacing Lane after the Pacquiao fight. He may have helped to guide Algieri early on in his transition from kickboxing, but he simply put together one of the dumbest offensive game plans outside of a Buffalo Bills game. Algieri will instead go into the ring Friday night with renowned trainer John David Jackson in his corner. While Jackson should provide a decent boost, Algieri doesn’t appear to have the power necessary to throw Khan off his game. But who knows, perhaps the New Yorker has one more surprise in store. If he pulls off the upset, it will squash any prayer Khan had in scoring a fight with Mayweather, and Algieri will again be the one holding the cards.
And probably an avocado smoothie.
(Photo: Chris Hyde, Getty Images)