Conventional wisdom says that Chris Algieri will be in over his head when he steps into the ring against Ruslan Provodnikov at Barclays Center on Saturday night.
Algieri does not have sterling amateur boxing background. He didn’t have any amateur fights before turning pro in 2008. He has never faced an opponent who will attack him with the sheer ferocity of Provodnikov. And Algieri is noted as a boxer and doesn’t have the kind of awesome power necessary to stop Provodnikov, the WBO junior welterweight beltholder, in his tracks or even deter him from steamrolling to victory.
But there is nothing conventional about Algieri, who will be fighting for his first world title match in what is ostensibly his backyard on HBO on Saturday night.
The 30-year-old undefeated junior welterweight grew up in Huntington, Long Island where his parents stressed education above all. He has a degree in Health Sciences from Stony Brook University and a master degree in Clinical Nutrition from The New York Institute of Technology and is planning on attending medical school once his boxing career is over.
Algieri (19-0, 8 knockouts) has put medical school on hold until he is done participating in the sweet science. The risk for Algieri is that once a boxer leaves Hard Knocks University their brain isn’t as pristine as it was on the first day of class.
“I got a lot of, ‘Why are you doing this and you should stop now,’” Algieri said.
“For those who are closer to my career and see where we’ve gone and see how we’ve made it, they say go for it. I have a huge opportunity to do something that a small percentage of the population can do it.”
He believes the Provodnikov fight is coming at just the right time to propel his boxing career forward.
“This is the culmination of a lot of things,” Algieri said. “This has been the on the map for quite some time. Myself and my team felt like this was the right time. There was no other choice but to take it.”
Joe DeGuardia of Star Boxing started promoting Algieri when he was 8-0.
DeGuardia, who boxed New York Golden Gloves as a law student and later went to work in the Bronx District Attorney’s office, liked the medical school angle with Algieri. But it was more than just something to sell. Algieri was a legitimate student, whose undergraduate degree gave him the prerequisites to sit for the MCATs – medical school entrance exams.
DeGuardia turned Algieri into a local favorite, staging his matches at the Paramount in his hometown of Huntington. DeGuardia said Algieri didn’t have Arturo Gatti’s style, but he had the same kind of following at the Paramount that Gatti had at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
“The atmosphere was phenomenal,” DeGuardia said. “Half of the crowd was women there to see Chris. He has those all-American looks. Those shows were so successful and it was able to build up the venue.”
Algieri was being built up as well. He fought contenders like Mike Arnaoutis and Jose Peralta. He fought on ESPN, Showtime’s ShoBox series and Azteca.
DeGuardia said the big steppingstone for Algieri was a fight against Emanuel Taylor, a contender with quality TKO victories against Victor Cayo and Raymond Serrano.
“People thought we were crazy putting Chris in with him,” DeGuardia said. “The executive at HBO wanted Emmanuel Taylor for Provodnikov. Chris beat him and got the fight.”
Algieri is anxious to show the HBO audience that not only does he belong in the ring with Provodnikov, but that he has the skill to beat him.
“Ruslan is a world-class tough guy. He’s going to come and he’s going to fight. He’s got a fan-friendly style. I’m a fan,” Algieri said. “My size and athleticism and my style is a perfect matchup. It’s a classic matchup of the boxer and the brawler.”
Provodnikov uses pressure to try to get his opponents to fall into his style of fighting.
“He’s going to try to force me into a brawl,” Algieri said. “It’s about who can control the space in the ring. If the fight is fought the way that I want to fight it’s going to go to me. The boxer can always punch as well. Just because you get on the inside you don’t have to worry about the other guy hitting you.
“Whoever who can be in control of when and how the fight happens will win.”
Algieri expects a large contingent of family and friends to be at Barclays Center to watch him pull off the upset. But his mother, Adriana, will not be among them. She said the violence of boxing makes her nauseous. She said she supports her son, but she can’t watch him fight.
“It’s not a place for Mom, unless you’re Mrs. Pacquiao,” said Adriana Algieri. “I want Chris want to win, but I don’t want anyone to have any major injuries. I always pray for him and his opponent.”
Algieri’s father, Dominick, said they support their son, but hopes he quits before he suffers any injuries that would jeopardize his ability to succeed in medical school.
“I was hoping the first fight he’d lose and he’d lose interest. But he hasn’t lost,” Dominick Algieri said.
Early on in his career there was a lot of pressure to quit boxing from his family and friends, who knew what a good student he was and how much he wanted to go to medical school.
“At first they wanted me to stop pretty much every fight. They would ask me if I wanted to quit yet,” he said. “They see where the passion lies and they see where it’s taken me. It’s brought a lot of positivity. They know I’m all in and they support me now 100 percent.”
Algieri realizes boxing is a dangerous sport and that he is risking permanent brain damage if he continues to box, particularly against hard-hitting opponents like Provodnikov.
“I wouldn’t say I’m harming myself. I am putting myself at risk to be harmed,” Algieri said. “But I don’t incur that much damage the way I fight. Being in shape lowers the risk of that kind of (brain) injury. That’s the way I approach it.
“I know the risk is there. Something big like this is a risky business and boxing is a risky business. I don’t see there being a problem with higher brain function. I still read a lot and I still function at a high level.”
As Adriana Algieri said her son is “at the dance now, so he might as well dance.”
Provodnikov isn’t the most delicate partner Algieri can have on his dance card.
“He was pushing more for this fight than me. He wanted this fight,” DeGuardia said. “It’s a great opportunity for him. If he wins he becomes a star. He’s got a big hurdle to cross. Provodnikov’s a tough animal. The Siberian Rocky is a good name for him.”