CHICAGO (June 30th, 2014) – June 14th was a night to remember at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY for fighter Chris Algieri. The Italian American Huntington, NY native was undefeated, a perfect 19-0, and was challenging the WBO Light Welterweight Champion, Ruslan Provodnikov, for the right to his world title. This was the biggest fight of his life so far, and his opponent was no laughing matter. Provodnikov, an imposing and seasoned fighter who also went by his moniker, “Siberian Rocky,” had fought the likes of Mike Alvarado and then welterweight title holder Timothy Bradley. He was not even close to the competition that Algieri had faced before. On a career night, in his home state, and with the odds stacked against him, how exactly did Chris Algieri shock the boxing world and become the WBO Light Welterweight World Champion?
Algieri and Provodnikov were polar opposites, both in and out of the ring. Growing up on Long Island, Algieri was a disciplined catholic school boy who learned to idolize Italian American Boxers, such as Rocky Marciano. Provodnikov, however, was not as clean cut as Algieri. He lived a rough childhood, which finally came to an end when he found the sport of boxing and the discipline that came with it. In the ring, Provodnikov had the kind of fighting style that could evoke comparisons to Rocky Marciano: big, bruising, and unforgiving. And even though Marciano was one of Algieri’s childhood idols, the two-time kickboxing champion’s style was not even close to that of Rocky’s. Algieri’s “runner” style consisted of quick feet and hitting, which proved to be Provodnikov’s weakness and uncovered his flaws. The movement of Algieri’s “runner” style allowed him to avoid Provodnikov’s heavy hitting, gain confidence, and eventually gain the upper hand. Confidence, as former champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini described it, was the key to Algieri winning the fight.
“Confidence is everything,” said Mancini. “After the second round, you could see his confidence build, and that’s what I liked about the kid. He kept his confidence, he kept his composure, and that’s the biggest thing for a fighter.” That confidence propelled Algieri to a split decision victory, and the WBO Light Welterweight World Title. “He fought with the heart of a champion,” explained Mancini. “He did what he had to do, and he exposed Provodnikov.”
Winning the light welterweight title was a breakthrough for Chris Algieri’s career, but with the title, he also joined a long lineage of Italian American boxers enshrined in the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame (NIASHF) as the 65th Italian American boxer to hold a world title. He joins legends such as Rocky Graziano, Ray Mancini, and even his idol, Rocky Marciano. Winning a title is not just a passing whim, it celebrates the best in the world and is the “greatest feeling in the world” according to Mancini, who won the lightweight title in 1982 and held it until 1984. “You become a 40 percent better fighter after you win the title. Nobody knows what Chris can do. He’s a good looking kid who showed he can beat one of the top guys in his division. He’s a guy that nobody wants to fight,” described Mancini.
As boxing was the sport the NIASHF was built on, it remains an integral part of the Italian American community in Chicago. The boxing legends that gave the Hall of Fame its prominence, such as Ray Mancini who was elected to the NIASHF in 1994, also give back to the community that helped support and carry his boxing career. Through the prominence of the Italian American fighters that are in the hall of fame, and through the prominence of the sport of boxing itself, boxing is a part of the Italian American community that is crucial in giving back to fans and those in need.
Using its reputation, boxing sets an example for the younger generation of Italian Americans. One of the main values shared amongst the boxing community and the Italian American community is discipline. “It’s the key to a young person,” says Bill Conforti, a board member of the NIASHF, and co-chairman of the Rocky Marciano Amateur Boxing Tournament, an annual fundraiser for the NIASHF. According to Conforti, the main justice the boxing community offers to the younger generation is keeping them off the streets and out of trouble. “I’m involved in Hamlin Park’s boxing program, and we have a great coach by the name of Bill Heglin. He takes a tough approach when it comes to discipline.” The program which Heglin and Conforti teach is exactly the same kind of discipline that Algieri learned as a child, and the same that Provodnikov learned to reshape his life.
By winning the Light Welterweight World Title, Chris Algieri propelled himself into boxing world stardom, which few carry with them. Since he defeated Provodnikov, rumors have been flying about who Algieri will fight next. Some even say he’s been added to a short list of boxers in consideration to fight the Welterweight World Title holder, Manny Pacquiao. However, In July, those rumors came true when it was announced that Manny Pacquiao would fight Chris Algieri on November 22nd in China. When Algieri fights Pacquiao, and if wins, he will vault himself from anonymity to a household fighter in less than a year, and that’s the kind of challenge Algieri loves. “You and someone else, you get to go in there with what you’re born with,” Algieri told Yahoo Sports. “What can be better than that?”
Becoming a world champion is one matter, but becoming an idol is another. Just as Algieri idolized Marciano, by winning the world title he may have gained some who idolize him now. “We all live vicariously through our athletes, fighters specifically,” said Mancini. “It’s a great thing for kids to have a hero to look up to.”
– Chris Kwiecinski, Public Affairs Intern
– Brandt Bernat, Freelance Consultant, Editor
National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame
The National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization dedicated to preserving honorable values through sport. Founded in 1977 by George Randazzo, the Hall of Fame has 238 inductees. The organization was founded on the values of Family, Friends, Faith, and Community and has been committed to providing support to students and youth of all backgrounds through its charitable programs, Second Wind and A Level Playing Field. The National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame is located in Chicago’s famed Little Italy neighborhood, at 1431 W. Taylor Street, Chicago, IL 60607. For more information on the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, please visit www.niashf.org.
Chris Kwiecinski – email@example.com, (312) 226-5566