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WE need our illusions. Imagination and faith can drive people further than they thought possible. Listening to Chris Algieri in the days before his WBO welterweight title challenge, all of it, in theory, made sense. But the best laid plans can go awry when Manny Pacquiao hits you in the face.
Algieri looked convincing. A man of science with a degree in nutrition, he could move smoothly and throw crisp punches. He had form, a style and a case to make, rational in its argument, that he could outbox the great Pacquiao. The first crack in his demeanour appeared on the scales, when he needed a couple of attempts to come in at their agreed 144lbs catchweight, particularly embarrassing for Algieri as he was responsible for his own diet. That fissure in his confidence splintered wide the next day while in the ring at the Cotai Arena, with Manny himself bearing down on the callow American.
The champion’s familiar, happy grin switched to a focused menace. Algieri scampered into the centre of the ring at the first bell, though that was as close as he got to meeting Pacquiao head-on. Manny had the greater firepower; he still has swift feet too. He stayed on his challenger as Algieri tracked back across the canvas. That pressure was immediate.
The Filipino began closing off Algieri’s escape routes and early on Chris had to squirm out of corners. Manny countered the jab with a stern southpaw left. Pacquiao rolled his shoulders eagerly, as if he were limbering up for a heavy workout. On his toes, hurried, Algieri manoeuvred uneasily. In the second Pacquiao attacked with a strong cluster of punches and Chris peeled away. Manny lunged after him and as the American jumped back his footing swept out from under him and he hit the deck. Referee Genaro Rodriguez ruled the knockdown. The American may not have been hurt but he was rattled. Pacquiao took advantage. His backhand smacked into Algieri’s body, his lead right landed flush. Manny moved so easily, bouncing forward and back, his gloves already up by the time the American’s reached him, “Pac Man’s” own fists ready to hammer back at the challenger.
Pacquiao drove his left, then the right through and Chris clutched him dearly in a hold. Algieri dabbed out punches, winging a left hook across to try to keep Manny off. But the champion powered into him, his shots had the authority.
In the sixth round Pacquiao’s one-two struck. A cuffing left hurt Chris. He reeled back. Manny’s lead hook scored to the body. He rocked him with another heavy left and pitched Algieri down to the canvas. The roar of the crowd swelled behind Pacquiao. He piled in behind a left, the following right bowled the American over for the second time in the round, the third knockdown of the fight. Chris was too light on his feet, too easily blown over by Pacquiao’s whirlwind attacks.
Manny ground into him with a hurtful left uppercut, hacking hooks first with the right, then the left. In the ninth Pacquiao’s thunderclap of a straight left struck Algieri. The force of the blast hurled him off his feet, slamming the American into the canvas. He rose, badly hurt. Pacquiao pounced, opening up with Algieri on the ropes. Disarranged, Chris dropped to a knee before bouncing back up, looking to hold after getting another count.
Manny closed in with a left to the body. Algieri seemed out on his feet. The two tangled as Pacquiao pressed the attack, referee Rodriguez pulled the champion off. It looked like he’d stopped it there and then, but he waved Manny back in. In the next round that left hand again sent Algieri tumbling, rolling over on his back, the sixth knockdown he suffered in the fight.
“Our focus was to try to finish the fight early,” Pacquaio said. “But Algieri is a very tough opponent, in his last fight with Ruslan [Provodnikov], he showed his toughness. But I did my best. I knocked him down many times, six times, but still he kept fighting.”
At this stage the American was, pretty much, as far behind in a prizefight as a conscious boxer can be. He needed to change tack, do something at least to try to salvage a lost cause. Instead, with a cussedness that was in its way admirable, he stuck to his routine. He backed off, arching a right in but not lingering to follow it up. Manny swung, his weight behind a right, but Chris slipped away from him. In the last round Pacquiao still hunted for the knockout. He doubled his jab and a left hook thumped in after it. Chasing Algieri still, the final bell called Manny off. He finished shuffling his feet in the centre of the ring, a victory dance and the 13,000 fans around him roared.
“He was not reckless. He was very smart in his approach and his attack so he really didn’t leave me much to take advantage [of],” Algieri reflected. “At least two of those [knockdowns] were slips but it is what it is. That happens in fights and you’ve got to pick yourself up and get right back to work.”
Needless to say the decision was unanimous in the champion’s favour. Patrick Morley and Levi Martinez scored 119-103, while Michael Pernick had it 120-102 (as did Boxing News).
With victory confirmed, Manny had a message for the world and, most particularly, Floyd Mayweather. “The fans deserve that fight. It’s time to step up and say yes,” Pacquiao declared, even suggesting early next year for it.
“I think it’s time to say something. The people deserve that fight. The fans deserve that fight. I think it’s time to make that fight happen.
“It has to happen.”
Maybe the dream fight is just another mirage looming on boxing’s far horizon. But the case for it sounds good. In theory.