by Cliff Rold
After his turgid outing versus Randal Bailey in October, it seemed it was going to take a lot to make Welterweight titlist Devon Alexander interesting again.
It turns out all it took was for someone to say his name. The right someone did.
In boxing, when Floyd Mayweather talks, everyone listens. Or, to be more specific, when he tweets, everyone reads. The sound of keyboards clacking throughout the world of fistic writing has echoed loudly since. Headline abound as assumptions are questioned.
For weeks, the conventional thinking has been Mayweather will make his first start since a Jr. Middleweight title win last May and a jail stint last summer against Robert Guerrero. Still holding the WBC Welterweight belt, it makes sense for Mayweather. Guerrero is the interim titlist for the sanctioning body.
Tuesday night, Mayweather tweeted, “The negotiations for my fight are almost done. The front runner is IBF Champion Devon Alexander. It’d be a unification bout at welterweight.”
And away we go with the latest chapter of the Mayweather circus. Boxing has plenty of good fighters and a few great ones. There is only one Mayweather.
At 36, the undefeated five-division champion remains, even past his prime, one of the game’s finest practitioners. He remains, by far, its biggest magnet for attention and speculation; P.T. Barnum in gloves. Whether the reactions he generates are positive or negative isn’t really the point.
He gets reactions.
So far, the reaction to Alexander has been almost universally negative. It’s been so strong among pundits and on social media as to make it seem like Guerrero is, well, Manny Pacquiao up until Juan Manuel Marquez went nuclear last year.
Let’s be fair. There’s not that much separating Devon Alexander and Guerrero in terms of Welterweight credentials. Both have two wins in the division in the last year. Alexander bested Marcos Maidana and Bailey. Guerrero got through Selcuk Aydin and mauled Andre Berto. Guerrero has an edge in quality of wins, but it’s not monumental.
As noted by BoxingScene editor Rick Reeno earlier today , the conventional wisdom is still the most likely outcome. The comedy of the last day or so is the vehemence of reaction.
Welterweight isn’t a particularly deep division and the options are not plenty. Mayweather, the rightful lineal champion of the class, has already easily defeated a Marquez who now stands as his leading contender. Timothy Bradley is promoted by the wrong company. He already beat Victor Ortiz. The other man to pull that feat recently, Josesito Lopez, isn’t viable after a knockout loss at Jr. Middleweight to Saul Alvarez.
Guerrero and Alexander are both seen as legitimate top ten Welterweights right now, as are men like Kell Brook, Paulie Malignaggi, and Jan Zaveck. If Mayweather is going to return at Welterweight, these are the men who make up the best of his class. There’s not a Sugar Ray Leonard in the bunch.
There’s not even a Maurice Blocker.
For Mayweather, there appear to be two factors at play in every fight now. The first is that, in vaulting ‘pound for pound’ past divisional considerations, many fans are looking for Godzilla among iguanas. There is speculation about all of this leading to another foray at Jr. Middleweight against Saul Alvarez later this year. It’s taken for granted he’s not fighting in that division next. There are no fresh monsters at Welterweight.
The other factor is about ‘bang for a buck.’
Mayweather isn’t just a fighter. He’s an event. His events, in HD, cost around $70 every time out. It intensifies scrutiny about every opponent choice. Guerrero wasn’t a choice that appeared to thrill the masses before Alexander was bandied about.
Now it’s the realistic hope for thrills.
Alexander is a competent boxer who has managed to win belts in two classes. Outside of the Maidana win, what stands out for him since a knockout of Juan Urango is how little entertainment he has provided.
His only loss came to Bradley and he wasn’t inspiring before being forced to the cards on a cut. He was lucky not to lose fights to Andriy Kotelnik and Lucas Matthysse. His tendency to make a lot of noise and throw fast, too often inaccurate punches that strike all sorts of air and gloves doesn’t make a showdown with Mayweather appealing.
The thought of watching a guy who is lucky to be there playing tag against one of the modern greats sounds decidedly unappealing. Coming into the fight off a recent cancellation against Brook due to a biceps injury wouldn’t add to the allure.
Whether his chance to win would be seen as realistic or not (mostly not), Guerrero has shown traits that would make him the far better aesthetic choice. One of the most improved fighters in recent memory, Guerrero has grown from a guy who lost to Gamaliel Diaz and Featherweight to a well rounded battler with belts at 126 and 130, and interim titles at 135 and 147. He has the ability to box outside and brawl inside. Against Berto, Guerrero showed the willingness to fight in the trenches and the chin to stay there.
None of it suggested he can beat Mayweather, but the total package he presents sounds like a much more fun night for $70 on pay-per-view than the newly presented alternative. He’s also a much better co-star for something like a 24-7 or Showtime All Access. Guerrero’s personal story is compelling. Compelling sells.
It’s not about who is better between Alexander and Guerrero, a question whose answer is debatable.
It’s about who makes for a better fight to watch against Floyd. Mayweather didn’t rise to his throne as the king of pay-per-view revenue making bad choices. A couple years ago, the name Matthew Hatton was thrown out as a red herring. Maybe that is what is happening here. Picking a foe no one was asking for in a fight hard to get excited about just doesn’t make a ton of sense.
There is one variable to consider in asking why Alexander might be viable anyways. Guerrero could make for a tough night even in a win. If the end game really is Alvarez in a bigger money fight (and all Mayweather fights start at big money these days), and if Mayweather really is planning to fight twice this year, he might not want to take two physical affairs back to back in a short span. This is a fighter who hasn’t gone to scratch twice in the same calendar year since 2007. He might not want to risk being banged up with a younger, bigger man on the horizon.
That thinking would require one to speculate that Mayweather thinks Guerrero can bang him up enough to matter. It seems a stretch.
So does Mayweather-Alexander.
It doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The safe betting remains with Guerrero.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]