Matchmaker Ron Katz has a Rolodex of boxing connections, knowledge and memories few can match. His career spans 38 years, including 16 with Top Rank Promotions, and includes associations with the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and James Toney.
And in all that time, Katz never has encountered a story like the one Greenlawn's Chris Algieri has written in a meteoric rise that has taken him to a challenge for Manny Pacquiao's WBO welterweight title Saturday night in Macau, China.
"He's the real 'Cinderella Man,' " Katz said recently. "Forget James J. Braddock."
As the current matchmaker for promoter Joe DeGuardia's Star Boxing, which booked the past 10 fights for Algieri (20-0, eight KOs), Katz is astonished by the quantum leap Algieri has made from fighting at Huntington's Paramount Theater to winning the WBO light welterweight title from Ruslan Provodnikov in June to a shot at eight-division champ Pacquiao.
Katz recalled a recent conversation with boxing commentator and former trainer Teddy Atlas. "I said, 'Teddy, I do not remember a fighter in all my years that went from the level Chris was fighting to the level he is at now in such a short period of time,' " Katz said. "It's unheard of.
"Leon Spinks licked Ali in his seventh fight, but he was an Olympic gold medalist. This kid was a kickboxing champion and a 30-year-old virtual novice as a boxer with no amateur fights."
It was just three years ago that Algieri signed with Star Boxing and scored his 11th win in a four-rounder against journeyman Julias Edmonds (7-11, no KOs), for whom the bout was his last. Katz immediately moved Algieri into a 10-rounder against Bayan Jargal, who was 15-2-3 at the time and still is a competitive fighter.
"Bayan was a rough, tough, durable guy that would make you fight," Katz said. "Those are the kind of guys I wanted to put Chris in with to see how he developed. I also mixed in a couple southpaws."
Algieri's detractors note that six of the first eight opponents Katz matched him against were coming off losses. "That was more of a coincidence than anything else," Katz insisted. "I was looking for experienced guys who fought good competition."
Algieri and trainers Tim Lane and Keith Trimble chafed at the incremental pace, asking for tougher opponents and TV exposure.
"I pleaded with them," Katz said. 'Let's just stay on this path because you're developing nicely and you're being pushed in fights.' "
Last year, Algieri was tested in 10-round decisions over Jose Peralta and Michail Arnaoutis, who landed a clean left on Algieri's chin. "It stunned him and he went into the ropes," Katz recalled. "Chris collected himself, and he's so intelligent -- which is why he has a good chance against Pacquiao -- that he knows how to fend off a finishing attack and turn the advantage to himself. That totally frustrates a guy who thinks he's a punch away from winning."
The coming-out party for Algieri was his 10-round decision over Emanuel Taylor last Valentine's Day at the Paramount. Taylor was 17-1 with 12 KOs that were evidence of his power. Algieri outboxed Taylor and then did the same in winning the WBO light welterweight title from Provodnikov after surviving two first-round knockdowns.
"Chris showed what he truly is made of," Katz said. "A lot of fighters would have looked for a way out, but he fought through the adversity and stuck to the game plan."
Pacquiao possesses a greater variety of skills than anyone Algieri has faced, but Katz said it's possible Algieri can keep the champion at the end of his jab. Should Pacquiao revert to his free-swinging tendencies, Katz said, "it plays right into Chris' hands. The most important thing for Chris is to break Pacquiao's rhythm. If he does that, it's an easy fight."
Considering the long odds against Algieri, most would write off that assessment by Katz as wishful thinking. Some say Algieri hasn't accomplished enough to merit a shot at Pacquiao.
"Not only is it deserved, it's earned because of what he's done and how he's conducted himself," Katz said. "He absolutely, 1,000 percent deserves this opportunity.
"And when he wins, the whole landscape of the boxing business will change. It will be like it was when Sugar Ray Leonard was doing 7-Up commercials. You have a talented, good-looking, intelligent fighter who will attract fans who haven't tuned in a boxing match in many years. If he comes out of the ring with his hand raised, no words can describe what will come afterwards. The ancillary value he'll bring will be incredible."