For Devon Alexander, the last several months have been a series of starts and stops. He was supposed to start off 2013 with a bout against mandatory challenger Kell Brook but an ankle injury pushed back the original January 19 date in Los Angeles to February 23 in Detroit. The Detroit date was postponed to May 18 and shifted to Atlantic City after Alexander suffered a severely strained right biceps (an injury that didn't stop a trial balloon regarding a bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr., by the way), but when Brook incurred a stress fracture in his right foot, one Brit was scuttled and another (Lee Purdy) stepped in.
Will Purdy's all-action style serve as a catalyst or will encountering Alexander's skills prove too big a leap? CompuBox factors that may shape the contest include:
Consistently Inconsistent: Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, one never knows what he's going to get from Alexander. At times he can be breathtaking, as was the case in his welterweight debut against Marcos Maidana. Alexander was accurate (34% overall, 38% power) and aggressive (80.3% of his punches were power shots) en route to surprisingly large connect gaps (168-93 total, 149-85 power). Alexander's jab -- long a staple of his offense -- was largely shelved as he threw just 97 in 10 rounds but landed 20% of them, a decent average for him.
Then there are those fights when he struggles to find his groove. Although he decisively out-scored then-IBF welterweight titlist Randall Bailey last time out (117-109, 116-110, 115-111), the result was more about what Bailey didn't do than what Alexander did. Bailey threw just 16.5 punches per round -- 72% below the 58.3 welterweight average -- and landed just 3.8 punches per round, 80% below the division norm. With that level of inactivity before him, Alexander chose to waltz his way to the title, throwing 44.5 punches per round, landing 23% overall and landing 35% of his power punches. Ho hum.
More importantly, Alexander's jab was short -- an important indicator of how he'll perform on a given night. His best outings featured assertive and accurate jabbing (44.8 jabs per round, 27% accuracy vs. Juan Urango, 27.3 jabs per round, 20% accuracy vs. DeMarcus Corley), but he struggles when he opts to use it as a range finder (8% vs. Lucas Matthysse, 4% vs. Jesus Rodriguez, 10% vs. Andriy Kotelnik). If he is to thrive against Purdy, his jab must be dialed in.
Quixotic Quest?: Purdy is executing a mighty leap of faith in terms of quality of competition. Up until now Purdy has faced unremarkable domestic opposition and he hasn't always come out unscathed. He lost decisions to the 12-13 Peter McDonagh, the 14-0 Denton Vassell and 44-fight veteran Colin Lynes, all of whom pale in comparison to Alexander in terms of talent.
On the bright side, Purdy comes into this fight on a career-high four-fight KO streak. When he faces a slam-bang puncher like himself, he thrives. Undefeated Argentine Gumersindo Carrasco came at Purdy with both guns blazing (98 per round, including 56 power shots) and Purdy responded by scoring knockdowns in rounds one (one) and four (two more) before registering the stoppage. Purdy landed 41% of his power shots but trailed 87-77 (total), 20-17 (jabs) and 67-60 (power) only because Carrasco threw so many more punches. In short, Purdy is someone to avoid in a firefight.
Conversely, 36-year-old veteran Cosme Rivera, hardly a twinkle-toes boxer like Alexander, nevertheless was able to neutralize Purdy's aggression for long stretches by staying on the move. Purdy's conditioning issues surely affected his performance against Rivera (a late sub for Carson Jones), for he weighed 1 3/4-pounds over the limit and in the ring he appeared at least 15 pounds heavier. Rivera also stunned Purdy with a heavy right hand in round eight, but a cut incurred over the left eye late in that round eventually led to the TKO stoppage in round nine. In the end Purdy led 159-141 (total) and 55-35 (jabs) but Rivera prevailed 106-104 in power connects.
Aside from Purdy's issues with movement, his defensive numbers aren't the best. Purdy tasted 34% of Carrasco's 200 power shots, better than the 38.8% norm, but against Rivera he fielded 44% of the Mexican's hooks, crosses and uppercuts. If the grizzled Rivera could land that often, just imagine how a prime Alexander would do.
Prediction: The result hinges on whether we'll see "Alexander the Great" or merely "Alexander the Average." The Alexander that took apart Maidana will use his speed and precision to pick apart Purdy and leave the ring with his belt intact, perhaps even by TKO. But if Alexander is less than 100 percent, Purdy can make things interesting -- at least for a while. The gulf in class will be too much for Purdy to handle, so in this year of upsets, don't expect one here.