There was a point during Chris Algieri's upset of junior welterweight titlist Ruslan Provodnikov on Saturday where the HBO announcing crew made a poignant observation.
Despite the fact it was Provodnikov who held down the nickname of "The Siberian Rocky," it was the unheralded Algieri (20-8, 8 KOs), who overcame a pair of first-round knockdowns and a badly swollen right eye, who was showing more resemblance to the movie character Rocky Balboa.
"I was the underdog, and I did have the facial damage and had to kind of dig deep out of my gut like a 'Rocky' movie," Algieri said. "But in terms of my fighting style and what I needed to do to win, I don't think it was so much of a 'Rocky' [performance]."
Despite a few flaws within the analogy, the native of nearby Huntington, Long Island, stunned the Brooklyn, New York, crowd at the Barclays Center by outboxing and outlanding Provodnikov (23-3, 16 KOs) en route to a split-decision win.
Algieri, 30, talked with ESPN.com just days after his career-making win on overcoming adversity, the debate over the scoring of the fight and more.
What do you think, above all, that you proved about yourself in this fight?
I showed something I wasn't really planning on showing, and that's my toughness. I really thought that I was going to be able to outbox him for the whole fight and not make it close. But after that first round went not as planned, I had to dig deep to show everyone I have that inside me.
Let's go back to that first round, in which Provodnikov knocked you down twice. What happened?
I made a mistake. It's as simple as that. It was my own fault. I traded left hooks with him too early. It was not the plan to do that in the first round. I think I threw an uppercut and a left hook, and he caught me along the ropes. It was a poor choice at the time, and I got hit with a big shot. He's dangerous for the first couple of rounds, and I knew that going in. I got caught with a good shot.
How important for you was controlling distance and how were you so successful at keeping Provodnikov away?
The ring was a lot smaller than I expected. I thought it was going to be a bigger ring than it was and found out at the last minute that it was a different size. So that kind of cut off some of my movement, and I had to fight off of the ropes more than I wanted to. But I was just using my rhythm and my length and keeping him on the end of punches, and I think once I got him to start missing a lot, he took a lot of power out of his punches. Even as the fight wore on, the punches that he was landing became fewer and far between. They weren't the same punches that he was landing earlier.
Did you get the sense that he was fading down the stretch and that you were able to expose him?
He has ups and downs and lulls in his energy levels. What a lot of people don't notice is that I landed a lot of hard body shots. That takes a toll, and that will slow you down in a 12-round fight, and I was actually landing [body] shots on both sides. I don't think a lot of people noticed, and that's going to have an effect.
After having seen a replay of the fight, where do you stand objectively on the debate over how it was scored?
I watched the telecast [Sunday] on HBO, but I haven't watched it yet with turning down the sound and focusing on scoring each round. But I thought I won the night of the fight, so when I watched it, I knew I won even more. I felt very comfortable making him miss and a lot of punches later in the fight, that may have looked like they landed, they didn't. His power changed quite a bit from Round 1 to the rest of the fight, so I think my movement and my defense and the fact that I was touching him so much kind of won me the fight.
The HBO announcing team scored the fight more in line with judge Max DeLuca, who had it 117-109 for Provodnikov. How much do you think that influenced a lot of the public's reaction to the scoring?
I think there has been kind of a fake glamorization of Ruslan's power, and everyone talks like he's this big, destructive force. So that anything he lands, people think are power punches, which isn't true. He took a lot of the power off his shots later in the fight just so he can land. So even when you look at the punch stat numbers, I outlanded him anyway. But when they say it's his power versus someone who doesn't hit as hard, a lot of Ruslan's punches were pawing his well. He threw some big shots in there, but not many were landing.
What kind of adjustments did you have to make knowing that your right eye was closing?
I was much more concerned going into the fight about Ruslan's right hand, so I was focused on moving away from that. But once my right eye was damaged, I had to start moving a lot more towards the right hand. So that kind of really changed the whole dynamic of footwork. I wasn't concerned about getting knocked out, but I was concerned about getting stopped because of the eye, so I had to change my style up a little more and move. I would have liked to have sat down and trade punches at times and throw harder combinations, but I didn't want to risk taking a jab on that eye, which could have cut it, opened it up or swelled it that much more. I was definitely worried about the ringside doctor stopping the fight.
Your eye closing would have been enough to take most fighters out of their game mentally. What were you drawing back on in those difficult moments in order to settle yourself?
That's what separates fighters from champions. A world champion figures out a way to win and doesn't get discouraged when things like that happen. Because this is boxing; it's a risky, risky business and those kind of things happen. Have I had an eye swell that bad before? No. But I have been in adversity before and I know that I can handle it. And I thought I was winning the fight as it was going along so for me, I kept my composure and stuck to the game plan.
Your unexpected victory raises your name into the higher conversation of a possible fight with Manny Pacquiao. How realistic do you think your chances are of landing that fight?
Very realistic. How realistic was it for me to get this Ruslan fight? How realistic was it for me to win the fight? These are all things that if you would have asked people a couple of months ago, they would have said the same thing about me getting the Ruslan fight. Well I ended up getting it and I ended up winning it so why not get me the Pacquiao fight and see if I can do it again?
Is there any part of you that feels there is a need for a rematch with Provodnikov?
I don't think it's necessary. I think I won the fight and it's not going to make either one of us a boatload of money. And I don't think Ruslan cares that much about the title, anyway. He won a title, now he wants to go out there and make some money now and get some big fights. I care about the title, but I want big fights. I want to fight the biggest guys in the business. I don't think I need to fight him again.
You talked a very confident game entering this fight, but there had to have been a quiet moment where it all sort of hit you that you are a world titlist. What was that like for you?
It was actually [Sunday]. I was with my family and we were outside celebrating and having a barbeque. Everyone was around and excited about everything, and I was sitting by myself behind my dark shades and kind of just thinking about it. I was getting a little emotional and then I said, 'Holy s---, I did it!'
How is your eye feeling and what kind of recovery are you looking at?
It's pretty banged up. But I'm icing it and waiting for the swelling to go down. I have a follow-up with the doctor to make a better assessment of the damage once the swelling comes down. But I feel good. Every other part of my body feels great, it's just that I have one ugly eye.