by Paul Magno
Five months ago, Devon Alexander stopped being a 23-year old prospect from the Mid-West.
By knocking out the iron-chinned IBF junior welterweight champ, Juan Urango, in a March unification bout that saw him give one of the virtuoso performances of the year, Alexander joined the elite of the already top heavy 140 lb. class.
There’s no going back now for the St. Louis native who made his debut on the world stage almost exactly one year ago when he stopped the UK’s Junior Witter in August, ’09 to capture the vacant WBC title.
According to most experts, only WBO champ, Timothy Bradley, ranks higher than Alexander and, below him, you’ll find the likes of Amir Khan, Marcos Maidana and Victor Ortiz.
Pretty impressive company but, ironically, none of this would’ve been possible if not for Timothy Bradley. It was the WBC’s decision to strip Bradley that paved the way for Alexander-Whitter.
Bradley had just unified the WBO and WBC belts with a hard-fought win over then-WBO champ, Kendall Holt, and was ordered by the WBC to begin immediate negotiations with number one contender, Alexander. Looking for bigger paydays than the one that would be given for a bout with a relatively unknown challenger, Bradley willingly vacated the WBC strap.
To be fair and honest, Alexander, at the time, wasn’t worthy of his mandatory status. His high ranking was a mere fluke caused by a sport with four major sanctioning bodies and four sets of divisional rankings. Up to that moment, the only fighter of note on Alexander’s resume was veteran, DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley, and that fight came five years after Corley’s prime and amidst a three fight losing streak for the former titlist.
But his early worthiness notwithstanding, Alexander definitely made the most of his opportunity by outclassing the crafty Whitter to win the vacant WBC belt and then knocking Urango out to annex the IBF strap.
Now, Alexander is set to face another former titlist, the Ukraine’s Andriy Kotelnik, in a card appropriately named, “Gateway to Greatness” this Saturday, August 7th in St. Louis.
Kotelnik doesn’t figure to upset the apple cart and send Alexander back to club fights in small Missouri venues. In the stereotyped tradition of his fellow Eastern European fighters, he’s too stiff, too slow and painfully orthodox in comparison to the smooth and quick Alexander. But Kotelnik is a tough, fundamentally sound former champ with plenty of big names on his resume. Most recently, he beat Marcos Maidana in a tight split decision in Germany before losing a one-sided romp to Amir Khan in the UK.
More than anything, Kotelnik will serve as a measuring stick by which Devon Alexander “The Great” can affirm his “Greatness.”
In a division where boxing politics are preventing the top fighters from fighting one another, the next best thing is to measure oneself against common opposition. Anything short of a dominating stoppage of Kotelnik, who has never been stopped, will be considered a let down. That’s how high expectations are.
Alexander sent fight fans into a frenzy after his last two performances and is already on the verge of cracking some pound for pound lists. A sluggish performance on Saturday’s HBO main event in his hometown will push him a full step back in his quest to land the big fights.
Despite being the heavy betting favorite, Alexander can’t afford to look past Kotelnik. But with high profile bouts against Bradley, Khan and Maidana on the horizon, who could blame a 23-year old kid if he took his eye off the task at hand?
Just look at Victor Ortiz’s loss to Maidana in June of ’09 and Danny Jacob’s TKO loss to Dmitry Pirog on last Saturday’s pay-per-view as evidence of what can happen when young, talented fighters stand on the “Gateway to Greatness,” while completely overlooking the opponent in front of them.
This Saturday we’ll find out just how “Great” Alexander is and whether he’s really ready to pass through that gateway.