ST. CHARLES, Mo.—Devon Alexander entered the ring Saturday night wearing a white T-shirt that read “Redemption,” a clear nod to his January technical decision loss against Tim Bradley. Winning a controversial split decision over Lucas Matthysse may not have redeemed him in the eyes of the media but it went a long ways toward winning back the more than 6,000 fans that turned up at Family Arena outside St. Louis to cheer him on.
Immediately after the scores were read Twitter erupted with the mainstream boxing press (most of whom didn’t bother to travel to St. Louis) castigating the judges for scoring a close bout in favor of the local fighter. For the record, we had Devon eking out a decision by one point, 95-94.
Matthysse undoubtedly had the heavier hands and floored Devon in the 4th round for the first time in his career. But Alexander popped back up immediately and was the busier and more accurate puncher in six out the ten rounds by our count.
Like the Bradley fight, Alexander began by using his speed to box and stay on the outside where his quickness and reach advantage enabled him touch up Matthysse. After a frenetic first three rounds the Argentine found a home for his straight right that put Alexander on his ass in the 4th. Devon looked shocked for an instant before springing back up to his feet.
“It wasn’t a hard knockdown, it was a flash knockdown,” Alexander said after the fight, acknowledging his opponent “had a good punch” but nothing he hadn’t seen before. “You can’t panic in a situation like that. You have to follow the game plan.”
Being forced to take a seat inspired Alexander to come out harder for the middle rounds and he was able to land a series of precise combinations that appeared to affect Matthysse. But the 7th saw Lucas bring the fight inside and land some dangerous uppercuts along with his right hook.
The 8th was more of the same as Devon was caught on the ropes and getting pummeled. Your correspondent’s ringside notes from fight include this from the eighth round: “Devon may be overmatched in there tonight.”
At that point both the crowd and Matthysse appeared to sense the same, with the former growing restless and Lucas returning to his corner with a broad smile on his face.
The 9th round then is where Devon Alexander finally began to lay claim to the “Great” he has adopted as his moniker. Alexander’s lack of power may be the only thing preventing him from being truly world-class, but in the final two rounds on this night he seized the moment and hit Matthysse with everything he had. Matthysse kept trying to walk through the blows but Alexander’s greater handspeed enabled him to respond to single shots with three or four of his own.
Unsurprisingly the hometown crowd was more enthusiastic about the judges awarding Devon a narrow victory than the fight press, but accusations of robbery are misplaced. Several of the rounds were very close and could have gone either way but regardless this was an extremely close fight. Scores of 96-93, 93-96, and 95-94 for Alexander reflect that fact.
“I knew I did enough to win,” Alexander said, noting that he boxed more adeptly in the last few rounds and managed to avoid the Argentine’s big shots.
“It was definitely close. He came to fight,” Alexander said of his opponent, who he called one of the hardest punchers in the division.
“It was a tough fight, everybody saw that. It was anybody’s fight, whoever wanted it most.”
Trainer and former St. Louis police officer Kevin Cunningham admitted he was nervous during the second half of the fight as Alexander forsook the gameplan and began trading with the Knockeador.
“In the second half he kind of got into that warrior mode…he wanted to prove his critics wrong about the questions they had about heart and stuff like that,” Cunningham said.
“He scared the shit out of me but he wanted to let everybody know he’s a warrior. He was in there with the biggest puncher in the division; everybody said [Matthysse] beat Zab Judah in his last fight. This guy was the real deal. Devon showed he could out-box him early in the fight.”
With his usual eloquence Promoter Don King pronounced Alexander ready for “anybody and everybody” including a rematch with Bradley or a shot against WBC beltholder Amir Khan. While this win may not have erased all doubts about Alexander, it should set him up for a quality fight and give him the chance to do just that.
Chief support featured IBF light heavyweight titlist Tavoris “Thunder” Cloud smashing contender Yusuf Mack with leaping left hook in the 8th round that left the Philly fighter dazed and unable to defend himself against the ropes. Cloud pounced quickly and forced the ref to call a halt to the action.
Afterward your correspondent walked backstage with a jubilant Cloud, who seemed satisfied with the patience he had exhibited while jabbing and pounding Mack to the body for most of the fight.
“Good performance. I had to pace myself,” said Cloud in a veiled reference to his previous points win over Glen Johnson, during which he punched himself out early trying to stop the battle-hardened Road Warrior.
“The gameplan was to box. We knew he was a springy dude, would try to use the ring. I started hitting him to the body by round 5 to slow him down. I heard him breathing.
Cloud credited his corner for telling him to stop loading up and looking for the knockout with the right hand. His cornermen also advised him to stop throwing the lead left hook, which Mack was able to slip effectively. Trainer Al Bonanni called Mack a slick boxer but said he hadn’t been able to hurt Cloud, who walked through most of Mack’s bigger shots.
Cloud acknowledged the presence of recently dethroned 175-lb. world champion Jean Pascal at ringside and said he was ready to fight the Canadian, but expressed skepticism the feeling is mutual.
“Pascal don’t want me,” Cloud said. The Tallahassee native seemed unperturbed, confident that he brings enough box office appeal to the division without a big-name foe.
“How long has it been since we had a knockout in the light heavyweight division?” Cloud asked. “We bringin’ it back.”
HBO’s opening bout on Boxing After Dark inexplicably featured heavyweights Bermane “B-Ware” Stiverne” and Ray “Rainman” Austin fighting over a WBC trinket for a scheduled 12 rounds. Austin spent most of the fight reaching with a pawing jab to keep the shorter, quicker Stiverne at bay followed by slow, straight right hands.
Stiverne used his awkward, herky-jerky head movement to make his way inside and land wide sweeping hooks, some of which landed and appeared to stagger Austin. But the Rainman managed to shake off most of the damage and was even leading on two scorecards heading into the 9th, where a combination punctuated by a right to the temple dropped Austin like a stone.
He got back to his feet late in the count and looked to be ready to go again but the ref decided otherwise and waved the bout off. Afterward Austin told your correspondent he had been prepared to continue and pointed to his vast advantage in the Compubox stats, which showed him throwing over twice as many punches including 450 jabs.
“The ref said I wasn’t there. Everybody seen I exposed the guy. He couldn’t handle a boxer, I jabbed him in every round,” Austin said.
“It is what it is, I’ll take it on the chin. I’m on to bigger and better things.”
A more meaningful but less compelling contest featured Stiff Jab favorite and Detroit native Cornelius Bundrage defending his IBF 154-lb. strap in a rematch with Sechew Powell. Bundrage avenged Powell’s 2005 1st-round stoppage by securing a convincing points win. Neither man took serious damage but Powell seemed to understand he had wasted a crucial opportunity against the 38-year-old.
“It was a good fight. He fought just like we thought he would,” Powell said. “I didn’t follow the game plan. I should have thrown more combinations.”
“Sechew is a good fighter. He’s rated higher than my in Ring Magazine,” Bundrage noted. “It was a hard fight but I refuse to lose. I grinded him out. All credit to God.”
Hopefully this will secure a big money unification bout for Bundrage, an attractive if not intimidating foe for someone like Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
Local cruiserweight Ryan “The Irish Outlaw” Coyne was supposed to have an easy outing after Panamanian belt-holder Guillermo Jones pulled out of their 12-rounder last week with an injury. Replacement David McNemar of Parkersburg, W. Va. hadn’t fought since 2007 and didn’t seem likely to pose a threat despite an impressive record (13-0, 10 KOs) amassed against questionable competition.
But McNemar was much craftier than expected and Coyne said the lack of tape to study forced him to adjust to his opponent’s style inside the ring. A screaming crowd of supporters helped Coyne earn the decision but one could make a good case for McNemar getting the win.
His first career loss was apparently tough to take; according to a report distributed by the event staff McNemar was “face down and bawling” in his locker room following the fight. After composing himself he offered the following gem of quote:
“Fuckin pussy! Tell me how I lost that fight. Did he outwork me? I came to St. Louis on six days’ notice. I sparred twice. I won that fight.”
McNemar added that Coyne “doesn’t hit hard” and he wants a rematch. The West Virginian showed enough in this fight that we are sufficiently intrigued to see what he can do with adequate notice and a full training camp.
The other big local name on the card belonged to the man Bundrage dethroned last year, Cory Spinks, who secured a clean sweep on all three cards against North Carolina’s Shakir Asanti. Spinks appeared in cruise control the entire fight but never looked interested in trying to close the show against Asanti, who mostly covered up and was there to be hit.
Perhaps the most scintillating action of the night came in a four-round junior middleweight swing bout featuring Omar “Oh!” Henry flattening local boy Chris Tyler with 5 seconds left in the 1st round. Henry scored two early knockdowns that left Tyler stumbling around the ring. The only offense the St. Louis native offered was to tackle Henry by the ankles as he fell to the floor, drawing a cascade of boos from his hometown crowd. A third knockdown from a vicious left hook forced Tyler to point to his head and the ref to wave the fight off.
Don King’s latest acquisition, heavyweight Chaen “Checkmate” Chess made his pro debut against Kentucky’s Michael Lunsford, for whom doughy would be a compliment. The very definition of a tomato can, Lunsford (0-4) came into the ring at 289 lbs. and threw warmup punches that would draw laughs from suburbans moms. Chess dawdled a bit before stopping Lunsford in the 2nd.
Belarussian lightweight contender Yuri Romanov stopped a clearly overmatched Darien Ford in the 5th round. Disciplined and systematic in the mold of most Eastern European champions, Romanov showed enough to draw some interest stateside in matching him with better competition.
The post-fight presser featured King spouting platitudes about the greatness of the Show-Me State and promising to bring Cloud, Coyne and Alexander back in the near future. While the fight crowd was certainly one of the best we’ve been a part of, the torrential downpour outside during the fight was less appealing.
A friendly Family Arena staffer used a broom to show the depth of the water accumulating outside the loading dock (48 inches) as we spent more than an hour trying to find transportation back to the hotel. If boxing is a traveling circus then Saturday night under the big top in St. Louis encapsulated all of the excitement, tension, and unpredictability we’ve come to love about the sport.
—Gautham Nagesh from ringside.
Cross-posted from The Queensberry Rules.