The world has already learned a lot about Chris Algieri, 20-0-0 (8KO), and it wants more. It has listened to him, observed him, sometimes chuckling at what is heard or seen. But, the truth of the matter is Algieri is unlike any other prizefighter practicing his wares, now or in the past. The sporting world might have a real gem in this young man from New York.
Usually the athletes who get the headlines and magazine covers are the men and women with extraordinary physical attributes. They stand out because of their uncommon prowess. They can knock the ball out of the park, or a man to the canvas.
It might be the guy who can fireball in a pitch at 100mph, or the speedster who can run the 40yd dash in 4.2 seconds. When these select few are young, they are already showing off exceptional ability. Often times they are so good, it’s like watching a man against boys (a grown up versus a child). They help win championships, and set records in high school and college, so by the time they hit the pro level, they receive big contracts, big money, but then there are expectations.
Boxing is no exception. Potential prodigies are often times exposed to the sport early on. Maybe a parent or close relative was involved in the sport, and their passion gets passed down to the youngster. It’s a tough sport and despite all the good intentions, most turn out ordinary. Of course there’s nothing wrong with ordinary or average. That is where most of us fall. All is not lost, though, as athletics, and boxing in particular, are a way out of the slums. It’s a proving ground for the needed discipline to face the real world. Even the average ones learn how to listen and learn. They learn how to deny themselves of everyday things in hopes of being proficient in the sport they love.
Currently, the public learns about such things through shows like 24/7. After watching several episodes, viewers get used to watching stories about how difficult the fighter’s childhood has been. The stories are touching and are presented in such a way that the viewer equates a deprived childhood with strength and desire. Often the point made is the child grows to be a hungry fighter. He (or she) wants to escape from the hardships they’ve endured to a better place. The viewer/fan connects the two, so much so that they believe the only good or great fighters come from poverty or even prison. They alone are the individuals who have been honed into a powerful fighting machine. There have been exceptions, fighters with college degrees, or in the process of obtaining one. Oldsters might remember Lou Nova, who featured the “Cosmic Punch”. He practiced yoga and did headstands in the locker room before fights, none of which helped him against Joe Louis. Most of the “educated” fighters have done so as an aside (often a joking one), not as part of boxing.
Academics (brainy stuff), it is thought, have little to do with success in the boxing world. At best it has been briefly mentioned without going into any detail. It’s like a polite expression. Take Gene Tunney, he was a fighting Marine, a military champion, a world heavyweight champion. He was the man who beat the feared Manassa Mauler, Jack Dempsey, twice. But, who was the crowd with? He read poetry, for pete’s sake! So, even in defeat, fans went with Dempsey. In fact, fans loved him all the more in defeat. He was the prime example of rags to riches. Jack had been a hobo. He rode the rods (underneath a RR freight car). He would fight anyone in a bar for lunch. Talk about a hungry fighter! He rose to the highest heights. He regularly made front page news. He dined with royalty, and with giants of industry. He was “pals” with everyone. He set the mold for what a fighter should be, and even though he is best remembered for his ferocious attack and bone shattering power, he also knew more than just a little bit about the science of the sport. He coined the phrases “the falling step” and “the power line”. He also invented the “Dempsey roll”.
So what is Chris Algieri, a kid with masters degree, bringing to the fighting world? After all, he probably hasn’t missed a meal in his life, unless he wanted to. Is he middle class? Well, nudge him up a notch. Has he ever toiled at any hard labor? Does he have a family to support? Are any women after him for child support? Is he banged up? Hell, he doesn’t even have a broken nose. Surely he must have had a great amateur background. Nope!
The only conclusion must be that he’s been carried along to his 20-0 record. Again, the answer is a big naught. Even Jethro Bodine could tell you naught plus naught and carry the naught is naught. How is it then that on Nov 22nd in Macau, China Chris Algieri will be climbing into the ring with one of the best P4P fighters in the world? To answer that question, you can backtrack a few fights to determine the “how” he got to this lofty place in his career.
That still leaves a very interesting question. It is Why? He hasn’t been fighting his way out of poverty or the slums. He doesn’t come from a pugilistic family, at least none that has been revealed. So, why would a well traveled, middle (or upper middle) class young man get himself involved in the toughest sport in the world? Why? Is he mentally disturbed? Does he feel the need to prove his manhood? It would seem there’s a “naught” to all of those questions.
It’s the answer to this “Why” that might be good for boxing. It’s the potential crossover attraction that can be extremely useful in increasing the fan base of the sport. If you listen, really listen to him, it’s possible to fathom a bit of understanding the Why of this enigmatic person’s interest in boxing. Careful now, because as soon as anyone starts speaking in a cerebral fashion in boxing, it generates a kind of upchuck of disgust. Come on, quit kidding, fans might say, or in the vernacular – bullshitting! One great fighter (can’t remember his name at the moment – probably Dempsey) said something like, “While he was thinking, I was hitting him!” It’s obvious, there’s no place for that kind of stuff (thinking) in pugilism, right?
Algieri begs to differ, and that’s the Why? He’s a scientist, and what better profession to conduct experiments than the sweet science? Chris is about to conduct the most significant scientific procedure of his life, and make no mistake about it, he is placing his life and limb on the line. So far he has conducted, on a more limited basis, forty such experiments. Twenty have been labeled MMA, and twenty prizefighting. Chris has gotten positive results in all forty cases (bouts).
If he fails in this Nov 22 experiment, it doesn’t mean that as a scientist, he will lose grant or research money like the global warming types who tow the line. Not at all, if Chris loses come the 22nd, he is risking what might be a frightful beating. If he loses, not only will he suffer physically, mentally and emotionally, his creditability concerning the Sweet Science will also be damaged.
To Chris, part of his answer to the Why is to gain further credibility in a sport where he is like the square peg in a round hole. He doesn’t carry the memories of hardship, but what he carries is just as heavy. It’s his desire to help change boxing in a positive way. Maybe it would be better to say, “change it back” to what it once was. Don’t get the wrong idea, he doesn’t feel that he is better than anyone else. It’s just the opposite. He doesn’t feel he has come up with some new dynamic. His Why is simple. He wants to help the public regain its knowledge of why this sport, nicknamed the Sweet Science, deserves the name.
As a scientist, he believes a lot of what made boxing the Sweet Science has been buried. It would seem that he has been carrying on a private expedition of sorts, peeling back layers of misinformation in an effort to correct shortcuts which were mistakenly taken in hopes of accelerating the process. Those misguided hopefuls wanted to hit the target sooner,but after one layer was peeled back, it revealed their aim was off. The result was not good. What does all this mean in boxing? Well, from recent interviews, it would seem Chris feels, in many cases, the science has been lost.
It would seem that that is the reason, the Why that brought him into the sport, and the reason his investigation and exploration continues. That is why he is so determined in stressing the importance of a fight plan, a game plan. When journalists seek agreement from him concerning what they see as important such as his height and reach advantage, he steers them away from such talk, and reiterates it’s the fight plan that will win or lose the fight. It’s his fight plan against Manny’s. His plan is well beyond “Stick and Move”. It would be fair to say he looks at everything. It reminds me of a comment attributed to Mike “The Phantom” Gibbons concerning where a fighter should look at his opponent. What difference does it make, you might ask? Well, according to Gibbons, it made a big difference. If a fighter looked Mike in the eyes, Mike claimed he could easily feint him out of position. Who teaches that type of detail now?
Bernard Hopkins employs that type of scrutiny, and it has helped him continue fighting at the top level for the advanced age of forty-nine. Bernard says he wants to know how his opponents move, when they move, why they move, what they eat, when they sleep and on and on. He wants to know when his opponents nod their heads, when and how they feint, their tendencies, and so forth. The reason why Hopkins desires to learn all of these things is clear, and it’s the same reason for Chris. They both want to compile the needed evidence to win the fights, and they both believe it’s the detailed game plan that will enable an elite fighter to scientifically accomplish a win. And, with both men, it’s old school.
Are we saying Hopkins’ is a scientist to? Well, if we’re allowed to say boxing qualifies as one of the physical sciences, then the answer is yes. It is the Sweet Science and Bernard Hopkins is a special kind of scientist. Chris is the more traditional scientist, but he wants to uncover the old school scientific eelements, and couple them with the new science of fitness, nutrition, along with the needed mindset, a lot of which Hopkins employs. As previously explained, Chris’ motivation is to carry things further, and become an expert at the Sweet Science and then share his knowledge. He just works at it in a different manner than Hopkins. Bernard was influenced by necessity, a way out, and a way to stay out (prison). Chris is on a journey, a quest. As a scientist, he feels certain lost elements need to be uncovered and restored to the sport. His has been one long and arduous search. He has weathered 40 professional fights (MMA incl’d.), along with all of the training camps and sacrifices to conduct his research.
So far the results have been encouraging, and constructive. He presents himself well. He is articulate, good looking and representative of many of the young middle and upper middle class types. Do any of you remember the story of how Randolph Hearst helped make Rev Billy Graham an instant celebrity? He directed his publishing empire to “puff Graham”. Rev. Graham might have achieved celebrity status anyway, but the “ink” certainly didn’t hurt. Did you hear that boxing journalists and analysts? You have the power, use it in a constructive manner.
It is obvious Chris appeals to a group beyond just ordinary boxing fans, and he appears capable of capturing their interest in his scientific quest to restore the Sweet Science. It is that crossover group that can appreciate what he is doing and why. Maybe they can better identify with his cerebral approach? Their interest will be to join in with Chris’ desire to apply science in his quest to uncover all the valuable lost aspects of prizefighting. He has the scientific and physical ability and potential to bring the old and new together in a positive force, a winning game plan.
Already these crossover fans share Chris’ optimism and belief that he is on the right track, and more fans just need the right kind of nudge to come over to our side. Boxing journalists and analysts need maybe with the right kind of nudge, and boxing can move back into the main stream with the public? They need to be made aware of what Chris represents. He is a student of the game, a serious type of individual who is delving into all the nuances of the game. Even if he loses on Nov 22nd, he will have peeled back a lot of layers to reveal the gem, the old school. Better yet, if he wins, he might get to call it his Big Bang theory! Nah, Chris wouldn’t do that. He would just help us understand how his victory was the result of the Sweet Science and that’s his Why!