Devon Alexander has had his sights set on Timothy Bradley for nearly two years. In a rare instance of a “marinated” fight that didn’t become spoiled, he’ll have his shot at junior welterweight supremacy Saturday night in Pontiac, Michigan.
Alexander, 21-0 (13), introduced himself as a legitimate player in the 140-pound scrum by beating Junior Witter fairly convincingly, albeit not without difficulty navigating around Witter’s jab. Then, a shocking knockout over junior welterweight stalwart Juan Urango catapulted him into the spotlight as a potential star. He did something both Ricky Hatton and Andre Berto failed miserably to do – beat Urango in entertaining fashion. After outboxing the cement-footed behemoth without excessive clinching and then separating him from his senses with a single uppercut, the drums for a Alexander-Bradley showdown officially sounded.
The rattling was temporarily quieted by Andriy Kotelnik last August. While Kotelnik is unspectacular, he’s armed with time-tested weapons that make flashy opponents look ordinary—a solid chin, puzzling defense, and sound punching technique. The end result was a frustrating night for young Alexander, culminating in a unanimous decision victory dubiously scored 116-112 on all cards.
While he got the win needed to keep the Bradley fight alive, his defense was undressed, with chinks in the armor illuminated. Most of Kotelnik’s landed blows were eye-catching. Jabs snapped Alexander’s head back, left hooks stood him straight up, and right hands knocked him several feet back. Alexander has sound footwork, but his lack of head movement leaves him vulnerable when facing straight, short punches.
Timothy Bradley’s head movement has been fine-tuned and perfected during his title run, making him a far slicker practitioner than Alexander. With his upper body in perpetual motion, the Palm Springs native only occasionally gets hit with an aesthetically pleasing shot. Punches directed at his head generally glance off of gloves and shoulders.
Alexander’s uppercut will be key to timing Bradley’s movement. Kendall Holt put Bradley, 26-0 (11), on the canvas in the first round of their ’09 clash with an uppercut-left hook combination, and put him down again with another uppercut in the 12th. Alexander’s uppercut, of course, became notorious when he sparked out Urango. He will undoubtedly spend much of his time in the ring Saturday night attempting to run Bradley into it, as Bradley has the tendency to duck under punches looking for counter opportunities.
Bradley will disrupt Alexander’s search for the perfect uppercut with constant jabs to the head and sternum, accompanied by a steady stream of shots to the midsection. While Alexander, St. Louis, Missouri, is the crisper offensive fighter, Bradley’s punch distribution is heady and varied. His primary focus will likely be on catching the taller southpaw with an overhand right. But he can quickly transition that focus to counter left hooks if Alexander becomes reckless.
Both men have the capability to hurt each other, though a stoppage would be a surprise. Bradley, 27, hasn’t notched a knockout since 2007. His litany of decision wins have included various moments where he’s stunned his opponent, but finishing wounded prey isn’t close to his strong suit. Meanwhile, he showcased his toughness by immediately bouncing back up from Holt’s left hook – a shot that left him airborne and had ‘fight-ending’ written all over it.
Alexander doesn’t know what canvas tastes like yet. He did experience a few shaky moments at the hands of Kotelnik, who will never be confused for a knockout artist. Nevertheless, unless Bradley has polished up his finishing skills, Alexander will weather any storm to see the final bell.
But winning a decision might prove a tall task. The 23-year-old has a wide array of offensive tools at his disposal—sharp combinations, a crisp right hook, respectable jab, and the aforementioned uppercut. But because his defense pales in comparison to the slippery Bradley’s, moments where he can display his full arsenal may come few and far between.
Never lacking in confidence, this is what he wanted: a chance to leave a mongoose recognized as the best in his division snake-bitten. Hopefully the first big fight of 2011 sets the tone for the remainder of the year—less easy paydays, more young champions vying for true challenges.