by Sean Morehouse
I would like to invite my readers on a trip back in time. The destination may seem like long ago in this information age but if we really stretch our memories we may be able to pull up a few recollections. We are headed to a time when Super Bowl champion quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ ability in the clutch was still a question mark, a time when now former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel was still a saint. In the boxing world, a young man from St. Louis, Missouri was looking poised to become the future of American pugilism. I’m speaking of course about 2010.
How quickly things change.
Only 15 months after his virtuoso performance against Juan Urango to unify two 140 pound belts that young man, Devon Alexander, has been reduced to a near laughing stock in some circles of the boxing community.
How long ago it seems that HBO’s Max Kellerman was in the ring praising Alexander for his skill and bravery in standing right in front of, and dismantling, one of the more rugged champions in the sport. Urango had gone the distance with power punchers Rickey Hatton and Andre Berto, but was no match for Alexander’s sickeningly quick right uppercut. It seemed like the kid could do no wrong, however slowly but surely things began to unravel.
The first perceived bump in the road was a closer than expected title defense against Andriy Kotelnik last August. While Alexander won by identical 116-112 margins on all three judge’s scorecards (and HBO unofficial scorer Harold Lederman’s card) many fans and members of the media had seen the fight the other way. It was an understandable situation, as it was a very difficult fight to score. While Alexander was the aggressor, Kotelnik was more accurate, and his technical skill seemed to frustrate the young champion at times.
Fans reacted the way they usually do when an underdog loses a decision in a close fight, screaming that Kotelnik had been robbed.
Whatever your thoughts about the decision, there was no doubt that Alexander had not put on the kind of performance that his home town fans had hoped for. At the end of the night though, Alexander got out of the arena with both of his belts, and the Kotelnik fight could have been just a tiny bump in the road if not for what happened next.
In January, Alexander met fellow undefeated American champion Timothy Bradley in a fight that fans had been clamoring for practically since the two turned pro. The result was seen as nearly a complete debacle by people in boxing, who it must be noted are prone to overreaction. Ticket sales in Detroit (far removed from either fighter’s hometown) were low, and the fact that the fight was in the massive superdome made the crowd look fairly pathetic.
The fight itself was not much better. Alexander was tentative, seemingly allowing Bradley to win by default. Whether the pressure of the supposedly big event got to him, or whether it was more Bradley’s smothering style, only he knows. The fact is though, it wasn’t all that entertaining, and Devon rightfully got most of the blame.
To make matters worse, after a Bradley head butt badly cut Alexander, the doctor stopped the fight in the 10th round. While the stoppage wasn’t his decision, many people felt that Alexander didn’t do nearly enough to convince anybody he wanted to fight on. “Quit” is a strong word that fight fans throw around far too often, but a visibly frustrated Alexander certainly did not protest the stoppage.
The community that seemed to love and embrace Alexander and his underdog story (coming from one of the roughest neighborhoods in America, with most of the guys he started out youth boxing with either currently in jail or in the ground) turned completely against him.
The man who Kellerman excitedly said fought in an “…excellent, professional style, without running, without holding, taking offensive chances…” in stopping Urango was more or less considered a coward by many of the air chair prizefighters that used to be his fans.
Fortunately for Devon Alexander, now 21-1-0 with 13 KOs, those fans’ short memories could be turned right back in the other direction with an impressive win this weekend. On Saturday he takes on powerful Argentinian Lucas Martin Matthysse (28-1-0, 26 KOs) in his first fight since the Bradley disappointment.
Credit should first be given, no matter what the outcome, to Alexander for taking this fight. It would have been easy to take a soft touch or two to build back his confidence, but instead he will be matched up against a very dangerous opponent whose only loss was a close decision to Zab Judah last November. However if he wants this to be his return to glory, the outcome is going to be very important.
Many in the community have seemingly already decided that Alexander has won the fight in a robbery before it has started. Fans and media have pointed to the fact that Alexander got the win in a close fight in his home town against Kotelnik, and that Matthssye lost a close fight to an American fighter here in the states, and decided that Matthssye cannot win a decision.
As silly as it is to assume that a group of judges has no integrity before a fight has even started, perception is at times equal to reality. If Alexander wins this fight by close decision, there will be more outraged fans calling the fight illegitimate. You can bet that this perception will ensure that every fan scoring at home will be extremely critical of Alexander’s every move, and even more critical of any judges that have him winning rounds.
While winning should be enough for Alexander considering the strength of his opposition, the world isn’t a fair place. If he wants the kind of hype and fan support he had after the Urango fight, he needs a performance to match it.
Rest assured, if Mattysee gets knocked out by a spectacular Alexander uppercut, nearly all will be forgiven and he will be a favorite son once again. Ain’t living in the moment grand?
Sean Morehouse can be reached at email@example.com or followed on twitter @morehouse17
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