Saturday night's HBO Boxing After Dark double-header from St. Louis isn't the best HBO card you're ever going to find, but there's a lot to look out for. We have a couple of talented, young fighters, both with real star potential, taking on tested, proven veterans, and I think at least one of them could conceivably get a lot more than he's bargaining for.
Junior Welterweights - 12 Rounds
Devon Alexander v. Andriy Kotelnik
The main event in St. Louis will feature hometown boy Devon Alexander (20-0, 13 KO) facing 32-year-old Ukrainian Andriy Kotelnik (31-3-1, 13 KO) for a 140-pound title belt. Alexander, 23, has captured the crown as St. Louis' most popular pro boxer as we are in what appear to be the waning days of Cory Spinks' career as a top-flight contender. Alexander fights in a more exciting style than Spinks ever has, and he has been groomed for this position, part of that grooming coming from Spinks himself. When the two both trained under Kevin Cunningham (who has split with Spinks), they were frequently seen together before and after their fights, and were by all accounts good friends. As far as I know they still are, but I'm no detective, and also I don't much care who's buds with who. But moving on.
Alexander is one of my favorite young fighters in the sport. I think he has serious superstar potential if things break the right way, and if all goes as it could. It's hard to put that on any young fighter, no matter what, because you never know what fight might forever change a guy. I thought Kelly Pavlik had huge star potential, too, but he has not been close to the same fighter he was before Bernard Hopkins schooled him. So you can never tell if a fighter has it to maintain that star quality mentally should something go awry.
But Alexander, as far as skills go, is definitely the real deal. He's got fast hands, is a good puncher (he knocked out durable Juan Urango earlier this year), and though we've seen him fight down to his competition a bit in the past, I think he's over that. Alexander and Cunningham seem incredibly focused on no more of Alexander's career being wasted or screwed up by poor promotion from Don King, and to DKP's credit, the firm seems to realize now exactly what they have in Alexander. The fact that King has had little success in recent years selling fights outside of St. Louis probably helps them appreciate that Devon Alexander is a good guy to focus on, but he's a lot more than a one-city main eventer to keep trying to milk. He has world-class talent for sure.
Kotelnik is a good veteran boxer who makes few mistakes, which I think is definitely a fine quality, but he also does basically nothing exceptionally. He's got mediocre power at best, his hand speed is nothing to worry about, he doesn't have flashy footwork, and his defense is strong but not exceptional. The last time he was in the ring, he was overwhelmed by the longer, taller, much faster, much younger Amir Khan in July 2009, so it's also been over a year since he was in the ring for a fight, and he's coming back to take a very tough challenge in an attempt to regain a piece of the 140-pound pie.
All of that adds up to me not thinking Kotelnik has much of a chance at all here. I've tried to break it down before, but to me there's still no reason we're not gearing up for a fight between Alexander and Tim Bradley tomorrow night, other than the fact that Bradley, his team, maybe Gary Shaw, might not have felt they'd have adequate time to prepare for Devon Alexander. Bradley fought Luis Abregu, a one-dimensional slugger, and had been preparing to fight Marcos Maidana, a better one-dimensional slugger. Alexander is a whole other ball of wax. So if that were the case (and they never said it was), I could get behind that even if I didn't want to, because no fighter should take a fight as good as Bradley-Alexander unless they're totally prepared for it and know they're prepared for it as well as they can be.
But I also admit I groaned when Kotelnik was announced as Devon's opponent. He is credible and is not without talent or anything like that. He's no pushover and he's not a bum. Not even close to that. But I don't see a way, on paper, that he stacks up to what Alexander brings to the table. I don't think Devon will stop him, because Kotelnik got through 12 rounds with Maidana and escaped with a split decision win in February '09, but I do think he'll rout him. Hopefully it'll be a bit more exciting to watch than Khan's easy win, but I wouldn't bank on that either.
The biggest hope, of course, is that in January or so, we'll see Tim Bradley and Devon Alexander lock horns. The way they both fight, and with the trash they've talked to one another, that could be the start of a fantastic rivalry that makes them both much, much bigger stars than they are now. Alexander UD-12
Light Heavyweights - 12 Rounds
Tavoris Cloud v. Glen Johnson
Now this one I'm very interested in seeing play out. Tavoris Cloud kind of bugs me as a fan, but it's the sort of "hey, I'm a fan" thing that could easily be gotten past with the way he fights, and if he just turns out to be more active. Cloud sat on a mandatory for about a year when there was zero indication that Chad Dawson had any interest in fighting him, and then he got a shot at the vacated title against Clinton Woods. He retired Woods in a very entertaining but ultimately very one-sided fight on Friday Night Fights.
That was also a year ago. Since then, Cloud has sat around some more. But there may have been, for a while, more than met our eyes. Earlier this year, he postponed a fight with Glen Johnson when he left his old promoters and signed with Don King. DKP promised to make the fight as soon as things got fully cleared up, and that is what has happened. By fighting Glen Johnson, Cloud is certainly not looking for easy bouts. The 41-year-old "Road Warrior" (50-13-2, 34 KO) got the long overdue 50th win of his career on February 5 when he dismantled Yusaf Mack on Friday Night Fights, a bit of a stunner to many of us. It was not a shock that Johnson won, but his performance was very surprising to many because of how lethargic and old he'd looked in his rematch with Chad Dawson back in November 2009.
Johnson said then and said now that he simply wasn't prepared for the very cautious bout that Dawson fought, though he gave Dawson credit for beating him and still does. With this fight, what's really intriguing to me is that outside of that Dawson fight, I've never felt Glen looked old to date, but he is 41. There's really not much I can take from those two very different fights to apply here, either.
In short, I think this fight is wide open. Cloud could be rusty. Cloud's definitely taking the toughest challenge of his career. Johnson looked good in his last fight, but Mack isn't Cloud. Johnson looked bad the fight before that, but Cloud isn't Dawson.
What we saw from Cloud against Woods was a high-octane guy who loved to throw a lot of punches, attacked the body well for much of the fight, and just wore Clinton out. But Woods had looked battered and slowed-down prior to that fight, too. Johnson himself has fought Woods three times, and they split 1-1-1, though many will argue Glen could have been given the W in all three bouts.
Johnson might not be ready for the sort of pace Cloud wants to push. He had trouble finding Dawson, and was pecked to death more or less, but I don't think it'll be too hard to find Tavoris Cloud. Cloud didn't move too far from Woods when they fought, he just out-fought him, and by a wide margin. Glen Johnson has always thrown back. Is Cloud ready for that? Is Johnson getting too old for that stuff? I mean, 41 is 41, and we've all seen that one night where a guy suddenly starts acting his age. Hell, I thought I saw it once from Johnson already, and then he smashed Mack.
This is what I mean -- I'm finding it difficult to even discuss this fight without a ton of open questions. And that's why I like it so much, and have liked it so much since it was announced the first time. Cloud (20-0, 18 KO) and Johnson are meeting at something of a crossroads, and they both have a lot to prove still. Cloud wants to prove he's for real at 175, and possibly earn a fight with the winner of Dawson-Pascal next weekend. Johnson is a fighter, plain and simple, and always comes to win. It should be a good one. I'm going with the younger fighter simply because when there are this many questions about a fight, I tend to err on the side of conventional wisdom, and with this matchup, that leans toward Cloud's youth and activity. But I'm not totally sure what to expect out of this fight at all. I can't wait to see it. Cloud UD-12
Junior Middleweights - 12 Rounds (Off-TV)
Cory Spinks v. Cornelius Bundrage
This fight has been moved, delayed, and was met with almost unanimous disdain when it was announced. Spinks (37-5, 11 KO) has actually been fairly exciting in his last two, a very questionable loss to Verno Phillips and a surprising-to-some win over fellow St. Louis fighter Deandre Latimore. The problem is that the Phillips fight was in March 2008, and the Latimore fight was in April 2009. Let me put it another way if that doesn't seal how inactive Spinks has been. Three fights ago (May 2007), Spinks was fighting undefeated Jermain Taylor for the middleweight championship. Now if "undefeated Jermain Taylor, middleweight champion" doesn't seem like a long time ago, I don't know what will.
Spinks and trainer Cunningham split earlier this year because when Cory showed up to his first camp for this fight, he was grossly out of shape. Cunningham basically walked out, and he had some words about it. I kind of hope they've patched things up personally (if it needed personal patching) because you hate to see a long-term partnership like that end bitterly. So he's working with a new team, headed by Buddy McGirt. Spinks is only 32, and hasn't had a ton of wars or anything, but he's been around the ring a long time now and is probably slowing down. He's not near as slick as he used to be, part of the reason the Phillips and Latimore fights were as entertaining as they were.
And then you have "K9" Bundrage (29-4, 17 KO), who turned 37 in April. The Detroit native also hasn't fought in over a year, since a no-contest against Yuri Foreman in June 2009 that came when Bundrage accidentally headbutted Foreman, who could not continue on. The last time I saw Bundrage, he lost a brutally awful fight to Grady Brewer in November 2008, but came back all of a month later to stop Zaurbek Baysangurov in five rounds in Germany.
This is one where a lot will depend on preparation and how in-shape these guys are. It's been a while, Spinks had his issues with physical conditioning this year, and Bundrage is getting up there in age, too. Part of me likes Bundrage to snake out the upset because I am always weary of guys who have been reported to be in very bad condition recently, and when you combine that with inactivity and a new trainer, there might be some issues.