November 22 is the next big date on the year’s boxing calendar as Manny Pacquiao will be back in action, defending his welterweight title against unheralded challenger Chris Algieri. Chris who? you say. But while the challenger is virtually unknown outside boxing circles, and while casual sports fans are giving him little chance of winning, the fact remains the former kick-boxer is both a deserving challenger and a “live dog.” With wins over Emmanuel Taylor and Ruslan Provodnikov, Algieri has proven himself a force to be reckoned with and, as Lee Wylie explains here, those who dismiss his chances are overlooking a number of significant factors.
The simple truth is Pacquiao has a serious challenge on his hands and if he’s not fully prepared, we could witness one of the biggest upsets in recent boxing history. Herewith, the first part of Mr. Wylie’s cogent breakdown of Pacquiao vs Algieri.
Trying to decipher exactly what Manny Pacquiao is going to do inside a boxing ring can prove a most difficult task. The Pacman’s discordant, side-to-side head movement not only makes him an elusive target when he moves in, but also keeps his attacking intentions a secret until it’s too late for the opposition to actively respond. Pacquiao also uses upper-body movement (technically, it’s really hip movement) to throw off his opponent’s rhythm and to draw out predictable leads that he can easily evade and counter.
Additionally, few boxers have shown the same level of ingenuity that Pacquiao has when it comes to generating angles with footwork. One moment he’s there throwing punches, and by the time his opponent has reacted and is set to return fire, he’s already gone, unleashing an attack from a completely different position. By entering on one angle and then exiting on a different one, Pacquiao is able to restrict his opponent’s offensive and defensive options while significantly improving his own. It’s not a stretch to say that almost every single Pacquiao attack is manufactured by some form of angular footwork or deceptive entry.
Pacquiao is downright Machiavellian when it comes to pulling his opponents out of position using feints and false attacks and then scoring on the subsequent openings. The quintessential Pacquiao attack is a quick stutter step forward, which resembles the beginning motions of a straight lead, immediately followed by a “blinding” jab-straight left hand combination. Bolstered by an abrupt change in rhythm, Pacquiao’s darting, indirect attacks play havoc with his opponents’ timing and confound all expectations. Once his opponents fall for the initial feint and begin committing defensively (parry, block, etc.), it becomes a matter of them playing catch-up with their reactions, an almost impossible task when faced with perhaps the quickest hands in boxing.
Once merely a one-dimensional brawler with little else but a devastating straight left, Freddie Roach has done a miraculous job over the years cultivating Pacquiao’s lead hand. Manny now uses it for much more than to measure distance or to distract his opponent from the left hand coming behind it. He now works the body and head with shovel hooks and uppercuts in combination or, when the situation calls for it, doubles and triples up on the lead. In fact Manny’s perfectly-timed lead hook over the top of an orthodox opponent’s jab is now one of his most refined weapons, used repeatedly against Antonio Margarito, Ricky Hatton and Brandon Rios.
Needless to say, while Pacquiao’s right hand has improved exponentially, his most potent weapon remains his straight left. The defensive properties built into Pacquiao’s rear hand also make him a lot more elusive than his fighting style suggests. For instance, Pacquiao is masterful at timing an orthodox opponent’s jab by slipping outside of it (elbow side) and simultaneously countering with a straight left down the pipe as it sails over his left shoulder. Pacquiao also uses his straight left as a means to get to the opponent’s blind-side where, having exited at an angle off their lead shoulder, he leaves them with little choice but to turn and face him, where he catches them with clean shots during their transition.
Something else to look out for when watching Pacquiao these days is how he nearly always concludes an attack with some form of evasive action, either by proactively ducking underneath and out, or by pivoting off the angle. Both maneuvers safeguard against an opponent’s retaliatory attack.
Gene Tunney 2.0?
“I am a unique puzzle for any fighter. I am a thinking fighter. I am out there playing chess.” — Chris Algieri
Talk of Chris Algieri being the “reincarnation of Gene Tunney” may be hyperbolic, but nobody can deny that some similarities exist between the two combatants. Like Tunney, Algieri is very articulate and highly analytical both in and out of the ring. Strategically, both men are also patrons of the “hit and don’t get hit” variety of pugilism and their ring methodology is much alike: forcing the opponent to reset with lateral movement, using an educated lead hand, and controlling the pace of the bout with feints, redirection, and subtle changes in rhythm and tempo.
Moreover, Algieri’s long-range boxing style is supported by phenomenal conditioning, athleticism, and toughness that contradicts his sartorial taste. Algieri may not be a household name, but he has at his disposal the kind of all-round skill set that should prevent him being overmatched by any fighter in or around his own weight-class, regardless of stature or pedigree.
The simple fact to understand is that Algieri represents a serious challenge to Manny Pacquiao in virtually every respect. He is a superb athlete, an intelligent boxer, and a fighter who has proven himself against top-level opposition. He also boasts advantages in height and reach as well as the smarts needed to exploit those advantages.
Tomorrow we will discuss in detail how Algieri just might be able to pull off an upset for the ages. — Lee Wylie