By Jason Keidel
Somewhere way on the right side of your globe, in the aorta of China, Manny Pacquiao will fight on Saturday, November 22. Pacquiao is so popular around the planet he can virtually toss a dart at an atlas and sell out the city. In this case it’s Macau, a rather foreign land, against an equally unknown fighter.
His opponent, Chris Algieri, is a man of much more modest means. Still living in his parents’ basement, drinking self-made smoothies, training in a local kickboxing gym, Algieri is the classic boxing contender, funneled from central casting. The New York native does his roadwork along the pastoral landscape of Long Island, down the mural of suburbia, cutgrass and clusters of two-family homes. Forgive the cliche, but he’s the local kid made good.
The only gap in his classic, pugilistic narrative is poverty. He didn’t come from the galling desperation of Grand Rapids or the cock-fighting capital of the Philippines. Not only was Algieri spawned by a loving family, he’s even got a master’s degree. While it’s hard to digest the purple cocktails he pours from his blender, his story is rather palatable. Handsome, articulate, cagy, and caucasian, America is ready to gobble him up.
Sadly, Manny Pacquiao is the roadblock between Algieri and stardom. In fact, the fight is turning into a sidebar, with new news swirling about the mega fight for which we’ve lusted for five years. It has Millions of us hoping Saturday is merely a preamble to a fight with Floyd Mayweather in 2015.
The two titans have tickled our boxing palate for years, mostly with Mayweather sidestepping the fight as deftly as he does a slow jab. Every time the two sides merged toward the ring, Mayweather made a new demand. And when Pacquiao acquiesced, Mayweather summoned another phantom hurdle.
But the negotiations have now reached the highest rungs of corporate America, with CBS boss Leslie Moonves throwing down on a possible deal. While Floyd Mayweather abhors his former front man, Bob Arum, who promotes Pacquiao, he evidently has great respect for Moonves.
Many who still savor the sweet science will say the new bump in interest is about three years, and a galling Pacquiao knockout, too late. But Pacman has risen physically and metaphysically off the canvas to show there’s ample life left in his legs and a few watts left in his gloves.
Whipping Brandon Rios, Timothy Bradley and, presumably, Algieri is more than proof positive that the media and the masses will still be moved by the idea of boxing’s two remaining monoliths meeting in the squared circle. And as each inches perilously close to retirement, it really is now or never.
Everyone knows that boxing is as dirty as it is barbaric. It’s the only sport that could be run by both Don King and Frankie Carbo. Those who aren’t corrupt are incompetent, as evidenced by the wretched decision awarded Bradley during his first fight with Pacquiao, who won at least nine of the twelve rounds.
If its own penchant for self-mutilation weren’t enough, you have team sports poaching the gifted, 200-plus pound athlete, thus gelding the showcase, heavyweight division. Big men can now get the same quid on the diamond, hardwood, or gridiron, and half the head trauma. The ancient boxing maxim says the sport is only as robust as the big boys. Using that metric, It’s no wonder we’ve lost exponential interest in the sport since Mike Tyson took his left hook and neuroses to Broadway.
It’s not fair to view Chris Algieri as little more than a bridge to Mayweather. He has earned this shot at Pacquiao by winning a recent fight literally with one eye open, the other swollen like a walnut, equal parts sweet science and science fiction. It was the perfect metaphor for the quintessential underdog, a young man who stumbled onto boxing while toiling as a champion kick boxer.
If he were fighting anyone but Pacquiao, who holds the keys to perhaps the last great bout boxing may ever see again, we could call for and hope for an Algieri upset. He’s younger, hungrier, and comically taller. But probably not good enough. Let’s say Manny in Macau, by late-round knockout.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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