My Two Cents: Pacquiao vs Algieri
Jay McIntyre – Follow me on Twitter: @ANC_Boxing
When this fight was first announced it didn’t make much sense to me. After thinking about it for some time, it makes perfect sense. Manny Pacquiao is interested in moving down in weight to fight at 140 pounds and is probably interested to see how his speed looks these days against a rather quick fighter like Algieri. Pacquiao won’t take much damage from a fight like this and since it will be at a catch-weight of 144 pounds, Pacquiao can safely begin his descent to the lower weight classes. That doesn’t mean Pacquiao can’t lose on November 11th – he could get outhustled by Algieri like his stablemate, Ruslan Provodnikov was back in June. In combat sports anything is possible, and despite the lack of resonance a name like Algieri may have with many of us (myself included), he has an interesting skill set that can potentially make waves in Macau, China next weekend.
Manny Pacquiao (56-5-2, 38 KO’s)
There is very little to say about Manny Pacquiao that the boxing world doesn’t already know. There were some question marks surrounding him after a bad year in 2012. First he suffered a split decision loss to Timothy Bradley when many felt he won, and then a knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez at the end of the sixth round when he had wobbled his most noteworthy adversary and recklessly went in for the kill.
Some have said that Pacquiao is not as fast as he once was, and I can agree with that to some extent. Other say that his stamina has sagged from what it was five or six years ago, and I don’t see why anyone would deny that. The other major criticism levelled against him is his inability to produce a knockout since 2009 when he dismantled Miguel Cotto. To that I feel there is more than meets the eye. His declining speed, increasing age and questionable motivation (what more does he really need to prove?) can’t be ignored, this much is true. But what about the fact that all of his competition at welterweight or above has been either very experienced at defense (Marquez and Baradley) or incredibly durable (Margarito and Rios)? Others chose to fight safe and largely disengaged altogether (Clottey and Mosley). When a fighter has raced through eight weight classes (and pillaged belts from all of them) it is unrealistic to think that his power will follow him forever. Look at Roberto Duran in the Eighties when he left lightweight and campaigned from 147 to 160 pounds – the knockouts were much rarer because the big guys could take his punches better than his past opponents.
While most of what we say is ultimately conjecture, he certainly didn’t help his cause any when he recently abandoned his training camp and drafted himself onto his own basketball team in the Philippines.
Sticking to the facts in the ring, let’s look at what he can, and should do when fighting Chris Algieri.
Effective Lead Hand
Pacquiao will want to use his jab to control the fight. You can pretty much say this about any fighter against nearly anyone in any era of boxing. It’s an often touted cliche – but it’s true! However, the reason why a fighter must jab can often vary. In Pacquiao’s case, he will need to use his jab to back up Algieri and blind him to his power punches.
Pacquiao’s right hook is also a very effective weapon and will be useful against Algieri for two reasons. First off all he can hook over top of his opponent’s jab with incredible accuracy, and also because he times it to catch his opponent as they attempt to engage. Lastly, since most of his punches are rather compact, he is often able to hook inside of his opponent’s hook and land first.
Pacquiao is good at hitting very good counter fighters and getting away with it for a few reasons. For a while it was easy to chalk it up to his speed, but his head movement is just as integral to this success.
Feints and Counters
Pacquiao has come along way from being a one-armed puncher. His progression as a boxer has been constant and subtle, so it doesn’t surprise me that this growth has been missed by many. One thing he has steadily been doing more often is feinting. He doesn’t just feint to draw the punch he does it to make his opponent tentative and reluctant to throw their own punches.
The feints he employs not only set up his other shots, but they also draw the counter from his opponent and let Pacquiao land his own counter. Algieri has been making much of his ability to time the speed of Pacquiao, but feinting and movement often have a way of frustrating a fighter’s timing.
Cracks In The Armour
For all his speed and deft movement, Pacquiao is pretty average at cutting off the ring. This will cause some problems for him because Algieri will try to make that boxing ring look like a parking lot with his frenetic movement. The longer the fight goes, the more Pacquiao will slow down as he perpetually gives chase. But the key here is that Algieri will need to do the right stuff to tire out Pacquiao. Most recently, Sergey Kovalev defeated Bernard Hopkins in one-sided fashion and did not seem to tire all that much over twelve rounds. This was mostly because Hopkins didn’t do anything to really make Kovalev sweat. Algeri will need to make Pacquiao sweat to slow him down and make him more hittable later on in the fight.
Chris Algieri (21-0, 8 KO’s)
Since upsetting Ruslan Provodnikov, Chris Algieri has emerged as an interesting, though still little known name. Part of that comes from the fact that he has so few fights to his name and only one fight against a significant boxer (Provodnikov). He has dabbled in many sports throughout his life: earning a blackbelt in karate at 15, he wrestled in high school, gravitated towards kickboxing (winning the ISKA welterweight and WKA superwelterweight titles) and then finally settled into boxing.
When Algieri fights Pacquaio he will no doubt employ a very similar strategy to the one he used in the Provodnikov fight. I believe this will be his plan of attack for several reasons. First of all, he is the taller fighter going into this fight, with the greater reach so he will want to out-hustle Pacquiao and keep him at arm’s length. Secondly, since he lacks knockout power he won’t want to let the smaller faster, sharper puncher get too close to him. Also, Algieri has a rather busy schedule outside of boxing as both a personal trainer and as a public speaker at seminars on personal health. If he intends to have any sort of post-boxing career, he will need to do everything in his power to take as few punches as possible. Lastly, Algieri is making $1.4 million to show up for this fight, and given the previous evidence, I feel that he will only stick it out in boxing as long as “the juice is worth the squeeze”. Don’t confuse him with other fighters out there that linger on past their prime. Algieri prefers boxing to fighting and will bow out if he absorbs damage that cannot be salved by a large sum of money. This is not meant to be a criticism, but rather an awareness that brain damage will impact his ability to carry on with his business outside of the sweet science. He’s a smart man and clearly a talented one as well. How else would he have gotten this far?
The same punch that I am encouraging Pacquiao to use is the very same one Algieri needs to use if he wants to win. But Algieri will need to employ the jab for all of its intended purposes. The jab is more than a punch. It is a distance gauge, a set-up punch, a blinder and a rhythm breaker. You can feint with it, or floor an opponent with it. It’s the multi-tool of a boxer’s skill set.
Algieri’s jab can snap out and it moves pretty quickly. He does a lot of things right. He snaps his shoulder, and you see his hips move a bit, and this gives his jab some added venom. He’ll circle around while throwing it to blind his opponent, and this can create opportunities for him, while making himself scarce. In the animation above, he doesn’t seem as willing to land it as he does seem intent to want to control distance and disrupt Provodnikov’s rhythm.
One thing Lennox Lewis and Larry Holmes each did with their lead hand was hold it out to measure up an opponent or to keep them literally at arm’s length. It’s not the prettiest of techniques, but Algieri will need to control the space between himself and his southpaw foe by using his lead hand in a variety of ways (this one included). Shoving his lead hand forward while moving around can help him measure and control the range.
Algieri is the taller, bigger guy so he will need to use his body mass and size to tie up Pacquiao (who is the smaller man) when he gets in close. This will benefit him because he will be able to lean on and tire out his faster opponent. Given Pacquiao’s speed and smaller size, clinching will be vital to Algieri’s survival and success as the fight wears on.
Although Pacquiao isn’t the best ring-cutter, he is rather potent once he gets you along the ropes. When Timothy Bradely was interviewed and asked if Pacquiao ever hurt him significantly during their rematch, he recalled a moment along the ropes when Pacquiao threw a series of hooks that had an effect like “flicking a lightswitch” on and off in his head. If Algieri finds himself along the ropes he will want to clinch to smother any offense from Pacquiao, and move him back. The advantage of this technique is that it denies Pacquiao from gathering points, tires him out, and also lets Algieri re-establish partial control of the ring.
Range and Height
Algieri is a rangy fellow. At 5′ 10″ he easily dwarfs Pacquiao who stands at 5′ 6″. He will want to fight tall while using the lateral movement discussed above to keep Pacquaio from being able to land his blistering combinations to the head. It won’t be clear whose movement is better until the bell rings, but Algieri will want to keep Pacquiao at a distance keep his head as far from Pacquiao’s knuckles as possible. Most of Pacquiao’s knockouts have come from head shots, so tucking his chin and using his tall frame will make Pacquiao reach for his target.
Cracks in the Armour
Algieri doesn’t hit very hard, so he has a difficult time getting high profile opponents to respect his shots. Although he edged Provodnikov on the score cards, his punches were only racking up points, and Provodnikov rarely seemed to give them so much as a cursory swat as he plunged forward for twelve rounds in pursuit. With a fighter that moves and hits like Pacquiao bearing down on him, he will struggle to batter the Filipino in the same way that he punished Provodnikov for his aggression.
For all his combative sports experience over the years, he hasn’t really honed a single art. He is, as the old saying goes: “a jack of all trades, master of none, though oftentimes better than master of one.” I like the quote as it has merit when we apply it to life. But if a boxer at the very top of the pecking order were to treat boxing as his life, then he can really only afford to sharpen his abilities for that single purpose. Even though the athletic merits are there, Algieri falls into a predictable pattern when defending. The most obvious is the “day one” stuff you learn in the gym. When his opponent throws, he puts his gloves to his head and covers up with his “ear muffs”. It works but can be exploited by experienced and talented fighters. Feints, body punching, and the use of punches in a sequence to leverage openings for other punches can all easily thwart this defense. It just so happens that Pacquiao is great at all of the above (albeit there is a decided lack of body punching in his repertoire, but that does not mean Pacquiao is not good at it).
Manny Pacquiao will win a unanimous decision. While Algieri has the ingredients to annoy many fighters out there, you shouldn’t expect him to win against Pacquiao. A knockout seems highly unlikely since Algieri will undoubtedly get on his bike and ride like it’s Tour de France. This coupled with Algieri’s rather low knockout percentage against largely unknown competition and what you get is a recipe for a decision, one way or the other. Pacquiao is no Provodnikov, and he will be moving his head much better while cutting angles so Algieri will have a harder time landing his punches and racking up points. For Algieri to win, it will have to happen based on what occurred outside the ring – the long hours of pounding pavement and sharpening of skills out of the spotlight of the ring and in the darkness of the gym. It’s a long shot, and one I wouldn’t put money on. But if you are an underdog, and you are looking for something to derive confidence from, know that Pacquiao’s excessively large entourage (it took two planes to fill…so yeah, excessive) followed him to Macau, and this has concerned his trainer Freddie Roach. Let’s not also forget the distraction of owning a basketball team in the Philippines and suddenly pulling a “Jackie Moon”, to go and play for the very team that he owns.
Algieri’s key wins were against Emmanuel Taylor, who was coming off 11 months of inactivity and Ruslan Provodnikov, a rising star, to be sure. Both men gave Algieri a still target. Some boxing personalities interviewed on the subject (Tim Bradley, for example) said that Pacquiao struggles with movement. Okay, I’ll buy that. But what I have a hard time believing is how that isn’t also a problem for Algieri. He needs his opponent to stand in front of him, even more than Pacquaio does. He won’t have any answers for the speed. He won’t have any answers for the feints. And he won’t have anything to throw Pacquaio hasn’t seen before. Pacquiao wins.
For more analysis of past and future fights, visit my blog: a-neutral-corner.blogspot.ca