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.
By Diego Morilla
Before the bell rings in Macau this Saturday night, one of the first things Manny Pacquiao will notice during the customary pre-fight stare down is a bright yellow sun shining through the menacing grin in his opponent’s mouth, right next to a map of the Italian peninsula colored in red, white and green.
Neither Pacquiao nor the people who catch a glimpse of this colorful mouthpiece on live television may know it, but the combination of images illustrates Algieri's pride in a set of traditions that go well beyond the obvious Italian heritage embedded in his name, and goes back to his essence as a fighter.
“I have the Argentine sun and the Italian map,” explains Chris Algieri (20-0, 8 KO), the undefeated junior welterweight that Pacquiao will be facing on HBO PPV, in explaining his seemingly odd choice of graphics for his mouthpiece. “And my colors are always blue and white [the colors of the Argentine flag]."
Quite likely, the news about Algieri being a “closet Latino” will mean very little to Pacquiao, who made a name for himself (along with a few nicknames, including the infamous “Mexicutioner”) by defeating some of the best Latino talents out there. But as it turns out, Algieri’s Latino roots are responsible in a big way for his involvement in boxing, and he regularly bites down on much more than an anatomically fitted piece of rubber to feed the proud mixed legacy of his Italian and Argentine background.
Because, just as it happens with the sons of immigrants from many other cultures, Algieri carries the old country in his heart, but also in his taste buds.
“Parrillada is a big part of our summer,” says Algieri, in reference to the Argentine-style barbecue that is a staple of the Argentine diet. “It’s part of my culture. I grew up with my mother and her parents living in the same household, and I absorbed their culture.”
And there is no bigger part of the Argentine food culture than mate (pronounced mAh-té), the strong, bitter pre-Colonial beverage that the local natives offered to the Spaniards upon their arrival, and which has become the all-around, all-day beverage of choice for millions of people in a region that spans the entire lower portion of the South American continent. They rely on it as a source of nourishment and warmth, but also as an essential agglutinating factor in their social life, where every conversation features a hot mate exchanging hands.
For Algieri, who graduated from Stony Brook University with a degree in nutrition, the advantages of keeping with his family tradition go well beyond making mom proud by sharing her favorite drink with her.
“I drink mate every day. I bring it with me even when I am in camp. It’s warm, it is soothing for the belly, and it helps you digest better, so you get all the nutrients from your food. I drink it all the way till fight day”, says Algieri.
Algieri has even posted an instructional video on his YouTube channel on how to prepare mate in the traditional way, using a dried gourd with a metal straw that filters the chopped leaves deposited inside it, and taking small sips after refilling the receptacle several times until the flavor dies out. And by the time this happens, the benefits of drinking it have already worked their magic.
“It is packed full of vitamins and nutrients. It has a lot of B vitamins that you can only normally get from meat, and you find them there. The caffeine content affects me differently than coffee does, it is a more mild stimulant, and I can drink more of it. It’s one of my favorite drinks, especially in a cold morning, and it gives me just enough pep before my workout,” says Algieri.
His tall, muscular physique seems to have reaped the many rewards of a beverage in which a number of interesting properties have been identified, from antioxidant to natural diuretic and laxative.
“It also helps also with fat loss and staying lean, so it really is an overall incredible health drink, and on top of it is a part of my culture, it is something that my whole family does, and we’ve always done it.”
Keeping an eye on the vibrant Argentine boxing scene of the ‘70s and early '80s was another big part of his family tradition, thanks to the influence of his sports-crazy grandfather Carlos. One that Algieri has grown closer to since his initial stint as a kickboxer in which he went 20-0 before making the transition to the more traditional, footwear-based combat sport that his grandfather told him so much about.
“Carlos Monzon is one of the first fighters I ever learned about,” reminisces Algieri, in reference to Argentina’s biggest boxing icon and one of the best middleweights ever. “I even remember watching guys like Omar Weiss on ESPN.”
Later, he started paying attention to fighters like Lucas Mathysse, Sergio Martinez, and Marcos Maidana (with whom who he sparred in preparation for one of Maidana’s fights), just as their goals were became his own goals as well.
“It’s great to see a part of my culture doing so well in the sport that I love,” says Algieri, referring to the current “golden era” of Argentine welterweights with Maidana, Matthysse, Martinez (a former super welterweight) and also Luis Carlos Abregu and Diego Chaves providing inspiration for his still budding career. “More and more often you see Argentine fighters doing big things on a major stage, and so to be associated with those guys is really an honor and it’s great to see so many people from my culture doing big things in the sport.”
There is also a big part of that tradition that may, unbeknownst to him, be playing in his favor come November 22nd, and it is the usual good fortune that has accompanied Argentine fighters in Asia since the days in which Pascual Perez became the country’s first-ever world champion with a victory against Yoshio Shirai in Japan on November 26th, 1954, almost 60 years to the date in which Algieri will be facing his greatest challenge to date.
Perez was later joined by icons such as Horacio Acavallo, Nicolino Locche and others in career-defining wins on the farthest regions of the Eastern Hemisphere. Algieri hopes to follow in the footsteps of those men, albeit in his own personal way.
“It’s not going to be different in this fight,” he says in regards to his style, which he feels has been underappreciated by those who have only seen his fight against Provodnikov and who base their appreciation of his skills solely on that performance. “I feel that I fight an aggressive style, but it is a smart aggressive style. I would have been more aggressive in the [Provodnikov] fight if it hadn’t been for the damage done to my eye early on. I had to protect that eye more than I normally would."
Still, the door is open for the ‘closet Latino’ in Algieri to finally emerge when push comes to shove. And even though he is not likely to go from a ‘master boxing’ practitioner (as he defines himself) to full-on Monzon in only one fight, the chance of seeing him taking on the role of the aggressor remains a possibility.
“Don’t be confused by that one fight: I am an aggressive boxer, and I will be in there to mix it up, but it will be in a smart way,” says Algieri, who claims to be ready for anything Pacquiao may show him in the ring.
“I had to fight every single style out there to get here,” he asserts, and a statement like this should be taking seriously if it comes from a guy whose roots are in a country that has broken records on numbers of economic crisis per decade and number of presidents within one week. But as much as his ability to adapt to any situation may be out of the question, other doubts remain, and justifiably so.
After all, he was fighting at the club level only a year ago, and he is now tackling one of the most dangerous fighters out there in what has been dubbed a “real-life Rocky” story. But Algieri never doubted that this day would arrive sooner rather than later.
“I knew my time would come if I stayed hungry and disciplined,” says Algieri, and even though victory is far from certain, he suggests that another life-long dream may be soon realized for him, win or lose.
“That has been the goal since I started,” says Algieri in reference to his trip to Argentina, where he has never been before. “I’d like to go there for a couple of weeks with my family. I don’t want to go there for a couple of days, I want to go there for two weeks or a month, I want to get situated there.”
And when that happens, Algieri will have the chance to rediscover another one of his favorite treats, one that is equally embedded in every Argentine’s taste since childhood, and which Algieri had also grown fond of in his early life.
“That’s a treat that my mother loves. I am not big on deserts myself, but that’s something that I would have after the fight. It’s celebratory,” says Algieri in regards to dulce de leche, or milk caramel, a thick, peanut butter-like spread which is nothing more than condensed milk and a ton of sugar reduced to a brownish jelly.
Not exactly what a nutritionist would recommend to anyone trying to stay fit, but as it has been the case in Algieri’s life, he has learned to save the sweets for later while he endures the bitterness of training and sacrifice with the help of his beloved mate.
“After the fight,” he laughs, when asked about the proper time to enjoy a heaping spoon of milk caramel, in true Argentine guilt-less fashion.
“Mate before, dulce de leche afterwards,” he concludes, hoping that dulce de leche will carry the sweet taste of victory after his fight against Pacquiao.
Because between the bitterness of mate and the sweetness of dulce de leche, there is a journey that Algieri is just beginning, and which will find in the Pacquiao fight one of its most significant milestones.