By Arielle Dollinger
As light welterweight champion boxer and Greenlawn native Chris Algieri prepares to fight world welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao in China on Nov. 22*, the owner of the school where a 5-year-old Algieri threw his first punches prepares to close the academy’s doors.
Huntington Station’s U.S. Karate Academy will close at the end of the month, sealing behind its locked doors the legacy that Algieri left at his childhood hangout, owner Robert Mauro confirmed this week. The south shore location will remain open.
“It’s hard to pay the rent. There just aren’t enough people here anymore to support the school,” Mauro said.
He could “water it down,” he said – make the 24-year-old school more “commercial” – but he will not do that.
Algieri was not the only champion to come out of U.S. Karate, though “he by far surpassed the others,” Mauro said of “the golden boy.”
“He was a little chubby kid; he was always around,” Mauro said. “Like, a Saturday like today, he would get dropped off at 10 o’clock in the morning and his parents would pick him up at like four o’clock in the afternoon, and that was his day.”
Algieri would also come in after school, he said, and would do his homework there.
“He was around all these big fighters all his life, so he just naturally fell into it,” Mauro said. “He would work hours and hours on the same thing just to get it down.”
During his teenage years, Algieri earned his black belt and became an instructor at the school, Mauro said.
U.S. Karate Academy is labeled a martial arts school, but each of its students learns to box. Mauro, the youngest of six, learned to box from his father when he was a child. At about age 8, he started experimenting with karate with his cousins, and when he was a teenager, he met heavyweight champion kickboxer Joe Lewis.
“I just happened to have dealt with guys in the martial arts world who could box,” said Mauro, who was a champion in a couple of divisions himself. “I never went to a martial arts school where they didn’t do that, so it was just the way I was brought up.”
And so, students at Mauro’s gym learn both arts. Algieri learned early to move his head and feet like a boxer does. When he decided to transition from martial artist to boxing, he just needed to stop kicking, sweeping and kneeing, Mauro said.
“The transition was less of a technical issue and more of a political issue,” Mauro said. “It’s more just dealing with the politics of boxing… His biggest obstacle was people in the boxing community [not] taking a kickboxer or a karate guy or a martial artist seriously.”
As Algieri began the transition, Mauro said, promoters would set him up for fights he was supposed to lose. And then he would win.
“Instead of the ‘Rocky’ story, it’s more like the ‘Cinderella’ story,” Mauro said. “[It’s just an] unbelievable thing that he was able to pull off… Chris was able to, I guess, nag these promoters enough where they gave him some big fights.”
Mauro is “so proud of him I could scream every time I think about it,” he said. He watched as Algieri “paid his dues” and said that he thinks the 30-year-old fighter could bring change to the sport’s image.
“A man like Chris could change the face of boxing, because you don’t see too many educated boxers out there; and here’s a guy with a master’s degree… We were thinking he was going to be a doctor,” Mauro said.
Today, Algieri is in Macau, China, days away from taking on Pacquiao. Mauro considered going to watch, but decided to stay in the United States to support one of his fighters who will compete for the world title here the day before.
One week later, Mauro’s Huntington Station doors will close.