Former multi-division champion Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, who earned fame for his immense punching power, once had this to say about opponents who bragged about having the perfect fight plan against him: “Everybody has a plan, until they get hit.”
American challenger Chris Algieri honestly believes that he has concocted the ideal fight plan as he goes up opposite World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao today at the Cotai Arena in Macau. Algieri, 20-0 with eight knockouts, is talking about winning every round and posting one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history. Then again, nobody appears to be buying Algieri’s bluff as Pacquiao remains the overwhelming pick to retain the WBO’s 147-pound hardware.
Algieri, 30, earned the big money fight with Pacquiao by scoring an upset split-decision win in June over Russian slugger Ruslan Provodnikov for the WBO junior welterweight (140 pounds) championship. Algieri was floored twice in the first round and fought the remainder of the bout with a badly swollen right eye. He still defeated Provodnikov by staying on the outside and perpetually sticking his left jab.
The boxer is expected to employ the same strategy against Pacquiao. He talked about his willingness to test Pacquiao’s power, but just about every boxing expert is convinced that the taller, lankier Algieri will stick to what he does best—boxing from the outside and sticking the jab.
However, Algieri’s performance against Provodnikov showed his strengths and weaknesses. Figuring in his first title shot, Algieri seemed to suffer from an anxiety attack and was so disorganized he ended up getting floored twice in the opening round. Fortunately for Algieri, Provodnikov just kept looking for the big punch and became so easy to dissect in the second half of the bout. Still, the opponent repeatedly nailed Algieri with the left hook—a punch that happens to be Pacquiao’s favorite.
In Pacquiao, Algieri is taking on a seasoned veteran who owns a deceptively fast left hand. Unlike the one-dimensional Provodnikov who just barges in, Pacquiao delivers his vaunted left off a series of right jabs. Pacquiao is also at his best feinting with the right shoulder and then uncorking the big left. Moreover, Pacquiao’s offense is difficult to figure out because he can throw punches even from the most unimaginable angle. Pacquiao’s lightning-fast head and body combination is likely to confuse and rattle his challenger.
The main criticism on Pacquiao is that he has lost his killer instinct. He has not scored a knockout since 2009, when he manhandled Miguel Angel Cotto. Pacquiao appears bent on ending the drought. Algieri only has eight knockouts in his resume, so it is safe to say that Pacquiao will be more aggressive this time because the risk of him running smack into a right hand similar to Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012 is remote. The last time Algieri scored a conclusive knockout was in March 2012, when he stopped Winston Mathis, a journeyman with a win-loss record of 7-4, in three rounds.
Algieri’s best chance is to stay on his bicycle and flick the left jab. But despite having logged 20 fights, Algieri’s skills remain unpolished. He cannot get a full arm extension on his left jab and has the habit of delivering it while back-pedalling, thus negating the full impact of the jab. This also affects Algieri’s balance, which explains why he easily fell when Provodnikov nailed him with a wild left. Algieri’s kickboxing habit is also evident when he fights. Occasionally, he stops on his tracks, drops his guard and crouches as if looking for an opening. This defensive flaw can be costly against Pacquiao who is quick to capitalize on an opening.
Trainer Freddie Roach has not ruled out a first-round stoppage, arguably because he also noticed that Algieri tends to be nervous in the opening minutes. Pacquiao should start fast and take control of the fight. Algieri has never been in the ring against Pacquiao and the inexperience will show. Pacquiao, though, will have to seize the momentum and not let Algieri develop rhythm and confidence. From where this writer sits, Pacquiao should stop Algieri within seven rounds.
At age 35, Pacquiao is clearly no longer the same fighter, but as noted trainer Robert Garcia puts it, the Filipino scaled heights never reached by many to the point that even if he has slipped a little, the fistic talent he has left still puts him a notch above the current generation of boxers.