Some people will look at Devon Alexander’s split decision victory over Lucas Matthysse Saturday night and say it was a gift. If it was, it was a well-earned one.
Certainly if you are Matthysse or any of his relatives you’d be justified feeling that way. After all, it is the second straight time in which he fought a highly-rated American in his hometown (or within the shadow of it) and came away a controversial split decision loss, so if he’s beginning to feel like an American trying to win a decision in Germany it would be understandable.
First it was a fading Zab Judah who barely escaped Matthysse’s powerful clutches in Newark and now Alexander only miles from his home in St. Louis. Matthysse floored both of them and seemed the aggressor in each case yet four of the six judges said he came up short… so when he lamented Saturday’s loss it was easy to see his point.
But did he win the fight? Or, more to the point, did the former WBC junior welterweight champion lose it in his comeback bout after Timothy Bradley intimidated him and then stopped him with a butt-induced cut over his right eye?
I’m not sure Alexander won Saturday night but I’m not sure he lost either. What I am sure of is that he acquitted himself well against a very tough opponent on the heels of having been out fought physically and mentally by Bradley in a unification match that was the biggest fight of his life until Saturday night. What made Matthysse bigger was that if Alexander again caved in he would have been finished as a major factor in the 140-pound division.
Whether you thought Alexander won or not (personally I thought it was a draw because while Alexander won more rounds Matthysse evened the score by knocking him on his can), you could not quibble with either the former champion’s willingness to stand in with the more powerful Matthysse or the fact that he twice came back from rounds in which he was in trouble to win the next round.
Alexander didn’t answer all the questions that still surround his future but he answered the biggest one: was he a fighter who could come back from a bad night and not double it up with another one? Emphatically, the answer to that question was yes.
"I had flashbacks from my last fight," Alexander admitted. “But I wasn't going to lose two fights in a row. I made a conscious decision to bring the fight out in me because people had their doubts about me."
Alexander’s post-fight comments were nearly as important as the victory. He didn’t claim he overwhelmed Matthysse. He didn’t claim there were no residual effects from the loss to Bradley. He didn’t claim he fought his best fight.
What he said was the same thing he did – he acted in a truthful way, not wasting his time or our good sense trying to say the fight had been anything but what it was – a difficult test that he passed.
Not with flying colors to be sure but with enough colors flying that he can legitimately go forward from here and challenge the likes of Amir Khan and Judah or call for rematches with Bradley or Matthysse with reasonable hope that he might get them.
Two of the judges scored the fight 96-93, one for Alexander and the other for Matthysse. I didn’t agree with either and wondered if we had been watching the same fight. The third had it 95-94 for Alexander, as did I, but had the same score gone in the other direction by the same margin I couldn’t quarrel with it.
The fact of the matter is it was a close fight in which Alexander (22-1) outboxed Matthysse in many rounds but it was the Argentinean who did the most damage, not only dropping Alexander but also banging up his face. So if you look at boxing as the guy who does the most damage wins then raise Matthysse’s hand and move on.
But boxing is more than that. It is about skill, will, ring generalship and who is dictating the terms of engagement. In at least six of those rounds it was Alexander who was in charge and usually that’s enough to win a 10-round fight. The fact that he was dropped by Matthysse (28-2) cost Alexander but he came back to regain control of things, for which he deserved both credit and recognition for not allowing his experience with Bradley to decide who he would become going forward.
Regardless, one’s heart had to go out to Matthysse, who now has two losses on his record by the thinnest of margins. After the decision was announced he admitted it was a tough fight but added that he’d “been robbed’’ and why would he think otherwise?
Yet even if so it was so, it was petty theft at best because it was not like he dominated Alexander. He landed the heavier punches to be sure and had Alexander down once but was unable to press that advantage into anything resembling lasting trouble for the former champion and in many rounds he ate a lot more leather than he threw.
Could his hand have been legitimately raised any way? Sure, and so could Alexander’s. In a world where all things are fair this would simply mean they do it again in the near future to settle their differences (or the judges’) but that’s about as likely as Judah giving Matthysse a second shot.
Those kinds of things only happen these days when they can’t be avoided. But while Alexander may be able to avoid a rematch with Matthysse in the near term what he can’t avoid is the obvious – he lacks sufficient punching power to keep guys like Matthysse, Bradley, Khan or probably even Judah off him for long.
That makes winning a lot more difficult (although not impossible) because he must control the ring with speed, slick defense, movement, fast hands, a stinging jab and an ability to get in, let his hands go and then get out before anything comes back. What he can’t control it with is fear of unconsciousness.
The more powerful punchers who are also blessed with good chins like Matthysse begin to feel they can safely close the distance and when they do they go to work on his body to take away some of his foot speed before then attacking the head. That worked well for Bradley and to a lesser extent for Matthysse. The difference against the latter was that Alexander refused to be worn down mentally.
Although he was often pressed and nailed more than a few times by Matthysse he stuck to who he is – a boxer willing to fight when he has to, but content to stick and move when he can. In the end, Devon Alexander seemed to do enough of both to escape (barely) the challenge of Lucas Matthysse.
What was important to his long term future was that he did it the way he had to do it – by acting like a professional and fighting like one too. All the top names in the division pack more power than he does and will attack him in the same way Bradley and Matthysse did. To defeat them he must remain completely focused, well conditioned and in command of his boxing skills at all times, all things that are up to him.
There will be nothing easy in the fistic future of Devon Alexander from here on out but after Saturday night he can be thankful for one thing: because of the way he fought he still has a future. What he does with it, he will decide.