NEW YORK -- As an unbeaten junior welterweight contender, Chris Algieri has made a name for himself as a slick boxer who has been able to sidestep the aggressive advances of his opponents.
But Algieri (19-0, 8 KOs) will likely find himself in his toughest test to date Saturday when he challenges for Ruslan Provodnikov's 140-pound title at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (HBO, 10 p.m. ET).
The native of Huntington in nearby Long Island, Algieri is not intimidated about the task in front of him despite being a heavy underdog. The 30-year-old recently attended a media luncheon in Manhattan to discuss his thoughts entering Saturday's fight:
Provodnikov has intimated that fighters have boxed against him because they are afraid of engaging with him. How do you respond to that?
I don't see it that guys are boxing him because they are necessarily afraid. They are just seeing it as their best chance to win.
Why did moving and boxing become your forte, and why is it the best strategy to employ against Provodnikov?
My first six fights I had four knockouts, and the two guys who went the distance I dropped two or three times apiece. I didn't jab as much in the beginning. Coming from kickboxing we didn't jab at all so really developing my jab later in my career just made fights easier. Knockout punchers get hit more. It's like home run hitters, they strike out more than regular guys. You've got to take the chances to get hit to score the knockouts a lot of times. So I'd rather hit and not be hit -- that's the sweet science. And in this fight, I think that's the exact plan.
Considering knockout artists have an easier track financially to getting fans, do you think your style is an obstacle to that?
I haven't had a problem building my fan base, especially locally. I just haven't had as much international exposure that way. I don't foresee a problem building the fan base per say, but in terms of sticking to this being the good plan, I absolutely do. Health over everything; not taking damage and staying healthy is first and foremost, but I think I can still do what I do and stay healthy.
Have you faced anyone who has been able to apply the same kind of pressure and strength as Provodnikov?
People ask me about if I fought anyone like Ruslan, and I don't think there is anyone like Ruslan, per say. Every fight is different, and every fighter is different. Another thing I always say is that I don't watch tape because you can't pick up anyone's rhythm by watching tape. You can figure it out in the first round and gauge from there. This is a rhythm sport. It's all about rhythm. I've been in with guys who are killer punchers and you just keep their rhythm offset and you can have an easy night.
You're a very smart guy who has studied medicine and are very conscious about your health. Does that change the way you fight in there, especially against a brutal guy in Provodnikov?
I don't think it's going to change me for this fight in particular, but I think it has changed my style a bit in general. Like I said, there's life after boxing, so going out there and fighting smart is the way to be and the way to win. If you look at the best pound-for-pound guys in the world, they are all smart fighters. Floyd Mayweather, Andre Ward -- those guys aren't in there going back and forth, and they've been doing it for a long time and been at the top for a long time.
What was it that led you to make the change from mixed martial arts to boxing?
I was a kickboxer and I wrestled, but there was no MMA when I was a kid. UFC was not a thing. I never dreamed of being the UFC champion of the world; there was no UFC. So it really was not even an option. There was never a thought in my head that I'm going to go to the UFC when I was done with kickboxing. No shot, no way. It wasn't a thing. I dreamed of being a boxing champion, and I never dreamed of being an MMA champion. There wasn't one.
Considering Vitali Klitschko was a former kickboxer, do you see things in his game that you can take and help you get to another level?
Absolutely. Even just his body type, he's a long and strong guy who uses his jab and he's a defensive-minded fighter, as well. He doesn't take a lot of damage in fights and has a more cerebral approach, which I can feel like I'm in line with, as well.
Unlike Provodnikov, who came from poverty and used boxing as a way out, you didn't have to go into the sport. So where does your motivation and fire come from?
I still don't have to do this. I do this because I love the sport. Boxing is the best sport in the world, hands down. I will say that until the day that I die. For me to be able to compete at the highest level like we are in this situation, it's a dream come true. This is my passion. If I lose the passion, I don't fight anymore. That's all. I don't have to do this. It has brought me many wonderful things, and it has brought me many terrible experiences. But at the end of the day, this is a passion of mine, and I feel like I'm blessed to be here.
Provodnikov comes from a culture where toughness is paramount. Considering you are doing this because you want to, how do you try to match the toughness that you're going to see from him?
My toughness comes from my blood. I've got an Italian father and an Argentinian mother. That's two very, very tough cultures. My mother was born in Argentina and moved here when she was about 13 years old. Anyone who has met my mother, she's tough. My father is 100 percent Italian, and everyone knows that Italian fighters and athletes are tough guys. Just because I grew up on Long Island doesn't mean that I'm not tough.
Along with Provodnikov's power, there's a perception that he breaks the will of fighters in order to win. Do you prepare differently for a guy like that knowing he's cut from a different cloth?
I don't because I think every fighter I fought, especially recently, their plan was to break my will and keep me from doing what I do. [Emmanuel] Taylor said that if he doesn't get me early, he's going to beat me down at the end of the fight. [Jose] Peralta said they're going to put pressure, and I'm going to run out of gas late. That's everyone's game plan -- to get inside and push me and push me, break me down and eventually run me over. That's what I am used to dealing with. For me and my mind, it's just another fight like that. He's going to come, and he's going to bring it. The preparations that we have had in the past are working, so if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
How did sparring in the past with Marcos Maidana and Brandon Rios prepare you for this fight?
First of all, they are both killer punchers, especially Maidana. I worked a lot of rounds with those guys, and they don't stop coming forward ever. Maidana is a fighter; every round with him sparring is a fight. You're not in there playing pattycakes. He's looking to knock you out. He hits you with a shot, and his eyes turn to dinner plates trying to finish you off. So being able to be with a guy like that, especially where he has gone recently since I have worked with him, is a big confidence boost.
What did you learn about yourself from that experience?
That I belong with the best in the world, that's what I learned. Look at what [Maidana] has done since then. He just gave Mayweather the best fight of his career. That's a huge accomplishment, and I think he deserves a rematch. So my confidence has been running high since then and still is.