"Unification bout," they call it. I call it junior welterweights, 12 rounds. Why focus on the two belts? Whoever wins will just get stripped of one of them soon enough anyway.
Saturday night's fight between Timothy Bradley (26-0, 11 KO) and Devon Alexander (21-0, 13 KO) has been what seems like a long time comin', and then you remember these guys are 27 and 23 years of age, respectively. Combined, they're a little older than Evander Holyfield.
The fight will take place at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. The Silverdome is famous for a few things. It was the home of my beloved Detroit Lions from 1975 through 2001. The ghost of Barry Sanders (I know, I know - he's not dead) haunts these hallowed halls. Also, WrestleMania III and Pope John Paul II had big crowds in 1987. And in March of this year, the Michigan Home & Garden Expo will be coming to town. So, you know, mark that down on your calendars.
For those unfamiliar with the Michigan economy and with the Silverdome itself, I might be able to help. I don't live in Michigan anymore and I never lived on the eastern side of the state, but the jokes you hear about the state's economy in recent years are actually not jokes. The Silverdome, for instance, was built at a cost of $55.7 million in 1975, or approximately $220 million in 2009 money. In 2009, the building was sold by the city of Pontiac for $583,000. The folks that bought the big, boring, outdated structure have tried to turn it back into an event center. It hasn't really worked. For one thing, people don't have the money to spend on big-ticket events out there. For another thing, if they do, Ford Field is a better host.
The building will no doubt be made to look as good as it possibly can, but for those who watched the Dirrell-Abraham fight in Detroit last year, you know boxing's a hard sell. Dirrell is from Flint, but because boxing in Michigan isn't very popular at all anymore, he'd never really fought there and didn't have much of a home base, so the draw was really light. Expect the same for Bradley-Alexander, but keep in mind the promoters have made up for that by getting pretty big purses for the fighters, and HBO has put a lot of money into this fight, because they're looking to lock down this division, which now seems perhaps even more important than it did a few months ago.
As for the fight itself, it's a good one, but there's something missing here for me to make it great on paper. It's really a combination of my personal feeling that Tim Bradley, while incredibly solid all-around, is not a special fighter, and that Devon Alexander saw his stock drop a bit after his rough performance against Andriy Kotelnik.
The good news, ignoring the negatives from what I think, is that this is the right fight for both of these guys. Alexander wants to erase the Kotelnik fight, in essence, and he's going to try to do that by attempting to knock off the guy generally considered to be No. 1 in the division. As for Bradley, this is the fight everyone wanted last summer, and he's going with it, proving he's willing to fight the top opponents. It's not like Amir Khan was available here, and outside of Khan, these are the top two guys in the division. Everyone is chasing that trio.
Grading the Fighters
Remember that these grades are constant works in progress. Alexander gets a low grade in ring IQ simply because the only time I've seen that put to a test (Kotelnik), I thought he failed the test, or at least didn't do very well. That could shoot way up, or way down, by his next fight. Their punch resistance and heart grades sit on B+ -- "chin" wise, I think they're both fine. We've seen Bradley knocked down, but fighters get knocked down when they fight like Bradley, and he never seemed in any grave danger.
I think Alexander has the edge in power. Bradley punches more, so what he has adds up, but Alexander has the better one-punch muscle, and he's not exactly a heavy hitter either. Both guys, I think, have that sort of power that no opponent can ignore, but isn't going to be what you're most concerned about going into a training camp to fight either of them. I also think Alexander is slightly faster with the hands -- that is, when he uses his hands.
Defensively, neither is a stalwart, but I think Bradley has the edge there, and part of it comes from the fact I just think he's a smarter fighter, and that reflects in the way he plays defense. Alexander showed frankly dreadful defensive ability against Kotelnik, and had his slips against Junior Witter and a few less impressive opponents, too. I'm guessing that's something they'll have worked on coming into this fight, because it was from a technical skills standpoint his most glaring weakness last August.
It doesn't get much better. By my rankings, this is No. 1 versus No. 3 in the 140-pound division. The winner of this would seem likely to face Amir Khan later in the year for supremacy in the division, with the only real remaining step after that a move to 147 pounds, possibly for a super fight with Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr., or even "just" for a big fight with Andre Berto which could serve as essentially a super fighter eliminator.
Good Fight Potential:
I don't know if it will be action-action-action. But if it's not, there's a good chance this turns into an excellent tactical fight between a couple of guys who know this is their biggest opportunity, who know what's on the line for the future, and who have the sort of styles that I think could complement each other nicely.
Overall Pre-Fight Score:
It's a really, really good fight.
Ahhh, the meat. Tim Bradley may not impress me the way he impresses some folk, but what does impress me about Bradley is the fact that he doesn't really go out of his way to pretend he's someone he's not just to become a bigger name, and he clearly is willing to fight the best fighters out there available to him.
Junior Witter is the best win for Alexander, in my estimation. He gave Bradley a tougher fight than is remembered by many, and I thought he was closer with Alexander than most did before he pulled out citing injury. Alexander also has Kotelnik (where I just disagree that he actually won) and Juan Urango, which are solid Ws.
Bradley has Kendall Holt, Lamont Peterson, Witter, Edner Cherry, Luis Carlos Abregu at 147, and another win that looks much better now than at the time, Miguel Vazquez, who holds a title at 135 pounds now and has really come into his own. I think Peterson is clearly Bradley's best win.
The biggest question to me is whether or not Alexander is going to let his hands go more this time out. Against Kotelnik, a fight I felt he clearly lost because he just didn't fight well, that was the biggest issue. When he actually let his hands go in a meaningful way, he looked good. But instead he was content to flick out a jab that didn't land, but was scored as though it had. Alexander got very lucky in that fight to escape with anything better than a loss. And to his credit, he was humble after the fight in interviews, and he seemed to accept that he'd had a poor night, and without saying it, even that he was probably lucky to get the win. That sort of demeanor gives the impression that he went back to work with Kevin Cunningham to correct what he was doing wrong, and I think Cunningham is well aware of what went wrong in that fight, because he spent most of it yelling about it.
Bradley's activity isn't a question. At his best, he's a whirlwind of offense, coming in from all over the place and not giving his opponents room to breathe. As game as Lamont Peterson was against Bradley, and as good as Peterson is, he was effectively taken out of what he does well by Bradley's offense, in turn creating Bradley's best defensive strategy (his own offense).
Tim Bradley isn't going to do anything different on Saturday. He's a known commodity, but to date hasn't been effectively attacked by opponents. Though Kendall Holt put him on the canvas a couple times, Bradley clearly won that fight and out-boxed Holt over the vast majority. Bradley dominated Cherry and Vazquez, and dominated Abregu. Only Witter has really tested him so far, and Witter was/is a tricky, manipulative, tough fighter who few ever had an easy night against, plus Witter was on his home turf in the UK.
Since Witter, it seems like Bradley has gotten better almost every time out. The Abregu fight wasn't impressive, and I won't pretend it was. But Bradley did what he had to do. Everyone kind of knew that was a placeholder fight for Tim Bradley to get an HBO debut in, and to survive and fight someone more important in his own weight class next time out. Remember, Bradley was all set to fight Marcos Maidana on that date, but Maidana had that whole weird ordeal last summer. Bradley didn't choose to fight Abregu, but he fought a bigger, stronger guy anyway, and he follows up now with a terrific opponent back at 140, the guy everyone wanted.
What this boils down to for me is mentality. Bradley seems like a nice guy, but in the ring he is all business, and he's coming with bad intentions. Alexander seems like a nice guy, and in the ring he seems like too nice of a guy sometimes. I expect him to be focused going in and ready to win, and I think he does have the skills to win. But I also think if anyone is going to get knocked off their track, it's Devon Alexander.
Neither man winning would be a surprise to me, and that's the real upside of this fight for those watching Saturday. At least it's not completely predictable, and we're going to see someone take one big step forward. Bradley UD-12