Photos by Gautham Nagesh (above) and SHOWTIME Sports (below)
by Gautham Nagesh
Welterweight Devon Alexander went to Brooklyn on Saturday night and won a boxing match against dangerous puncher Randall Bailey. In the process he earned himself a belt, and the displeasure of 11,000 fans that were hoping a fight would break out.
All Alexander has done in his career is overcome abject poverty and long odds to escape the streets of St. Louis, build a promising boxing career, and win all but one of his 25 fights. The loss was a technical decision against Tim Bradley, where Alexander appeared to let a deep cut and deeper waters get into his head. Aside from that, he has trained hard and performed admirably throughout his career. But his success has won him few fans outside of his hometown.
Alexander is a skilled southpaw with speed and pop, a complete fighter with impressive defense and excellent handspeed. He personifies the inner city pugilistic philosophy of hit and don’t be hit. He is an American champion with a bright smile, great story and large hometown fanbase. Such young men are ordinarily ordained the future of boxing and burdened with heavy expectations.
In Alexander’s case, all he has done is draw the ire of the boxing community, whose appreciation for stylists has all but disappeared. Aside from his seeming capitulation against Bradley, Alexander’s greatest crime has been one that many other fighters have shared: he won an unpopular decision against fan favorite Lucas Matthysse in June 2011. Like Bradley, Devon’s biggest win has been corrupted into a reason to root against a man, that by any definition is an underdog.
Ironically, Alexander’s points win over Matthysse was far more debatable than Bradley’s gift against Manny Pacquiao. I was ringside in St. Louis for that fight, and scored it for Alexander. Two factors heavily contributed to that decision in my view: bring there live, rather than watching on TV, and the fact I have some experience in amateur boxing myself.
I have often remarked that Alexander’s ring craft is more impressive in person than on the screen, and that belief was borne out when I watched the Matthysse fight on replay later. Devon’s punches have an audible impact that isn’t easily appreciated through speakers. In addition, his most impressive trait, his balance, is poorly conveyed by the camera’s framing.
If you’ve spent enough time going to big amateur boxing tournaments, you’ll recognize Alexander as a type: the preternaturally gifted southpaw that appears to dance circles around his opponent. He is the kind of kid that’s born in the gym and doesn’t leave; the ultimate product of our current amateur boxing system. If his style is too effective and less exciting than it should be, then the fault is with how we teach our kids to box.
On this night Alexander was matched up with a veteran knockout artist in Bailey, a man whose penchant for the one-punch KO has kept him relevant in a sport desperate for cheap thrills. Alexander does everything subtle and unappreciated about the Sweet Science, but he appeals only to those of a certain taste. Bailey reeks of the crass populism that now dominates our cultural lack of an attention-span, all highlight-reel knockouts mixed with a healthy dose of vulnerability. He is guaranteed drama, like a primetime soap, which can also render his theatrics mundane.
The true appeal of a devastating puncher like Bailey to yours truly is as a potential foil to a rising young hope like Alexander. Philly welterweight Mike Jones, long a prized bauble of promotional heavyweight Top Rank, failed the same test on the Pacquiao-Bradley undercard just a few months back. Bailey may be long past his days as a potential fan favorite, but he is the perfect foe to root against. Set him up against Alexander and you have the classic puncher vs boxer combination that anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the sport can appreciate.
Unfortunately, too few among the early crowd at Barclays Center felt the same way. Admittedly, the fight lacked a certain aesthetic appeal. Some of the drama was sapped when Alexander stood up to two solid right hands in the 5th round, negating the fear he would crumple if touched by Bailey’s iron right hand. But Alexander continued to do what he has done in almost every fight to date, which is show off remarkable skill and balance while out-boxing his opponent.
The crowd’s boos may have been disconcerting, but they didn’t succeed in persuading Devon to take unnecessary risks. He smartly stuck to his jab and firing combinations, while ducking out of range and avoiding Bailey’s big right hand. For his part, Bailey kept to a familiar script: stalking Alexander with his right cocked, barely working while waiting for one big shot. Even when he finally landed his right, Bailey failed to take control of the fight. Devon was right back in his face, using his superior speed and athleticism to keep control of the fight.
Overall, this was another effective if slightly unappealing performance from Alexander, who continues to answer questions about his heart and chin with every win. While it lacked the electricity of his win over Marcos Maidana, Alexander showed himself willing to fight three of the more dangerous punchers in the sport in a row. He should be rightly credited for his willingness to fight the best, rather than decried for his lack of theatrics.
A slick fighter will always face an uphill road to stardom, but it’s tough to deny Alexander is a top welterweight at this point. The obvious road to me would be a rematch with Bradley to decide supremacy at 147. Unfortunately, that fight lacks the sort of aesthetic appeal that would make it a good fit for the masses on TV, which is the sole consideration when matchmaking top fighters these days. I would love to see them battle again even as the undercard bout on a major PPV, but the chances of that happening appear slim to none.
Josesito Lopez, on the other hand, has the combination of a fan-friendly style and enough skill to make a matchup with Alexander an appealing headline bout. Both men have earned a shot at a big money fight, and Alexander in particular seems in line for Floyd Mayweather or Pacquiao within the next calendar year. The winner of Lopez-Alexander could potentially face the winner of a Paulie Malignaggi-Ricky Hatton fight, though none would pose much threat to the sport’s kingpins.
And so it is with the welterweight division right now, where everybody wants to fight the top two but none look capable of beating them. Amir Khan vs Devon Alexander at welterweight could eventually be an intriguing fight, if the Brit manages to rebuild in impressive fashion. Otherwise it looks like Devon will look to tread on familiar ground, fighting Bradley again or tangling with one of the many also-rans at welterweight. Perhaps one day after Manny and Floyd retire, Alexander will rule the roost. Only then will we realize how severely we judged him in his youth.
- jt31 said: No mention of Kell Brook here? The fighter who is in mandatory position for an IBF Title Fight… 3rd round KO of Saldivia last weekend with a jab!
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- oncemoreintothefrey said: His only somewhat exciting performances came from Urango and Matthysee (in which I thought he lost) and that was mainly because I thought Lucas was going to close the show on Devon…he is a safety first fighter.
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