ST LOUIS, Mo. — On this night, at least, Alexander the Great was Alexander the Ordinary, but it was still good enough. Fighting as a champion for the first time before his hometown fans, Devon Alexander retained his WBC and IBF junior welterweight titles with a unanimous decision over Andriy Kotelnik, the rugged former champion from Ukraine.
As he stood in the ring awaiting the announcement of the verdict, Alexander expressed confidence ? ?We good; I think I did enough to win? — that he would get the nod, but in almost the same breath be admitted ?it wasn?t one of my best performances.?
Topping his stunning knockout of the un-knock-out-able Juan Urango in his last outing was going to be a tall order in any case, and by the same token it would have been difficult for Kotelnik to look worse than he had in his last fight, against Amir Khan last July.
Kotelnik pronounced himself ?speechless? by the verdict at the Scottrade Center.
?I deserve the belt,? he would say afterward. ?I deserve to be the champion. I would have won this fight anywhere else in the world.?
We find it difficult to find fault with the view of Jerry Roth, Oren Shellenberger, and Denny Nelson, the three non-Missourians who each awarded Alexander eight of the 12 rounds (the Sweet Science card had it 115-113 for the champion), but Kotelnik does have a point. If the same fight had unfolded in a neutral venue under the auspices of a more squeamish ringside physician, it?s not at all inconceivable that it might have been stopped before it ever got to the hands of the judges.
Alexander was cut (for the first time in his career) near his right eye in the fifth round, and by the ninth the wound was bleeding so profusely that referee Vic Draculich halted the action to lead Alexander to a neutral corner to be examined by the ringside physician. The blood continued to flow over the final third of the bout. How much it bothered Alexander is open to dispute, but it clearly seemed to energize Kotelnik.
And put it this way: If it had been Kotelnik and not Alexander who was cut, this one might have been stopped in the ninth.
?Give Kotelnik credit,? said Alexander. ?He trained hard for this fight. I listened to my corner and when Kevin (trainer Cunningham) told me to box, I boxed. I have an A, B, and C plan, and I can always adjust.?
He might better have said he had an A, B, and C game. What was on display at the Scottrade Center in the main event of Saturday night?s Boxing After Dark show lay somewhere between the latter two grades, but as even Alexander noted, Kotelnik had something to do with that, too. After his near-obliteration by Khan last year, the Ukrainian gave a good account of himself.
The statistical data does not seem particularly germane to what unfolded in the ring, but CompuBox had Kotelnik landing more jabs, more punches, and at a stunningly more efficient rate (29 to 18 per cent) than Alexander.
Kotelnik, to be effective, needs to perpetually go forward, but he had clearly done his homework in watching the Alexander-Urango fight. When Kotelnik threw the jab, he didn?t sit around waiting for the counterpunch combination he knew would be coming, so while Alexnder was able to land those, he rarely caught the challenger flush with either the right or the left. And you never ? not once all night ? saw that uppercut with which Alexander had laid Urango low back in March.
?Everyone knows the fight was closer than that,? complained Kotelniz trainer Stacey McKinley of the scoring. ?Hell, I thought he (Kotelnik) won it.? (?It was a close fight,? agreed a more impartial observer named Floyd Mayweather, Jr.)
?That guy has something that belongs to me, and I want it,? said Kotelnik of Alexander?s belts.
Alexander, for his part, said he wanted Timothy Bradley. Cunningham even broke out a t-shirt saying ?Bradley U Next? for the post fight interview, but there isn?t likely to be a groundswell of public clamor for that match up off this one.
Alexander, in any case remained unbeaten at 21-0, while Kotelnik was left with his second straight loss and a 31-4-1 record overall.
Promoter Don King, who had promised a trifecta of Mayweather, Mike Tyson, and Evander Holyfield would be in attendance at the Scottrade Center, was able to deliver on two of the three. Tyson must have taken a wrong turn on the way to The Lou, but Mayweather and Holyfield were among the celebrities, dignitaries, and St. Louis Rams introduced to the crowd of 9,117 by ring announcer Michael Buffer just before the main event.
(As loud as the applause was then, it was even louder when the overhead screen at the Scottrade Center cut to a shot of King snuggling with Money Boy midway through the Alexander-Kotelnik fight.)
Youth was served, as Tavoris Cloud turned back the challenge of 41-year-old Road Warrior Glencoffe Johnson to retain his IBF light-heavyweight title in the co-featured bout of the telecast.
Cloud prevailed 116-112 on all three scorecards (Nike Fitzgerald, Patrick Morely, Fran Bechan) as well as that of TSS in a bout that probably wasn?t as close as the scores would indicate. Only in the second and third round, when Johnson burrowed his way inside and forced Cloud into an in-fighting mode did the Jamaican veteran appear remotely dangerous.
Since referee Steve Smoger seemed perfectly willing to let the fighters mix it up inside, discouraging Johnson was a matter left to Cloud?s own devices. Once Cloud was able to establish his range and force Johnson to stay on the end of his jab, he seemed comfortably in control. Although Johnson won a couple of rounds down the stretch (on our card as well as the judges?) it was largely because he took the ninth off, and appeared to coast through the final stanza as well.
Even though Johnson was credited with more punches landed (254-246) and with out-jabbing Cloud (134-79), it was Cloud?s ability to control the distance with the jab that kept him in the driver?s seat.
In the process of his brief interlude of effectiveness in the early rounds, Johnson had raised a large welt beneath Cloud?s left eye. The hematoma finally burst in the tenth, but the ensuing trickle of blood didn?t to much to slow down Cloud, who had been consistently punishing Johnson with thudding right hands behind the jab from the third round on.
Johnson, as he has been in 65 of his 66 career fights, was there at the end, but saw his record fall to 50-14-2 with the loss. Cloud remains unbeaten at 21-0.