By Cliff Rold, photo by David Martin Warr
It would be absurd to call a fight between two talented men in their 20s, both with only a single defeat, a must-win situation. ‘Do or die’ would be hyperbolic.
However, in the world of limited TV dates and starts that often favor winners first, it’s not entirely off the mark. Alexander comes in directly off his first loss, a lackluster showing in a unification match with Timothy Bradley earlier this year. Cut in the fight, Alexander didn’t look like winning, like fighting through crimson, meant everything to him.
Matthysse was the opposite, leaving the impression of hunger and just a hint of romance. There were plenty who thought he did enough to get by former Welterweight champion Zab Judah in his HBO debut last summer. Judah has gone on to reclaim gold at Jr. Welterweight, the division’s veteran hand. Matthysse could just as easily have had that belt.
Saturday, a WBO eliminator means a belt opportunity is on the line. Matthysse can ride romance only so far. Failure Saturday could pigeonhole him as fun but not worth counting on to pull out the big one.
Looks can be deceiving. They can also create impressions that demand rebuttal. Jr. Welterweight remains probably the deepest pool of young, serious talent in the sport. Both winner and loser on Saturday have a future.
But the future will be brighter with the “W.”
Let’s go to the report card.
Current Title: None
Previous Titles: WBC Jr. Welterweight (2009-11, 2 Defenses)
Weight: 139.5 lbs.
Average Weight - Five Most Recent Fights: 139.3 lbs.
Hails from: St. Louis, Missouri
Record: 21-1, 13 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 3-1, 2 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #3 at Jr. Welterweight
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 4 (DeMarcus Corley, Junior Witter, Juan Urango, Andriy Kotelnik)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 1 (Timothy Bradley)
Current/Previous Title: None
Weight: 140 lbs.
Average Weight - Five Most Recent Fights: 139.95 lbs.
Hails from: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Record: 28-1, 26 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #10 at Jr. Welterweight
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 2 (Vivian Harris, DeMarcus Corley)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 1 (Zab Judah)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Alexander A; Matthysse B
Pre-Fight: Power – Alexander B; Matthysse B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Alexander B; Matthysse C+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Alexander B; Matthysse B+
The Bradley contest is not the only one Alexander has to shake. Facts are Alexander hasn’t looked that good since his March 2010 win over Juan Urango. There were many who thought he lost to Andriy Kotelnik last summer, a decision still debated.
The upside to that for Alexander is, hey, Kotelnik and Bradley are darn good fighters. So were former titlists Junior Witter and Urango when Alexander stopped them. He looked his best playing counterpunching sharpshooter versus Urango. The pressure of Urango accentuated the southpaw strengths of the St. Louis native, his speed, accuracy, and the understated snap in his shots.
Matthysse is going to bring pressure. Unlike Urango, his is far less predictable. Matthysse can sometimes look raw but he’s smart in how he sets up a sneaky, and straighter-than-it-looks right hand. His left hand works as an awkward jab as well as a wide shot to the flanks that pushes foes towards the right. Matthysse has a lot of knockouts but none yet against a live, hard opponent. Judah endured his stuff and Corley, well aged, hung around through a lot of trips to the floor. His hands are heavy but the jury is out on whether this is a KO artist at the higher levels.
Matthysse should be the stronger man as well as the heavier handed, but can he bull Alexander enough to slow him down? This much is fairly certain: Alexander will win the early rounds. The question is, can Matthysse do enough damage to slow him down for the late ones?
There is also the mental game. Fighting in St. Charles, within driving distance of the ‘Lou, Alexander will have the home court edge but against Kotelnik that may have played a part in his performing tight in spots. Can Matthysse’s physical pressure increase any external pressures Alexander may feel off of the Bradley disappointment?
The thinking here is probably not on both counts. Matthysse is a solid, fun fighter but Alexander is the better athlete and, no matter the lackluster end of the Bradley affair, a real fighter. He’s not going to buckle just because Matthysse is bringing it. As the boxer, a loss sets him back farther than it would Matthysse and Alexander is likely to fight knowing as much. It is expected here that Alexander will flourish, growing from his first loss and showing increased maturity as he gets himself back on track. The pick here is Alexander by decision, though Matthysse winning four or five rounds in exciting fashion is highly possible on the way to the cards.
Report Card Picks 2011: 16-5
Cliff’s Notes… This is only one of many fights this weekend and, what the heck, here’s a mess more picks for the week…At Middleweight on via free trial at EpixHD.com, we’ll go with Sergio Martinez’s real #1 contender, WBA Middleweight titlist Felix Sturm, to pick up another win behind his stellar jab over rugged Matthew Macklin…With apologies to readers, this weeks “Picks of the Week” were in error. Fernando Montiel is returning from his Bantamweight loss to Nonito Donaire on Azteca America and will face former Olympian Nehomar Cermeno. It could be a long night, but the guess here is Montiel sneaks by Cermeno in his debut at 122 lbs…On the undercard of Alexander-Matthysse, the picks are Heavyweight Bermane Stiverne by stop over the limited and perpetually how-the-hell-is-he-always-rated Ray Austin and IBF Light Heavyweight beltholder Tavoris Cloud to get back into the KO column for the first time since 2008 (or three fights ago) at the expense of Yusaf Mack…A week from now, the biggest report card of the summer is at hand with Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye. Can’t wait.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]