That cut opened, and questions about Alexander's heart poured forth. Will he redeem himself against Matthysse, or did fight fans see the real Devon against Bradley? (Hogan)
Everything in the Internet Age is about instant glorification, instant gratification or instant dramatization. Boxing has become no different.
News is old before it’s even been verified. Video is shown before authenticated or anyone understands its context. Celebrities rise and fall in an instant and so do careers. Boxing is not immune to any of that.
Yet just as the ascension of Devon Alexander to “Alexander the Great’’ proved premature so, perhaps, have been the hints at his slide into irrelevance since losing badly to Timothy Bradley six months ago in a much anticipated junior welterweight unification fight.
Alexander seemed to lose steam and then heart that cold night in January at the Pontiac Silverdome in ways that did not enhance his reputation. As Bradley established his dominance and his relentlessness, Alexander grew daunted for the first time in his career, eventually seeming to shrink into himself before acquiescing without a fight when referee Frank Garza and ring physician Dr. Peter Samet stopped the match after an inadvertent head butt in the 10th round opened a gash above Alexander’s right eye that seemed far from life threatening.
Once there was a time in boxing where one bad night would not condemn you instantly to the dust bin but that was before YouTube, Facebook, Groupon and LinkedIn. It was before fighters were crowned the next great (fill in the blank) before they’d learned their trade or dismissed as a fraud because of one desultory performance.
Certainly Alexander, his trainer Kevin Cunningham and his promoter Don King all had to be sorely disappointed in the way he looked against Bradley but the fact is up until that night he’d been a bundle of speed and control, a package that had left him undefeated and skilled enough to be considered one of the three or four top 140 pounders in the world.
Perhaps that all dissolved in the face of Bradley’s superior will and skill but Saturday night Alexander and Alexander alone will determine the steepness of his fall. In his first fight since Bradley broke him, he will take on a fair test in heavy handed Lucas Matthysse, whose only loss was by split decision to Zab Judah last November in a title eliminator.
If Alexander (21-1, 13 KO) is to re-establish himself this would be the fight to do it. Matthysse (28-1, 26 KO) is a guy who will pressure him, desperately trying to rekindle inside him the doubts that grew during the Bradley fight.
If Alexander can stand up to that and use his speed, defensive skill and ring generalship to control spacing, the terms of engagement and, ultimately, Matthysse, he will have gone a long way to quickly re-establishing himself as a guy who belongs in the discussion when names like Bradley, Amir Khan, Marcos Maidana and Judah come up. A strong performance on Saturday would call into question that one bad night against Bradley just as quickly as that night called into question all the promise he’d shown up until that point.
“No one likes to lose,’’ Alexander said of his first defeat. “I was upset for about a couple of weeks but my coach was talking to me and it wasn’t like it was the end of the world.
“It’s not like Bradley dominated the fight (I beg to differ there). It was something I didn’t do. I didn’t follow the game plan.’’
After a while he also didn’t fight, which is where the doubters stepped in. What bodes well for Alexander against Matthysse is that the former champion has not turned to the old saws. He hasn’t claimed he over trained. He didn’t fire Cunningham as if it was his fault. Most important, he didn’t take a year off to lick his wounds.
Instead, Alexander accepted his culpability and demanded to get back to work to right his reputation, knowing the only way to do it was to face another of the division’s most dangerous practitioners.
“It was all me,’’ Alexander said of the loss. “Bradley didn’t do anything we didn’t prepare for in camp.
“I definitely learned from that. That fight taught me what I had to do, what I needed to do, in any circumstance. I listened to the crowd and did what they wanted me to do, which is just go out there and fight. That’s not how I do it.
“I didn’t do what I was supposed to do and you saw the result of that. Whoever saw the fight saw that Bradley wasn’t better than me that night. It was all me and what I didn’t do. We had the perfect game plan and we threw it all away in one night and that’s not good. That’s why we’re taking on a tough guy like Matthysse because the Bradley fight didn’t take anything away from me.’’
Actually it did. It took away his aura of dominance and it called into question whether all he had done before was simply a mirage erased by the hard-edged reality of Timothy Bradley in his face.
That’s why Alexander is right about the meaning of stepping right back in on HBO against Matthysse, who would be in any legitimate top 10 ratings for the division. What it means is he is willing to test himself harshly to prove his lone loss came on a bad night and nothing more.
Yet he also understands that in today’s world you can disappear faster than you ever appeared, so while one bad night can very likely be written off, two would be intolerable.
“At this point in my career every fight means everything,’’ Alexander said. “I have to stay focused no matter how high the stakes are or how low the stakes are. We know what we have in front of us.’’
Unlike in the build up to past fights, Cunningham has not downplayed Matthysse’s danger, a mistake he made against Bradley. Whether that led his fighter into a false sense of security is unknown but this time, like Alexander himself, Cunningham is taking no such chances.
“I call him Lucas “The Beast’’ Matthysse,’’ Cunningham said. “He’s got the highest knockout percentage in the division and that makes him the biggest puncher in the division.
“This fight is a lot more dangerous than the Tim Bradley fight. Devon has to be on his game. He has to be focused. If you want to claim you are the best in your division these are the type of fights you have to take on.
“If I thought Devon wasn’t the real deal and exactly who we say he is then I would think about taking a couple steps back and find a soft touch. But Devon is clearly one of the best fighters in the division so we don’t need to look for a soft opponent.’’
That Devon Alexander agreed was the first step back from the brink of extinction. What he does now will have less to do with Matthysse frankly than with himself. It is a fact Alexander seemed well aware of as the clock ticked down toward Saturday night.
“I want to beat him convincingly,’’ Alexander said. “Not just go in there and it be an OK fight. I want to say ‘OK, I lost the Bradley fight but now I’m back on top.’ I want to be one of the best in the division.
“People want to criticize everything you do. People criticize Pacquiao, Mayweather, Obama, everyone that is at the top of their game. It’s part of the territory.
“I knew there was going to be criticism. I stayed away from it, just blocked it all out. I know what I’m capable of doing in the ring and it only motivated me to get back to the gym and get back on top. Just like our T-shirts say, ‘R-E-D-E-M-P-T-I-O-N’ is going to happen on Saturday night.”