In a sport where success depends on hurting your opponent, Chris Algieri is a fighter trying to heal people.
The Long Island native owns a bachelor’s degree in health care science from Stonybrook University on Long Island, N.Y. and a master’s degree in clinical nutrition from New York Tech. The 27-year-old recently finished up his last prerequisites for medical school.
Now, while he prepares to face Curtis Smith (10-5, 5 knockouts) on Saturday at the Paramount Theater in his hometown of Huntington, N.Y., he’s also looking further ahead – to the MCATs.
“[I’ve been in school] my entire professional career – kickboxing and boxing,” said Algieri (12-0, 6 KOs). “My professors are always very supportive. This is actually my first semester not in school while fighting.”
Naturally, Algieri has his detractors in the medical field, those who can’t believe the future M.D. would risk his own health inside the squared circle.
“I’ve gotten people that are like ‘Wow, that’s great’ and I’ve also had people that say ‘Why would you do that, you know you’re killing brain cells’,” said Algieri. I understand the risks, I’ve looked into and studied it, but it’s my passion and I can’t stop now. I’ve got a dream.”
Algieri’s education isn’t the only thing that sets him apart from other pugilists – he’s a former world champion kickboxer. He became a pro at 19, won his first world title at 21 and another at 23. Shortly after, he retired and turned his attention to boxing.
Smith, a southpaw from Atlanta, Ga., who has never been stopped, will be the first fight in what Algieri hopes will be an uncharacteristically active year.
“[Inactivity] has been the thing that’s plaguing my career,” said Algieri. “I’ve had some nagging injuries that kept me out of the ring for a little bit, but now I’m starting the year healthy, which hasn’t been the case the past couple of years.”
Algieri is a big ticket-seller in New York, but hopes to become more of a national presence.
“I’m planning on this being my breakout year,” said Algieri. “I’m popular in New York, but I want to be popular everywhere. I want to get more of a national spotlight. Everyone can see how hard I’ve been working.”
That opportunity could be right around the corner.
“We’re looking at ESPN possibly after this next fight,” said Algieri, who is promoted by Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing. “I need an ESPN date soon. It would be huge. I just need to be seen. It would be a huge boost for my career.”
The junior welterweight boxer-puncher likes to use his jab and height to keep opponents at bay, but considers himself a finisher.
“I’m a boxer who looks for knockouts. I’ve got a long jab, I’m tall for the weight class,” said Algieri, who stands at 5-foot-10. “I use my jab, but always in the back of my mind, I’m looking to put a hurt on the guy. I like finishing fights.”
As for Algieri’s prospects in the medical field, he’s taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I have a surgical background, so I’m interested in that, but cardiovascular is also high on my list of interests,” Algieri said. “But as I go through my rotations I’ll have to see what I really have a knack for.”
Algieri believes that the two things that separate him from other boxers – his background as a kickboxer and education – are the very things that will carry him to the top of the sport.
“I believe [my kickboxing background] helps a lot,” said Algieri. “They’re two different sports, but the hand techniques are all the same. I had 20 pro kickboxing fights. I’ve been fighting without headgear for the past nine years. It gave me a lot of help – just being in the ring and it really helped with my defense. Not having an amateur background, I’m used to not wearing headgear.
“[Also] my intelligence helps a great deal. I’m a thinking fighter. I think of strategies and try to execute those, but really everything I’m doing in there is for a reason. Boxing is the fastest-moving chess game in the world. I’m looking to capitalize on weaknesses, I’m watching, learning and analyzing.”
Algieri is already a rousing success story in two other realms of life. If he makes it a third, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Mike Coppinger is a regular boxing contributor to USA TODAY and THE RING. He is a member of THE RING Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Sports Boxing Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger