Manny Pacquiao and Chris Algieri weigh-in for their welterweight title bout.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
It was more embarrassing than consequential, but when Chris Algieri stepped on the scale on Saturday morning in Macau, he weighed 144.4 pounds – a mere four-tenths of one pound above the contracted weight for his battle with Manny Pacquiao, but above the weight nonetheless. He removed his underwear and the pendant around his neck, reducing the excess to two-tenths of a pound, and then went away to lose the rest.
His handlers made some half-hearted excuses to the effect that the scales were jumpy or not entirely reliable, but they were undercut by Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach’s prediction, after testing his fighter on the scales earlier, that the Filipino icon would weigh in one ounce inside the limit – which, at 143.8, he did. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, such a small amount made little to no appreciable difference, and there was never a concern that Algieri wouldn’t be able to make the limit on his second try; indeed, when he returned a little over 45 minutes later, he in fact tipped the scales at 143.6 lbs., a fraction less than his opponent – although, at a lanky 5’11”, he’ll hydrate to a higher weight than his foe when they enter the ring.
But at least it gave those assembled at the Venetian Macao’s Cotai Arena something to talk and laugh about.
“He’s supposed to be a nutrition expert,” sniffed Roach. “Embarrassing.” There were wisecracks about Algieri being easily able to lose the extra ounce or so if he would just wash the product out of his hair, and counter-cracks about such an action being a step too far for the coolly-coiffed challenger.
It was ultimately much ado about nothing, but it kept the assemblage of hacks occupied and offered justification for waking up in the early hours of Saturday morning to watch grown men strip off.
And so now, after months of hype and prediction, there is nothing left but the fight itself. It is not often that fight week provides reason for observers to change their predictions, but for a number of the media who will be ringside, this week has done just that. If there was a sense beforehand that Algieri’s length, reach, and movement would enable him to at least extend Pacquiao and perhaps push him all the way to a twelve-round decision, there is an emerging consensus – fed by Pacquiao’s explosiveness in training - that the gulf of class will be too great and that Algieri, for all his genuine confidence, will be overwhelmed by the Filipino’s speed and power.
Then again, as one person opined as the arena emptied after the weigh-in, that was the prevailing opinion before Pacquiao fought his third contest with Juan Manuel Marquez; the Mexican was said to be past his peak and ready to be taken by his rival. In the event, he produced arguably his strongest performance in what was to that point a trilogy, and then one year later left Pacquiao face-down and unconsciousness on the canvas.
The likelihood of Algieri reproducing those kind of efforts seems beyond remote. But that, as they say, is why they fight the fights.
Hall of fame trainer Freddie Roach shares a first-person look at what it’s like to step in the ring and train with Manny Pacquiao.
From 24/7 to one-on-one interviews, watch all of the HBO video for the fight between Manny Pacquiao and Chris Algieri, Saturday night at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT.
By Kieran Mulvaney
By rights, Jessie Vargas should be a star. He’s well-spoken, bilingual and outgoing. The camera loves him, as he has shown in a stint as an interviewer for Univision here in Macau during fight week. Plus he’s an undefeated boxer who is the holder of a world title belt.
But Vargas’ career has yet to truly take off, despite his personal charms and his 25-0 record. Part of that is because that quarter-century of wins includes just nine knockouts; part of it, also, is that his performances have far too often underwhelmed.
The frustration for many critics has been that Vargas gives every impression of having the talent to shine, but hasn’t demonstrated the ability to get over the hump and move on to the next level. He might be considered the proverbial rough diamond – although one prominent observer disagreed with that assessment this week.
“You see him today, he’s polished already,” insists Roy Jones, Jr., who will be the chief second when Vargas does battle with Antonio DeMarco in the opening bout of Saturday’s pay-per-view and who will assume his regular ringside duties as HBO’s expert analyst. But, he concedes, “he was rough when I met him.”
That was just two months ago, and both Vargas and Jones believe that the work the two have done in that time – since Vargas first met the future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and asked him to be his trainer – has brought about just the sort of changes that many have wanted to see in the young boxer. The veracity of that assertion will be tested on Saturday night, but both fighter and trainer feel that some form of destiny must have been at hand to bring them together.
Vargas had already begun training for his encounter with DeMarco, he says, when Ismael Salas, his trainer for his last two fights, secured a job training fighters in England. Salas suggested that Vargas decamp to Britain with him, but the Sin City resident said that “I couldn’t go to England: my home is Las Vegas, my home base is Las Vegas, my family’s here.“
Ten days or so later, as he contemplated his options, Vargas was at a fundraiser at the recently-opened Roy Jones Jr. Fight Academy, and he and Jones found themselves talking.
“He comes out and tells me, ‘Hey man, I’ve seen your last fight; you’re good, but why don’t you do this differently? For some reason, I’ve always seen you fight and I always want to tell you, throw your hands like this. Come into the gym Monday and I’ll show you some tricks that I think will help you.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Wow, there has to be a reason behind this, there’s a reason I’m here, there’s a reason that he opened up. Could he be my new trainer?’”
Jones remembers it in much the same way.
“God blessed me to see this dude fight like three times,” he says. “Each time I watched him, I would get stuck watching him by mistake. I wasn’t trying to watch him fight. I was like, “Damn, why I keep seeing Jessie?” After the third time, I thought, ‘Damn, I need to teach Jessie how to throw a hook, because he needs to be knocking these dudes out. He keeps squeaking by every time I see him.’ So when I saw him, I said, ‘I love what you’re doing, you’ve got to have a hell of a heart because you’ve already got your way to a world championship. But I want to help you do better. I want to see some improvement. I wasn’t going to sugarcoat it, because that’s not what I do. I would have just shown him my hook, and you guys wouldn’t have known about it, unless he decided to tell you.”
Vargas took Jones up on his offer and, he says, “in the first half-an-hour he was teaching me things. I was amazed. I thought, ‘Wow, this man has a lot to show me, a lot of knowledge that he can share with me.’”
Adds Jones: “I guess he liked it because he came back a second day and he said, ‘I don’t have a trainer no more.’ I didn’t know that, and I know that I’m so busy, it’s hard for me to do it, but if you're gonna work with me, we can do it. It all depends how hungry you are and what you want.”
Jones offered to train Vargas for the DeMarco fight, a suggestion Vargas enthusiastically accepted, and as the two prepare to work together in a fight for the first time, it is clear that the affection and admiration is mutual.
“Roy Jones Jr. is a very intelligent individual,” Vargas enthuses. “He knows how to explain things in detail, and being a fighter himself, he won’t just tell you, he’ll show you. Not only that, but the way he looks at the game is very different. He’s two steps ahead of his opponent, and that’s where I am now. He’s setting everything up, so his opponent moves to the right if he wants him to. So that’s what we’re working on. We’ll continue to get better, but you’re going to see a difference on Saturday night.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better student,” responds Jones. “I’m so happy with the way that he received everything I taught him. The things I told him the beginning, he sees now. And that’s just in an eight-week period. That’s good enough for me. I can’t ask for more from a guy, because he trusted me to do what I asked him to do, and he saw the outcome of it. Win, lose or draw, I’m very proud of Jessie Vargas.”
By Kieran Mulvaney
What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, when Manny Pacquiao headlined the first boxing pay-per-view event in China, a dominant twelve-round decision over Brandon Rios, the location was as much of a storyline as the contest itself. There was a novelty to the experience, and something of a question whether it would be a singular one. Now, while fight week in Macau still lacks the familiarity of New York or Las Vegas, it has the air of becoming a permanent and important fixture in boxing’s traveling circus.
And yet, says Top Rank’s CEO Bob Arum, “like many things in life, it happened by chance. As a member of the Las Vegas community, I knew people in Sands [the company that owns the Venetian resorts]. Sheldon Adelson [Sands’ chairman and CEO] and I go back a long way. And they wanted me to put on a boxing card in Macau.” For Sands, which has operated the Venetian Macao on the purpose-built Cotai Strip for 10 years, the attraction was clear: it wanted as many events as possible to encourage members of China’s burgeoning middle class to visit the resort and spend large amounts of money at its casino. Arum, however, initially resisted, not seeing the value in staging an event in a country that has little to no historical involvement with the sport. But then he was approached by the agent for Zou Shiming, China’s most successful amateur boxer, who won gold at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and, after the London games, elected to turn professional.
“I thought what in the hell am I going to do with a 112-pound Chinese boxer?” chuckled Arum. “But I had my guys check out to see just how big he was in China, and it turned out he was huge.” Zou would prove the key to unlocking the door to Chinese boxing. “Without him, none of this would have happened,” Arum emphasized. Recognizing the Chinese fighter's importance, Arum rewarded him handsomely before he had thrown a single punch in the professional ring. “His first fight was a four-rounder, and I paid him $300,000.”
That first fight, in April 2013, served as a test run; his second bout, in July of that year, enabled Top Rank to build on what they had learned and to then take that knowledge into the Pacquiao-Rios event. There were plenty of logistical obstacles to overcome along the way.
“There was no boxing commission, so there was the challenge of getting an authority together to oversee an event,” explained Top Rank’s executive event producer, Brad Jacobs. “Then there was the question of ringside physicians; well, we discovered that there is a huge hospital on site here at the Venetian, so we were able to ensure that some physicians and nurses were hired from there.”
Some challenges will always remain, not the least of which is the huge difference in time zones (Macau is 13 hours ahead of the US east coast). “I’m doing business at 2AM every night,” said Jacobs. But Saturday’s contest between Pacquiao and Chris Algieri will be Top Rank’s seventh in Macau, and eighth in China (the company recently staged its first card on the mainland, in Shanghai, with a second upcoming), and with each successful venture, the comfort level increases, even if new issues are seemingly always around the corner. “With our Shanghai card, we had a great main event, but halfway through it, half the crowd stood up and left,” recalled Jacobs. “We wondered what was going on; it turned out that most people came by train, and the last train ran at 10:45, so at 10:20, everyone left to catch it.”
If there wasn’t much awareness of professional boxing before, says Sands China CEO Ed Tracy, then that is changing, to the extent that even if Zou, on whose small shoulders so much has thus far rested, were to suffer a shocking defeat on Saturday, the project would be able to continue.
“The challenge here is to create events that are memorable, that nobody else can do,” Tracy explained. “If you’re in my business, it’s no different here than in the US: you want to help people escape the mundane qualities of their everyday life by giving them experiences they can’t get anywhere else. And this plays into that so beautifully because of the people who follow boxing. Having Sylvester Stallone latch on to the Chris Algieri story and say, ‘I’m coming to the fight’ – that’s an extraordinary thing. He’s getting on a plane and traveling 8,000 miles because he likes boxing. But that’s the kind of appeal boxing has. All you need is the right fighters and the right venue.”
The long wait is finally over. Or so Manny Pacquiao thought in this commercial for Foot Locker's "Week of Greatness." Watch the clip above to see how Manny's sense of timing extends to his comedic abilities.