I believe in Devon Alexander the Great. But I'm also a sucker for feel good stories, and Devon's perseverance and positive outlook through a heart-wrenchingly rough upbringing is inspiring.
It's why I've been on the Victor Ortiz bandwagon despite lingering doubts about his heart in the ring after a seeming quit-job against Marcos Maidana. And like Ortiz, Alexander has all the physical gifts to become one of the great fighters in the sport; and just as importantly, he has the winning personality and touching back story to connect with fans. These kinds of underdogs are the type of figures we feel compelled to root for.
But on January 29th against Tim Bradley, in the biggest fight of his life, the world saw a different side of Devon Alexander—a fighter who seemed reluctant to engage and content to throw ineffectual slaps with little conviction. A guy who didn't protest as the fight was stopped when it appeared he possibly could have recovered if given another minute or two.
It didn't help that he was coming off a lackluster showing against Andriy Kotelnik (no slouch, by the way), a hometown fight where Alexander appeared to run out of steam in the late rounds. He was granted the narrow decision, but it was not a star-making performance by any stretch of the imagination. For two fights in a row, one fairly mediocre and one downright awful—it has been tough to go out on a limb for a guy with that recent track record.
I will, nonetheless, predict that Alexander turns it around tomorrow night and out-boxes and possibly even stops the very good Lucas Matthysse, in what could turn into a nice action fight between a very fast boxer and a very powerful puncher. I'm really banking on something to ease the stench of Alexander's atrocious night in Pontiac. If he loses this fight, unless it's in some kind of spectacular fashion, it's back to the drawing board for the Alexander team, and it could be years before he comes back to challenge the top fighters in the division.
One of the great ironies of the headbutt-riddled debacle in January is that Alexander, the loser (though both men were stained from the affair, which makes it all the more shocking how Bradley could possibly think to weasel out of the Khan fight, but that's a whole other rant) now has a better opportunity than the winner.
Should Alexander decisively beat Matthysse (whose only career loss to Zab Judah was far from decisive), he will be right back in the discussion for the Khan-Judah winner or the Guerrero-Maidana winner, two upcoming marquee fights in the division. Bradley has nothing scheduled, unless he plans on bolting to Top Rank and fighting the winner of Khan/Judah—a vague possibility, I suppose.
Before getting carried away, let's focus on the task at hand: beating Matthysse.
It is not going to be easy, but I think Alexander has two things that really play into his favor, a strong chin and elusive speed. He also should have a healthy chip on his shoulder. He has everything to prove. He can out-box Matthysse, but he can't be afraid to look for combinations and take advantage of his quick hands against the less refined technique of the Argentinean KO artist.
For a strong puncher, Matthysse is not wild and reckless like his countryman Maidana. But he can be tagged when he opens up, which he often does. Alexander has to be offensive-minded, to win the fight and win the fans.
So will we see a star-making, redemptive performance from Alexander on Saturday, a la Ortiz? I hope so.
Alexander has so much to gain and everything to lose from this moment. He can come back from a loss, but there will be a rebuilding period of far less lucrative fights than he's used to. If he wins, he's back. And if he loses, I hope it takes a monster effort from a very tough fighter, the probably underrated Lucas Matthysse.
Either way, at this point I'm way more annoyed with Tim "Battering Ram" Bradley for ducking the Khan fight than any lingering bitterness toward Devon for the dreadful effort in January. At least Alexander's getting back in the ring against a very dangerous opponent. Bradley, what are you up to?