by Cliff Rold
It should be like this more often.
One could wish even to say it should be like this always.
Always would be greedy.
It is enough to say more often and enjoy the moment. Even in this age of infrequent ring appearances by the best in the game, fight fans get their fair share of top-level clashes and big name collisions.
There is something extra special, extra promising, though about a match pitting two men in their 20s without an official loss between them at a critical point in their careers. They both have belts but neither has been universally called champion if his domain yet. They’ve both made some money, but not enough to quench the thirst for wealth that helps explain the insane courage it takes to excel as a prizefighter.
Blessed with off the charts speed and athleticism, Saturday is about two fighters in their prime who feel like they have something to prove. Enduring classics are made from less but seldom more.
Let’s go to the report card.
Titles: WBO Jr. Welterweight (2009-Present, 2 Defenses)
Previous Titles: WBC Jr. Welterweight (2008-09, 2 Defenses)
Weight: 139.5 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 140.45 lbs.
Hails from: Palm Springs, California
Record: 26-0, 11 KO, 1 No Contest
Record in Major Title Fights: 4-0, 1 No Contest
BoxingScene Rank: #1 at Jr. Welterweight
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 3 (Miguel Vazquez, Junior Witter, Kendall Holt)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in No Contest: 1 (Nate Campbell)
Current Title: WBC Jr. Welterweight (2009-Present, 2 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 140 lbs.
Average Weight - Five Most Recent Fights: 139.10 lbs.
Hails from: St. Louis, Missouri
Record: 21-0, 13 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 3-0, 2 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #2 at Jr. Welterweight
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 4 (DeMarcus Corley, Junior Witter, Juan Urango, Andriy Kotelnik)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Bradley A; Alexander A
Pre-Fight: Power – Bradley B; Alexander B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Bradley B+; Alexander B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Bradley A; Alexander B
Bradley enters the ring looking to further prove his position as the 140 lb. leader and prove himself a viable foe for some of the elite superstars in his weight range. Alexander will be looking to prove that his last outing was not indicative of anything other than Andriy Kotelnik being one hell of a tough out.
Alexander struggled last time out with many feeling Kotelnik, a former WBA titlist at 140 lbs., had done enough to take Alexander’s belt. It was a close fight for sure, the sort of bout where a teeth gritting draw would have smacked as fair. Alexander being awarded eight rounds on all three judge’s scorecards smacked of hometown officiating.
Perhaps that thinking went into the decision to hold this weekend’s unification bout on neutral turf in the great (cold) state of Michigan. Will Bradley enter thinking about what Kotelnik did right?
The California native certainly has the tools to emulate some of the Ukrainian’s successes. Kotelnik took advantage of Alexander by timing short counters between Alexander’s shots, waiting for the Missourian to overextend as he jabbed towards Kotelnik and then busting him with short shots. Kotelnik also did some fine, targeted body work.
Bradley is capable of the same, with a lot more speed. What Bradley is unlikely to emulate is the patience of Kotelnik. Bradley isn’t going to earmuff it for any duration so he’ll rely on keeping Alexander off balance and then moving away to reset. Bradley will also look to back Alexander up with flurries, attempting to surprise his foe with physicality. It is an approach that has served Bradley well against Kendall Holt (after coming off the floor), Junior Witter, and early against Nate Campbell.
Where Alexander can excel is in emphasizing his height. The official listing might have these two only an inch apart but weigh-in photos illustrate potentially two or three inches in Alexander’s favor. If he fights tall, and keeps Bradley at the end of his jab, the southpaw could keep Bradley from ever getting into any real rhythm. Alexander has the fundamentally better defensive approach of the two but, in practice, is still wide open for counters when he gets close.
Where Alexander holds an edge is probably single shot power. He’s not a nuclear bomb thrower by any stretch but he did drop and stop the dependably chinned Juan Urango two fights ago. Alexander, only 23, is growing into himself still. Alexander has thus far shown more consistency and ring maturity than the mercurial Kendall Holt and if he can copy Holt’s dropping of Bradley early on, he could turn this thing into a clinic.
As noted, there are scenarios for both men to win here and it’s fair to say anything is possible. That’s the great thing about the best matches, that feeling of not feeling safe in picking anything to happen, of just wanting to see it all unfold.
Pushed to pick, what seems likely to unfold is Bradley taking another step forward as the sort of fighter the big names cannot ignore. Alexander is very good, will get better no matter the result this weekend, but we have yet to see from him what Bradley exhibits.
The plucky Bradley is a genuinely multi-dimensional fighter. Against Lamont Peterson last year, Bradley was masterful inside, playing stand still counter puncher, and employing lateral movement while boxing. He might be on the verge of becoming the sort of complete fighter who, in not being great at any one thing, becomes great by being good at just about everything.
Alexander is skilled and talented enough to prove that wrong. It would be no shock were he to do so. For now, the lean is towards a Bradley who overcomes early adversity to work Alexander over down the stretch for a close decision win or even late stoppage.
Boxing 2011 is officially underway.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org