(Promoter Bob Arum, Pacquiao, Zhou and Algieri arrive in Macau; photo via)
“You can pretend for a long time, but one day it all falls away and you are alone… Alone in the most beautiful place in the world.”- Jean Rhys
Despite his unabashed confidence, which can at times border on a smugly dismissive sense of entitlement, there’s no way Chris Algieri really expected this. It’s a stretch to suggest that he was somehow always going to get here, that fate and the murky underbelly of boxing politics would conspire in such a way as to set him on a collision course with the most culturally significant fighter of his generation. He’s a man, after all, who was not ranked inside the top 100 at light welterweight until the age of 29, someone who has never scored a straight knockout in his career, and who used the career-high purse from his fight against former title-holder Ruslan Provodnikov not on legal fees or a Bentley-branded golf cart, but to pay off the debt he had accrued as a postgraduate student.
“But this is boxing!” I hear you cry. “This is the theatre of the unexpected, where you’re only ever one fight away from the scrapheap or the stadium sellout!” And in many ways you’re right to be romantic. Chris Algieri should have been an easy sell. He’s every bit the Long Island Rocky: a guy who has gone from fighting part time and off TV to taking on the greatest offensive fighter since Julio Cesar Chavez himself. And all in a little over 12 months.
Yet there’s been a lingering unease throughout the promotion, a sense that this is either a short-termist mismatch between elite superstar and mere mortal pro, or a potential banana skin for Pacquiao, a fight that fails to justify itself either stylistically or financially given the damage a loss would do him at this stage in his career. Partly that’s down to Algieri who, for all his talk of hunger and an insatiable appetite for success, comes across more like a man who’s just finished a large meal, prepared and devised at his own restaurant, and is now in the process of giving it a five star review and belching uproariously. In any case, the fact is the match-up does little for the momentum regained by Pacquiao since that knockout at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez almost two years ago.
It’s said that beauty must always die the most tragic of deaths, and to this end perhaps this is a fitting fight with which to close out 2014, a year which has been defined by loss of momentum and the sense that so many of the advances made in the preceding 12 months have now sunk without trace. Forget the absence of any truly classic fights – which are fundamentally averse to concoction, even with the best will in the world – the failings of this year run deeper than its inability to spew forth the successor to Corrales/Castillo, or that familiar disappointment of seeing the most wanted bouts fall short of expectations under the harsh casino spotlights.
Rather, one need only glance at the shortlist of candidates for 2013’s Fighter of the Year to see where its successor has fallen so painfully short. The likes of Danny and Mikey Garcia, Adonis Stevenson, the aforementioned Provodnikov, Keith Thurman, and even the perennially underappreciated Guillermo Rigondeaux have – for reasons inspiring sympathy in radically contrasting volumes – had years to forget. Whether it be down to promotional issues, poor and absent matchmaking, the wholly unique situation in which even your mandatory challengers are unwilling to fight you, or just good old fashioned recalcitrance, things haven’t gone terribly well for many of the sport’s top names. It’s somewhat trite, but when asked to summarise boxing’s health in 2014 I simply point to the fact that its two biggest stars have chosen to fight Chris Algieri, and Marcos Maidana. Twice.
Thus we find ourselves back to Macau, once more faced with the prospect of underwhelming pay-per-view figures and a predominantly Chinese audience who still aren’t quite sure what to make of it all. The haphazard Zhou Shiming will be trotted out on the undercard, as is a virtual necessity given the nascent profile of boxing in the world’s most populous country, along with Vasyl Lomachenko, the amateur standout who recently captured a title belt in just his third professional fight and is one of the few to have had a memorable year. Then there’s Jessie Vargas, of course. Jessie bloody Vargas. The man who embodies the mediocre fare served up by 2014 with every fibre of his feather-fisted being.
And that’s about it. Beauty and sadness, together always. Save for a shameful night of mismatches in Liverpool and an intriguing Showtime card in December – you remember, the type that was almost a biweekly occurrence in the halcyon days of 2013 – that’ll do it for the year. Then we’ll all go back to speculating after the next winner of the Floyd Mayweather sweepstakes, bereft in the knowledge that the only box office event on the horizon is the release of “Manny: The Movie,” and the remote possibility that a College Boy from Huntington, who in his own words was “ready to quit” a year ago, has done the unthinkable.