Oddsmakers expect Manny Pacquiao to get his 57th career win on Saturday night, when he takes on Chris Algieri for the WBO Welterweight title in Macau, China. Even though PacMan has been made the heavy favorite, he knows he can’t afford to overlook his opponent.
“What we are trying to do right now is to get the focus in training and for the fight that people want to see,” Pacquiao said on a conference call in October. “Chris Algieri is a very dangerous fighter and we are taking nothing for granted in this training camp.”
Algieri might not be a name familiar to many casual fans of the sport, but he’s emerged as one of the best up-and-coming fighters in 2014. On Valentine’s Day, the 30-year-old defeated Emmanuel Taylor in a unanimous decision. Four months later, Algieri upset Ruslan Provodnikov, earning himself a shot with the welterweight champ.
After just 20 professional fights, Algieri certainly isn’t lacking in confidence, nor does he have a reason to doubt himself. After an undefeated career as a kickboxer, Algieri has yet to lose a boxing match. Despite being a +475 underdog to the -750 favorite Pacquiao at Bovada.lv, Algieri has the tools to keep the fight interesting.
At 5’10, Algieri has more than a three-inch height advantage on Pacquiao, to go along with his five-inch reach advantage. He was able to withstand the hard-hitting style of Provodnikov in June, and could do the same in China.
“I’m taller than all of the guys I fight in my weight class,” Algieri told International Business Times. “I’m tall and rangy. My athleticism is something that [Pacquiao] hasn’t seen in a long time and I think is going to pay major dividends in this fight. And the height advantage, the reach advantage, my use of range is going to be a really important factor in this fight.”
Pacquiao was knocked out once in 2012, to go along with a split-decision loss in that same year, though the latter was highly controversial. The Filipino icon might not be the same fighter that he was a few years ago, but he still has an edge over the challenger due to his experience and perhaps his fighting stance.
As a southpaw, Pacquiao could give Algieri some problems. Algieri hasn't face a southpaw with this much strength, which could throw off a fighter who has only been a professional boxer since 2008.
However, the hard-hitting Pacquiao hasn’t won by knockout since 2009 when he defeated Miguel Cotto, and he won’t be looking to win with one punch, which is something that might have hurt Provodnikov against Algieri.
“We cannot go into the fight thinking about the knockout," Pacquiao said. "A knockout will not change the result of the fight as long as we get the win.”
But a convincing win is important. Pacquiao, who turns 36 next month, would strengthen his status as the strongest challenger for Floyd Mayweather Jr. with a comprehensive victory to help ink a megabout deal in 2015. While Pacquiao would be wise to maintain his focus on the under-rated Algieri, a poor showing, even in victory, might cast some doubt that the eight-weight world champion is still a superstar boxer.
“I'll never be frustrated if the Floyd fight doesn’t happen,” Pacquiao said this week. “Though I'm ready to fight him anytime, anywhere - it's him who refuses. I’ve made it clear that I want to fight him - it’s up to him now.”
Pacquiao may need to save his best punches for late rounds to slow Algieri. Against Provodnikov, Algieri recovered from a swollen eye and two knockdowns in the opening minutes to outlast a boxer nicknamed "Siberian Rocky" after 12 rounds. The Long Island native is capable of bouncing around the ring, making him a tough target. Meanwhile, Algieri will be facing an opponent who shares some similarities with Provodnikov.
Pacquiao could be in for a frustrating night if he struggles to land any damaging power punches or fails to establish his jab. Opponents like Timothy Bradley, Brandon Rios, and Juan Manuel Marquez were willing to go toe-to-toe with Pacquiao, while Algieri is likely to avoid a brawl and therefore becomes harder to hit. Some well-timed crosses and straight left hands by Pacquiao could be enough to hold off Algieri.
PREDICTION: Pacquiao over Algieri by majority decision