Outside the Octagon is a weekly column from UFC.com editorial director Thomas Gerbasi, who has covered the sport since 2000 and has authored the official UFC encyclopedia.
Considering that the first thing you see when you walk into the UFC offices in Las Vegas is a larger than life statue of boxing great Joe Louis, Chris Algieri felt right at home when he visited the company last Thursday.
“There’s boxing stuff all over here, I love it,” Algieri said.
No mere tourist, the WBO junior welterweight champion is in town to prepare for his November 22 title fight with Manny Pacquiao in Macao, and in a break from his training at the Venetian, he jumped at the chance to see how the other combat sport lives.
But again, this isn’t someone who has simply seen a couple mixed martial arts fights here and there. The 30-year-old New Yorker is a former high school wrestler and unbeaten pro kickboxer who could have easily settled in the UFC’s featherweight or bantamweight divisions if not for a lifelong love of boxing that pulled him in that direction.
“I grew up watching pro boxers and champion boxers,” he said. “I didn’t grow up watching MMA because there wasn’t any. So for me, I’m living my childhood dream every day and it gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction.”
So far, if you didn’t know Algieri’s background, you can now appreciate his appreciation of MMA. It goes deeper though, as his gym back east is the Bellmore Kickboxing Academy, home to current UFC standouts Dennis Bermudez, Ryan LaFlare, Costas Philippou, Gian Villante, and Alptekin Ozkilic.
Now it all makes sense.
“Guys like Gian Villante and Chris Weidman are down all the time, Ryan LaFlare is a good buddy of mine, Dennis Bermudez, I respect the hell out of these guys, I train with them, I spar with them, but I’m a boxer, and they know that too,” he said. “This is where I’ve always wanted to be, and it’s a dream to live it now.”
As cliché as it sounds, Algieri is most certainly living the dream at this point in a pro career that began in 2008. A boxer-puncher who built a huge fan following in the New York area, Huntington’s Algieri parlayed wins over Mike Arnaoutis and Emmanuel Taylor into a world title shot against Ruslan Provodnikov in June. Expected to be the sacrificial lamb for the hard-charging Russian, Algieri instead turned the tables, rising from the canvas to win a split decision over Provodnikov that earned him the WBO title.
From there, it seemed like everywhere you looked, Algieri was there, and as he made his victory lap, that notoriety earned him a fight with Filipino icon Pacquiao. It also forced him to leave New York for Vegas in order to get ready for the most important bout of his life.
“I’ve done three camps here, so it’s kind of like the norm for me at this point in my career, but also, getting out of New York is important for me,” he said. “My life in New York has changed. I go for a run and people will literally slow down and follow me in my car. (Laughs) Going out is not the same. I can’t go out for a quiet dinner anymore. The gym’s a circus too. So for me to get out of that and to be here, I can be a lot more focused.”
Yet despite the momentary change in scenery, Algieri remains a true Long Islander, one who is proud of the way his part of the world has become a hotbed for the combat sports elite.
“It’s really turned the corner. There was a rich boxing history on Long Island 20-25 years ago with guys like Gerry Cooney and Buddy McGirt, so there was good boxing talent out of New York, but there’s been a resurgence recently, and with the advent of MMA and the UFC, we’ve got guys coming up and we’ve got two world champions in two sports with myself and Chris Weidman. He (Weidman) was in the gym my last day I was in New York, and this guy came in to interview somebody else and hit paydirt because he had me and Chris in the same place (Laughs), so he sat both of us down together for an interview. It’s cool to see the guys I’ve come up with doing well and getting world-renowned recognition.”
It may just be the start too, but Algieri’s focus remains strictly on November 22 and the Pacquiao fight. As for the days after the bout, who knows, you may just see him at one of the December UFC events.
“I’m having trouble thinking past November 22nd, but I was thinking about coming back to the west coast post-fight,” he smiles.